Dog Ownership and Relationship Deal Breakers
[PLEASE READ: Why Does My Boyfriend Hate My Dog? ]
People get in some pretty tough places when it comes to relationships and pet ownership. It can range from purely annoying to outright abuse of the dog, and even domestic violence. It isn’t unheard that angry boyfriends, girlfriends, jealous ex’s, wives, and husbands have killed the family pet out of anger and revenge. And it isn’t unusual for these people to attack or even kill over the dog. So, this article is written from that perspective. I see a lot of things as a dog trainer. I go into situations that can, and sometimes have, become volatile.
Lines have to be drawn in relationships. Consider these words: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” What does it mean to “trespass”? Doesn’t it mean to overstep a boundary? To do some wrongful act, to sin? Therefore, when you have a dog, you need some lines with those around you, especially when you are going to live with, marry or have kids with that person. They need to know where your lines are, and you need to know where their lines are, and you need to know whether they are the type who respects the lines of others, or disregards them.
As problems in a relationship fester, you start getting out of each other’s way. Then it’s the sideways comments. The separate beds, or someone is sleeping on the couch. You get the “I need my space” conversation. One or both say the feelings are gone. And then, people go separate ways. The topic of the arguments might revolve around the dog. Though that is really a displacement behavior… a way to avoid the real fight. The real argument isn’t about the dog. There is something deeper going wrong, and that has to be discovered and resolved. If not, then it is all falling apart, and you know it. The dog arguments are just a symptom of the dysfunction. It isn’t really the cause.
What does this have to do with dog ownership? After over two decades working with families and pets, I truly believe you need to consider these traits prior to marrying someone with a pet, or before they marry you if you have a pet, or before getting a pet if you are already married. Relationship problems drill down into how the family treats the family pets.
Yes, there are Deal Breakers when deciding who you are with. And those same Deal Breakers include how they relate to your pets. I even have Deal Breakers for when it is OK to remove a dog from your home, or when you shouldn’t buy or adopt a dog… but that is for another article.
Have you ever defined your Relationship Deal Breakers? Have you ever tried to define those non-negotiable criteria you must have before entering into a marriage relationship? Life has its ups and downs. It’s easy to find “fair weather friends”, but it’s hard to find good, loyal, loving, true friends. There are good and bad people. A bad act is harming someone else on purpose. A bad person is someone who makes a practice of harming others, having a track record of crossing forbidden boundaries and a genuine lack of feeling remorse, and little or no desire or commitment to change. If you own a dog, then it is important to evaluate the nature of the person you are going to marry, otherwise you are heading for a world of problems… and if you are fighting over the dog… it’s not really about the dog, it’s about your relationship. I have my own list of these deal breakers. Mine is pretty much as follows:
1. Addiction is a compulsive, devoted, obsessive need or desire for something or someone, all out of proportion of what would be considered normal behavior. An addict is driven, whether it is to lie, eat, follow a religion, have sex, gamble, cheat, steal, hoard, or even neediness (or worse yet, stalking). Addictions are usually accompanied by behaviors that range from the annoying to the criminal. I would include a number of personality and adjustment disorders in this category.
You see it in the news: animals abused by people with addictions. What do you think a lot of those pit bull attack stories are all about? A lot have to do with the drug culture. Addicts, and drug dealers, will use dogs to obtain money and to protect their operations. Pit bulls are the primary dog of choice for these folks in every country in the world. Pit fighting is directly tied to the illegal drug world. I remember working with a pit bull which had been owned and abused by a drug dealer. The dog was very dangerous and it took a lot of work to make the dog safe to own. While I worked with the dog, the owner was in prison, and he told his extended family when he got out, he wanted the dog back so he could breed her to get some quick cash. Cops will tell you that probably 80% of the domestic violence calls they get involve alcohol abuse, and sometimes the focus of the abuse is the family dog. And there are other addictions. There are people who get fanatical about religion and decide the dog needs to be banished from the home. There are people who are hoarders, and will keep collecting and horribly treat their pets. I saw a story in the news about a man who had over 100 neglected dogs and was being ordered by the court to have a psychological evaluation. And dogs have been killed by spurned lovers. I also met a Newfoundland that had meth blown in it’s face and abused by a drug addict… the dog was unstable, prone to bite, and not good with other dogs… from a line of dogs that was known to be just the opposite.
2. Disloyalty is characterized by someone who can’t give or keep their word, stand by you through good times and bad, or is selfish and narcissistic at your expense. People who are overly concerned with themselves, or not concerned enough about you, are a serious problem. We all need people we can count on. The last thing you need is someone who would betray or neglect you.
