“Dear Pan: Dogged by an Ex”

Fortune Cookie, with Pan-Cultural Advice

Dear Pan:

   I recently started dating a wonderful guy, ‘Adam.’  Things are great–he’s caring, loving, and we have a lot of fun together.  There’s only one small problem: his dog.  When I am at Adam’s house the dog, ‘Lily’, makes it difficult for us to be affectionate.  While Lily seems to like me well enough, she doesn’t like me and Adam as a couple.  Anytime Adam and I cuddle on the couch, Lily comes over and whines and licks our feet in an attempt to distract us from each other.  We share a hug in the kitchen and Lily wiggles between us, breaking up our embrace.  When Adam and I make it to the bedroom, alone at last, the sound of doggie nails clicking on the floor and a jangling dog collar approaching the door instantly kills the mood.   I know that Lily is upset about my relationship with Adam because she is used to seeing him with his ex, who helped raise her from when she was a puppy.  I can understand this, but how do I make her move on and accept me as part of Adam’s life?  Adam is also slightly annoyed by her behavior, yet he can’t bring himself to shut Lily out–he’s her sole caregiver now that the ex-wife left both of them.  I need more passion and attention from Adam, but do I have the right to ask?  Should I end things with Adam?  Should I ask him to get rid of Lily?  Is there some kind of training we can take Lily to so she can adjust?  Please help, before my relationship goes to the dogs.

                –Frustrated in Boston

Dear FiB: You’ve kicked off our new advice column with a problem that’s gotten reactions from Boston, Japan, Nigeria, England, and Serbia. Is there wisdom in them you can use? I’m going to second our commentator from Nigeria: I’m glad you didn’t think about poisoning the dog. The consensus here seems to be that you should trust your position more, and take active steps to corral the dog (witness England: shut the door when you’re making out!)–while making sure to make friends with Lily. Good luck, and let us know how it works out.
Readers? Give your own advice to today’s letter writer! What would you do? And, since we’re in the business of hearing how different parts of the world think about things, what do you think your friends would do?

From Boston

Dear FiB,

Dogs are so perceptive. They watch our every move and often they understand us better than we understand ourselves. I can see what Lily must be observing and I fear I have to side with her in this matter; you are an anxious mess and you need to pull it together before you ruin this relationship with Adam.

You describe a problem dog, one who you claim longs for Adam’s ex. You see a situation so severe that you question whether you should leave Adam. Is this dog growling, hackles up, gnashing her teeth? No. Quite the opposite. She kisses your feet, gets in your hugs and steps up to protect you while you sleep.

The problem is not the dog. Your level of insecurity is so high that you are letting the normal affections of a dog cause you to question if you have the “right” to ask for Adam’s affection. In my opinion, you’ve got nothing to give if you can’t love a dog. Lily sees right through you. She tries to help you out, make you feel at home, and you reward her with threats of abandonment.

Is there training? Yes. It’s called therapy. Just like in The Dog Whisperer on television, where Cesar Milan’s “dog training” teaches the humans to be calm and assertive. When the people are in control, the dogs respond with respect.

So, get yourself some people-help. Stop worrying about Adam’s ex and whether or not you have a right to affection. Stop seeing affection as a risk. And if you are lucky and this relationship lasts, Lily will be there to welcome you home.

Good girl Lily, good girl!

From Japan

Dear FiB,

In Japan, we regard loyalty as one of the greatest virtues. If you try to remove Lily from Adam’s life, people will ask him why he doesn’t kick you out instead of his dog. You should show that you understand Lily’s feelings and be kind to her regardless of your mood.

On the other hand, we Japanese often prefer solving problems with an economic instrument. All you have to do is give Lily extra rich dog food every time you visit Adam’s place. Her dilemma will soon be solved; she can retain pleasant memories of Adam’s ex while looking forward to the visits of a deep-pocketed guest. We don’t feel any contradiction when we separate our stated reason and from our real intention.

From Nigeria

Dear FiB,

That you haven’t even considered Lily “accidentally choking” on some morsel is admirable!
If she had protested this much in Nigeria, some beau in your position would have contrived to quickly teach her who was queen, losing her by “accident”, or even surreptitiously lacing her milk with sleep medication. Being a rather sinister person myself, I have to admit that the thought of the latter makes me wonder. Now I fear for my own dog!

