Dog Talk

By Matthew \"Uncle Matty\" Margolis

January 16, 2009 4 min read


Canine homewreckers can be tamed to allow a healthy relationship

Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis

Creators News Service

It's one thing to battle over who gets the dog once divorce is imminent. It's another to argue about the dog until divorce is imminent. This is a real problem -- poorly behaved dogs that destroy marriages and deflate budding romance. What to do about these canine homewreckers?

Heed the following letter from a reader:

"My dog will not let my boyfriend kiss me without growling or barking the whole time, and it is impossible to be intimate without my dog wanting to be on the bed with us. I have tried removing him from the room, but the barking only gets worse. It has become very awkward and uncomfortable. Please help."

It's clear who's wearing the pants in this relationship -- and that someone else would prefer to be wearing less of them. But the dog's running the show, and he's determined to drown out the competition.

Since we can't sit our pups down in front of an after-school special on the birds and the bees, we're left with only one solution: training. Basic obedience training is an education all dogs should receive. It's like sending your child to school: nonnegotiable.

Simple commands like "come," "down" and "stay" are powerful tools in thwarting a canine homewrecker. And the appropriate supplies are essential. Provide your pup with a crate or doggie bed, and teach him to retreat to it on command. Adorn it with soft blankets and favorite chew toys to make it a desirable place to visit. If he resists, stand firm. You want your dog to love his resting place -- never banish him to his bed as punishment -- but he doesn't get a say in when and whether to retire. Your "bedtime" is his bedtime. But your bed is not his.

No pup should have the run of the house before the age of 2. When you are home, confine the dog in an area of the house where you can at all times see him and quickly reach him to correct problem behaviors. Baby gates work great.

When you are not home, leave your dog in a comfortable crate with good visibility or confine him in a small area of the house. This is a necessary element of training and will help to establish you as the head of household, to keep him safe, and to give him time to learn the house rules and prove himself trustworthy.

Finally, if it's all that incessant barking that's coming between you and true love:

* Keep a shake can nearby -- a tin can with a few coins inside will do. When your pup barks, give the can a firm shake. The sudden loud noise will immediately divert his attention and eventually deter his barking.

* Another approach is to use a squirt bottle instead of a shake can. The sudden spray of water to the face will startle and distract him.

* There are also safe and effective anti-barking products on the market -- not recommended in lieu of training, but in tandem with training. Citronella collars release a nontoxic yet irritating spritz of citronella around your pup's face whenever he barks. Sonar collars work by emitting a high-pitched sound that is annoying to the dog and inaudible to the dog owner.

A belligerent dog should not mean the end of an otherwise sound romance. In cases such as these, don't get rid of the dog or the relationship -- get rid of the problem.


Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Read all of Uncle Matty's columns at the Creators Syndicate website at, and visit him at Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.

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