How many fickle dog owners are there out there? How many dogs end up in shelters because the people who got the dog weren’t committed to what it takes to keep, feed, medicate, train, socialize, and exercise their dog? I’ve seen some people so wrapped up with themselves that they can’t, or won’t, relate to a dog at all. I’ve seen spouses fight because one spouse was so needy that there was no room for the dog in that home. Ask yourself would you recommend this person own a dog if you weren’t around? If the answer is no, then you will really have a serious problem once they move in with you.
3. Faith: Good marriages require that both partners have very similar religious beliefs. If you own a dog, you don’t want to be in a relationship with someone that practices a religion that says dogs are unclean. Your dog will be banished from the home, abused, or even killed. If you are with someone who hasn’t considered the deeper spiritual things of life and existence, and can’t explicitly explain their reasoned beliefs to you, then they aren’t prepared for the deeper, hard, effort filled days ahead in life with you being married to someone who is deeply religious. You will scorn what they believe, and the dog could be the center of your arguments. There won’t be that deep root necessary to maintain the love, forgiveness, effort, kindness, and integrity needed in a marriage, because sometimes you need to go deeper, and grab hold of things that are beyond your belief system… and you won’t be able to relate to your spouse’s perspective. And if you are considering marriage, you had better be of the same religion, or get in agreement regarding religion, or the marriage is most likely doomed. Differing religions are a major source of strife in a marriage. Do I believe atheists can have a good marriage? Yes. Do I believe that people who believe in God, and have the same religion, tend to have more successful marriages? Yes… and I think the statistics prove me out on this.
If there is a God, and He made all creatures, then those creatures deserve some basic respect, care and kindness. [I think of the story of Balaam and the donkey… or how God cares about the feeding of even wild birds…look it up] A faith in God will do something inside of you to cause you to be kind to, and have a deeper understand of, animals and their relation to humans. There are responsibilities for living in this world. If we are all just animals with no purpose except to survive, then there is no ultimate fundamental morality of right and wrong. There are deeper meanings to life, and you’ll even find them as they relate to pets if you search for them. I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own and not explain it here. Try studying the amazing life of Saint Francis of Assisi some time.
4. Disrespect for traditions and rituals. This is not a very popular stand these days. But, birthdays, funerals, holidays, anniversaries, family vacations, and such are important to be remembered, attended, and performed. It’s taken me a long time to appreciate the importance of traditions and rituals in life, and the older I get, the more I realize how important they are and I am putting more effort into observing and respecting them. Families drift apart without traditions. Religious practice partly requires rituals and traditions to stay rooted. There are also important milestones in people’s lives, including important rites of passage that should be respected and observed to convey important changes in social status: marriage, accomplishments, birthdays, graduations, etc. For example, people who say “marriage is just a piece of paper” aren’t going to respect family, or even your long term committed relationship, when things get hard. They won’t give their word or keep their word… that’s what all that “piece of paper” stuff is all about… not willing to commit for a lifetime. And without those traditions, everyone just starts going their own way, or getting involved in the traditions and rituals of others that might not be so healthy, physically, spiritually or psychologically.
I discourage immature people from getting a pet for Christmas because these are often emotional purchases or adoptions. But, there’s nothing wrong with getting a pet for Christmas, a birthday, anniversary or other significant event if it coincides with a mature outlook on the responsibilities you are taking on. And there are places where dogs are not allowed, being out of place. Sensitivity to these issues is important. Dogs also don’t belong during some situations, yet do belong in others. Further, I think that people who are disconnected from traditions and rituals aren’t ready for family life. Those holidays, birthdays, milestones, rites of passage, victories, funerals, and so forth bind a family together, and to ignore them weakens the links between family members. Weak links means more potential for the family unit to spin apart during stressful times. I also think it completely appropriate to celebrate a dog’s birthday.
5. Dishonorable lifestyle. I think that personal honor and family honor means something. Strong moral and personal integrity, and adherence to ethical principles, are important in a relationship. And I have come to recognize that what you do affects how others affect others in your “group”, whether that group is your employer, family, social circle, church, club, team, or marriage. What I do reflects well or poorly on you, and what you do helps or damages my reputation. What the kids do reflect on the parents, and what the parents do reflect on the kids. Not enough people these days take this into consideration. Obviously, this can be taken too far, so don’t engage in feuds like the Hatfields and McCoys, or the honor killings that take place in some cultures.