Alas, you are not sinister.
One of our proverbs South of the Sahara says, “a child that takes away his mother’s sleep will not sleep himself.” Therein may lie your solution. You need to ensure this “child” does not “sleep”, even as she takes away your “sleep,” pun intended. Lily needs a distraction, specifically a male dog. And my sinister self suggests one in heat.

Since Adam already has experience with dogs, you could convince him to add one more, explaining that Lily’s behavior proves loneliness and the need for company. If, however, either or both of you don’t want the added responsibility of an extra dog, you could sign up as a dog-walker and bring one with you when visiting. This latter option would be only for day visits however. Nighttime may require a different approach.

Lily should either be too busy defending her territory, or having fun, or both. Keep it up long enough, and she’ll get with the program.

There may even be a simpler solution to all this. Why not move the action to your place and arrange for Lily to stay at a dog-sitter’s?

From London

Dear Frustrated

How embarrassing: you are being browbeaten by a dog. Unless Lily is a St. Bernard, my first thought is not to tell anyone else about this problem. If she is a Shih Tzu, everyone will take the piss out of you mercilessly.

It’s good that you appreciate Adam’s point of view on the problem. Don’t make too much of a song and dance out of it. Perhaps just develop a running joke about how sweet Lily is to be so jealous of you, how bitter love rivalry can be, how determined you are to win her over. Then you can vent any frustrations in mirth.

The answer here is definitely training, and certainly not getting rid of Lily. (Is this what you mean by shutting out? How terrible. Remember: a dog is for life. Seriously now. Pull yourself together).
Training a dog can take a lot of patience; enlist professional help if you are floundering. However, the basic theory, I think, is to apply rewards and sanctions consistently over time in response to behavior. Rewards I’d imagine would include doggy drops, biscuits and so on (food) and nice affectionate soothing tones, cuddles etc. etc. (socializing, affection). Sanctions might comprise scolding, being shut in the kitchen for a limited time, being ignored or excluded (never, ever, ever, any kind of abuse). If you feel your patience is wearing thin, perhaps go off on a dirty weekend with Adam and ask a dog-loving friend to look after Lily.

Hey presto! Like a sort of slow-motion abracadabra, after some time, perhaps a few months or I would imagine a year or three at most, Lily’s delightful fond and loyal mind should latch onto you as well as Adam as a cherished source of love and nutrition. In time you can look forward to her presenting other sweet foibles for your edification, such as bad breath, molting and incontinence.

By way of advisory bonus, you may also like to bear in mind that Adam may also be cured of any undesirable behaviors in much the same way as suggested above for Lily.
I remain, Madam, your most humble and obedient servant

From Shopsko(Serbia)

Dear FiB,

If you are seriously considering ending things with Adam before speaking to him about any problem, you should reconsider the whole relationship. What is the point of having someone in your life you care about if you cannot honestly, openly, and straightforwardly talk to him? What is more, if you need to ASK for more passion and attention from a guy whom you describe as “caring and loving,” again, you need to think things over.

Now, about this particular problem. Don’t you think that there might be a chance that Adam is so eager on having Lily in his life because he is still in love with his ex, and holds onto the thing that daily reminds him of his previous relationship? That would explain the lack of attention that you get from him. Finally, you should not forget that Lily is a dog—certainly an animal with emotions and attachment to Adam—but still an animal, which should not be prioritized over you.

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  1. This scenario provides definitive proof of the superiority of cats to dogs. A cat would never dream of behaving in such a tactless and uncouth way! Tell Adam he should consider giving Lily up for adoption and getting a cat.

  2. I don’t understand why everyone thinks it’s the letter writer’s problem. Look: relationships don’t die cleanly. They leave all kinds of mess behind them, memories, stuff you bought together, habits you shared. Pets. Sometimes, children. I think Adam should show a lot more fortitude, shut out the dog as needed, arrange ‘dogsitters’, really take the lead in making the letter-writer feel she has pre-eminent pace in his life Does he still have photos of his ex on the bookshelf, too?

  3. By far the best ‘therapy’ for Lily is called treats. Dogs love whoever feeds them. Cook up some bacon before you come over. Get the smell in your clothes. Bring some over. Lily will associate you with bliss.


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