By Amy Alkon
Q: My girlfriend sleeps with her two medium-sized dogs. They are, to quote her, her “babies.” I see them more as her bodyguards. We don’t live together, but even when I sleep over, which is a few times a week, she refuses to kick them out of the bed. She has a nice bed they could sleep on downstairs in a spare room, but she says she doesn’t trust them down there.—Second Fiddle
A: She doesn’t trust them down there in the spare room? What will they do, get on the landline and make prank calls to Taiwan?
The truth is, a dog (or dogs) left alone in a room may, in short order, chew a $900 leather chair into a $900 pile of stuffing. People tend to see this as the dog’s scheming attempt to show its owner who’s boss. However, anthrozoologist and doggy behavior researcher John W.S. Bradshaw says the notion that dogs are engaged in this fight for dominance with humans just isn’t supported by modern science. Unfortunately, widespread belief in this myth has led many to see (highly effective) reward-based dog training as coddling and instead opt for Stalinistic confrontation- and punishment-based training, which Bradshaw writes “may initially suppress (some unwanted) behavior but can then cause the dog to become depressed and withdrawn.”
Chewing, Bradshaw explains, is actually a form of tension relief for a dog. Tension? Because the dog has a big project due at the office? Well, actually, we bred dogs to bond with us, so they evolved to find human contact very rewarding. And according to Bradshaw’s research, many dogs experience serious “separation distress” when isolated from their owner—which they often express in all sorts of decor-destroying ways. (Welcome to Bed Bath & Look, It’s A Giant Dog Bone With Throw Pillows!)
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “The girlfriend’s two dogs have each other!” If only that counted in dog terms. Bradshaw references a study in which mutts in a kennel, separated from their usual canine kennel mates, didn’t act out; however, those separated from their usual human caretakers freaked. As Bradshaw puts it, for a dog, the key pack member is “almost always a human.”
As for the human conflict here, relationships researcher John Gottman explains that the answer to gridlock on an issue isn’t solving the problem (which may be impossible) but being able to talk about it with humor, empathy and affection. What’s essential is that your feelings seem to be important to your girlfriend and that she at least considers possible compromises, like having the doggies in her bedroom but on beds on the floor. (It may take some training to get a bed dog to be a floor dog.) Ultimately, in the bedroom, the Reign of Terrier may not end, but on the upside, paw print place mats have yet to appear on the dining table, and your customary glass of merlot isn’t being set next to a bowl of pasta primavera on the floor.
Q: I’m a guy in my late 30s. I don’t fear commitment; I fear surprise—the surprise I get when I find I’m with yet another crazy woman. My previous two girlfriends eventually turned out to be total psychos—mean, controlling and paranoid that I was cheating (which I’ve NEVER done). I’m beginning to think love is a ruse, with women pretending to be cool and balanced until their true crazy colors come out.—Weary
A: There are events in life that are totally unexpected, like getting sucked up by a big vacuum hose into a passing alien spaceship. If you’re the one who ends up under the probe, we don’t get to go all accusey on you, like, “You … went out to the mailbox on a Saturday afternoon?! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!!”
In relationships, however, though there are a few gifted crazies who can pull the long con, most reveal who they really are in many small ways—long before you wake up strapped to a chair with a bright light shining in your eyes: “Tell me why you had sex with the neighbor!” she bellows. You: “Wait—the 90-year-old?”
Identifying which ladies are from Batshitistan involves two things: 1. Taking things really slowly so you can look at a woman’s behavior over time (especially when she doesn’t think you’re looking). 2. Wanting to see more than you want to believe.
It also might help you to take an honest approach to the past—admitting that you treated hope as a creative alternative to critical analysis. This should help keep you from rashly welcoming the wrong people into your life, like that dark stranger ringing your bell in the hooded cloak: “Come on in, mister! There’s a bowl of nuts on the table and there are cocktails on the minibar. May I take your scythe?”