Do you have a dog? Do you also have a romantic partner? Does that ever create problems? If your dog is interfering with your love life, you are not alone! I’ve had clients whose dogs literally get between them anytime they try to hug or kiss, and others whose dogs will howl for hours outside the bedroom if they try to shut the dog out.
• So what’s a couple to do?
First things first: Whatever you are comfortable with is the right choice. If you don’t like your dog being nearby while you’re being romantic, that is a valid choice. If you don’t care where the dog is, that’s fine too. But both romantic partners have to agree, so make sure you have a discussion about what does and does not work for you as a couple.
• Dogs aren’t judging us
No matter what your dog does when you and your partner get romantic, he is not making a moral judgment about your actions. Dogs’ motives are generally pretty simple. Your dog might not understand why you’re standing so close to another person, or she might be confused by a change in pheromones. When dogs notice something unusual, they sometimes get anxious or overly energetic. A dog jumping on or barking at you is expressing stress, not disapproval.
• But my dog starts barking and growling as soon as we hold hands!
If your dog is behaving in a disruptive or aggressive manner when you and your partner start to get romantic, you need to do two things: manage the situation and train a better reaction.
Step 1: Manage the situation
If you and your partner can’t enjoy each other’s company when your dog is around, manage the situation to prevent the dog from bothering you at those times. The easiest way to do that is to have the dog in a different place. Choose a safe, relaxing space, and put the dog there whenever you want some alone time with your partner. To increase the odds your dog will be calm while away from you, choose a space your dog already finds pleasant and comfortable. This might be a room with a cushy dog bed, or a crate or pen (assuming the dog has been trained to relax in confinement).
To help your dog feel better when left alone in that space, do something to use up some of your dog’s energy before you put the dog there. For example, you could take your dog for a walk. You could also play fetch or tug, or any other game you and your dog enjoy. In addition, make sure there are chews and toys in the confinement area, so your dog has something to do there. If your dog is stressed by being confined or left alone, find a qualified trainer to help (see below for more on this).
Step 2: Train a better reaction
Once you have a plan for keeping your dog from interfering in your love life in the short term, you need to start doing training so your dog will feel better about your romantic interactions in the long term. The gold standard for a situation like this is a gradual desensitization and counterconditioning (DS/CC) protocol. A well-designed DS/CC protocol will help your dog learn it’s OK for you and your partner to give each other attention. To maximize the odds of success, consult a certified, well-educated trainer who can help you develop an appropriate training plan. The directories at the following websites are a good place to start:
The above list of websites isn’t exhaustive, of course, but these websites are a good resource since anyone listed on them has to meet certain minimum standards. This is important because dog training is an unregulated profession. In other words, anyone can claim to be a dog trainer, even if the person has never met a dog before. It’s crucial to check if the person you work with has the training and knowledge to help — otherwise, they could make things much worse. One good way to make sure you get a quality person is to ask if the trainer adheres to something called the “LIMA guidelines” (the answer to this first question should be yes), and if the trainer ever uses force or threats while training a dog (the answer to this second question should be no).
• Give it time
Dogs sometimes take longer to get used to new things than people do. If you’ve just started a relationship with a new romantic partner, it may take time for your dog to adjust. If your dog is getting in the way of your romance, come up with a way to manage the situation temporarily so that you and your partner can enjoy each other’s company. Then find a well-qualified expert to help you create a training plan for your dog. Bear in mind that it may take a little while to teach your dog a new attitude, and do your best to be patient. A good romance is going to last a while, so there’s no rush, right?