I think it is important to examine the groups of people that others are connected to, or have chosen to disconnect from. If I knew someone actively participating in a “crime family”, like you see in The Godfather, I’d not want to be a part of that. I’d stay away from someone involved in a cult, sold drugs to make money, or some other dishonorable group or profession or hobby. People who take pride in their “wild years”, always wishing that they could be doing those things again, lack the maturity and moral compass necessary to have a lasting relationship. It’s one thing to laugh about your foolish youth… we’ve all done dumb things in our lives… it’s another thing, however, to have a serious desire to never grow up, to engage in unethical or illegal behaviors today. What your significant other does will affect you, and can entangle you in situations that you’d never get into on your own. Some people like doing dishonorable things with their dogs, teasing and tormenting dogs or other pets, encouraging their dogs to attack innocent people, or are involved in dog fighting, or other types of animal abuse. I recommend staying away from people like this. I was called once by a woman who was a stripper, wanting someone to train her dog to attack on command, since she had come close to being raped before, so that she didn’t have to hire an expensive bodyguard to follow her into her appointments and could keep the dog watching while she performed in private residences. Dishonorable. Not a good situation for any dog.
6. Deliberate pattern of hurting others. Some people purposely practice evil. Abuse, greed, violence, spreading false and malicious rumors, or outright lying about or to others, etc. are all Deal Breakers. I think it best to not connect with people who have a track record of hurting others, lacking compassion, who don’t have a good sense of right and wrong and choose wrong, and those who can’t express true remorse and don’t feel the need to right the wrongs they committed. These are people who can’t truly love, except for a time, and until what they want becomes more important that doing the right thing. Some people actually get joy in causing suffering to others, and it’s best to stay away from folks like that. Look up what it means for someone to have anti-social personality disorder – a psychopath… yes, they do exist, and in varying degrees from mild to Hannibal Lecter types.
The “habitual criminal” isn’t tolerated in society, and for good reason. Everyone makes mistakes and has done bad things. People who purposely engage in behaviors that hurt others bring a world of hurt on all those around them, not just their direct victims. I have met people who deliberately hurt dogs, even to the point of saying it like it was a normal thing. Someone like this has a serious psychological problem and should be kept as far away from your dog as possible. I remember one student who hired me because her boyfriend didn’t like it that her dog would watch them when they sat on the couch, and a bunch of other crazy things. I counseled her that it was abnormal and to seriously examine this relationship she was in. This guy was clearly a nutcase, and the dog was going to suffer as a result.
7. Rule breakers. There are a lot of rules in life, from obeying your parents to keeping your word to your spouse to obeying the law. Rule breakers are Deal Breakers. If you don’t truly believe you are with someone who will be 100% faithful… then don’t marry them. We all know this. Studies indicate that a huge portion of marriages fall apart because of infidelity. All sins can be forgiven, even adultery. But, there’s nothing worse if you love someone, except them dying, than for your spouse to cheat on you. The relationship is never the same after infidelity of any sort. But, even besides the obvious, there are always rules in a relationship. People who want you to do their rules, but not yours, aren’t playing fair. People who can’t give their word aren’t worth your time. People who trespass on the rights of others will trespass on yours at some point. The better you are at keeping rules, from the small to the large, the better off you’ll be in life. And the better off you’ll be if you are with someone who respects the rules of society. Yes, there are times to throw off the oppressive rules of any group, which is why we all respect the Declaration of Independence. But, most of the time, the rules around us are worth obeying. People that are in a constant state of rebellion don’t make good companions.
Dogs get in a lot of trouble when people put them in bad situations. If the law says one thing, and you do another, then you and your dog will pay the price if something bad happens. If there are rules where you live, or rules for cleaning up after your dog, or whatever… obey them, or move somewhere else. Yes, I know some rules are a hassle and many are unfair or even unconstitutional… work to change them while at the same time you obey them. Dogs can’t make these choices, they will do what dogs do. It’s not fair to put a dog in a situation that makes the dog into the problem. Yes, we all speed down the highway. But racing down the highway and getting yourself and your dog killed is another matter. Yes, I’ve sneaked dogs into no-dog hotels, run my dog off leash where it wasn’t legal, and pooped my dog where I probably shouldn’t have. I’m no Boy Scout, and we all have our Achilles Heel’s. Let’s be honest here: I’m no different than you are. I’m not into be legalistic about every rule in life, but the rules should be considered. Fight authority enough, and authority will eventually come for you and make you pay. You have to ask yourself if this is a fight worth picking.
8. Lazy, good for nothings. Life is about work, whether it is charitable work, raising a family, going to a job, or even planning for a vacation. Laziness is not only unattractive and immature, it is a Deal Breaker. People who don’t take life seriously, don’t educate themselves, keep themselves clean, put forth effort in relationships, etc. are not good marriage partner material. There are people who choose to be ignorant, not valuing education, wisdom, or knowledge. Foolish people make foolish decisions, and that can ruin a life. Lazy people are also those who want to be “rescued” by someone else. Life is full of dangers, difficulties, sicknesses, and so forth. Children need to be removed from danger, yet taught how to face it. Adults need to exercise mental courage and to take the physical effort to face the hardships of life. Lazy people let you down, and let themselves down.
Dogs require a lot of work and money. People who fight you over the amount of time and effort you put into your dog will fight you even more if you marry them and have a dog. If this person you are dating doesn’t show they have it in them to go the extra mile for a pet, without you asking, then I think that’s reason to not take the relationship any further. The last thing you need is to be in a marriage where you do it all and the other person is like a parasite. Ask yourself, will they stick with the training, and stay on top of your dog’s behavior? If not, then you are just bringing drama into your home.
9. No bad apples. People with negative attitudes can infect the best group and either destroy it or lead it astray into many hurtful adventures. You want to be around people with a “can do” attitude, people who see the glass half full, who are supportive, encouraging, and perceptive of the hard reality yet solution oriented instead of a murmurer, complainer, whiner, blamer, or finger-pointer.
Good dog handling, training and ownership requires a positive attitude. Dogs pick up on the emotions around them, and the way people carry themselves affects how the dogs behave. Some people can walk into a group of dogs and set some of them into a dogfight… just by their presence they can so upset the pecking order or even stress the dogs out so much that they trigger a fight. I’ve seen it. Some people are so intimidating to dogs that normally friendly and confident dogs will either urinate all over or even get aggressive. I remember one jerk I knew that would just be able to come on the scene, greet pretty much any dog, and the dog would pee. This guy also was the one who hit his own dog over the head with a frying pan one night because the dog was barking and he didn’t like it. A person that sets dogs off is someone to be wary of yourself. I trust my dogs… they sometimes pick up on things that might not be obvious to you. Test it by getting that person around a number of dogs, not just yours. If it happens with most other dogs, not just yours (just to make sure it isn’t your dog or you that needs the help of a dog trainer), then something is wrong.
10. No Love. Rule out people who don’t understand or practice love as a lifestyle. Love is doing the right, good things in life, whether you feel like it that day or not, and planning in the future to do good. Love is felt and given as tender affection, desire, kindness, forgiveness, devotion, mercy, fun, pleasure, and sacrifice. Then, love results in actions that benefit others. It takes love to properly own a dog. Dogs give their own version of love, and they need human love to live in human society. Does this other person feel and give tender affection, desire, kindness, forgiveness, devotion, mercy, fun, pleasure, and sacrifice to your dog or theirs? If not, then there’s going to be strife in the home. Or your dog might even get aggressive with them, or start developing other psychological problems. Well adjusted people love dogs. Some people are afraid of dogs, but are willing to learn and put in the effort to get over their phobias… that’s cool. But, be very careful of people who hate dogs… they have a screw loose. Further, if you fight a lot over the dog… the fight really ISN’T about the dog, it is about the nature of your relationship and the character of the people involved. This is where you need to examine what your family and friends are saying about your potential marriage partner. If everyone doesn’t like them, people you know and are in good standing with you… then something is wrong that you aren’t seeing. Talk to your pastor or rabbi or priest and get advice. Don’t skip this step. They will tell you things that a counselor won’t. Counselors typically won’t give moral judgments on things, and sometimes a moral answer is exactly what you need. And finally, talk to a marriage counselor. Combine all of this and you’ll find the right path to go. Don’t get married unless everything is lined up properly in your life. Honestly… a Beaver Cleaver type of life is more successful than putting things together that don’t fit together, or putting things together out of sequence. It is better to start as friends, date, get to know their family and friends and see if you are accepted and they are accepted into your social circle, see how they relate to your dog (and kids if you have them) and make sure that the dogs and the kids accept them in advance), then get engaged, get married, and then finally move in together. Skip any of these steps and you are headed for trouble.
How Can You Know? I highly recommend practicing Sam’s Three Year Rule™… is a patented device guaranteed to make you take your time to get to know someone, to not rush into anything you might regret, to give the other person time to say all the bad things they would have otherwise said if you’d gotten married sooner, to find out if they have such annoying habits that you’d be tempted to lock them in a dungeon, to get to know all their crazy relatives, and to find out if they have ever been in prison before.
What are your relationship Deal Breakers? I’d love to hear from you!