You’re in love, and the future looks rosy. You’ve spent practically every minute together since you first met. Maybe you’ve met his or her parents, and things went well. You’re ready to take it to the next level. It’s time for your new partner to meet the other love of your life: your dog.
That first crucial meeting is fraught with the kind of anxiety a first date engenders. There’s a lot on the line; for some of us, if the dog hates the partner, or visa versa, it can spell the end of a potentially beautiful relationship.
Dogs can be territorial about their home and their human. A new person entering their domain may be perceived as an intruder, especially when your dog has to share your hugs and kisses with the new man or woman in the house. Some dogs have even been known to scare off the “other” by growling and guarding the front door.
Just like a first date, first impressions are important. But don’t sweat it; there are steps you can take before that first meeting to increase the chances of a successful date and pave the way to pet-partner contentment.
Set the Stage
Let your potential partner know early on that you have a dog (or dogs). Waiting until you think you’ve “hooked” a new friend to mention that you live with two Great Danes isn’t fair. Telling a potential partner the truth about your passion for your dog, or dogs in general, is much more likely to result in finding a good match.
But don’t expect to change someone. If your boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t like dogs — or worse, if they’re afraid of dogs — you may have to rethink your relationship. If you’re the kind of dog parent who can’t imagine living without dogs for many years to come, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the long-term prognosis of this relationship isn’t rosy.
If loving dogs is at the center of who you are, living with a person who doesn’t like dogs, or is even indifferent, can be a deal breaker.
Leading Up to the Big Day
Before the big day, consider both your dog’s and your partner’s quirks. If your dog attacks any man with a beard, and your boyfriend has a beard, a clean-shaven look is better than a bite from a terrified pooch. Or maybe your partner has a booming voice or a honking laugh, and your dog has a fear of loud noises.
Explain your dog’s quirks beforehand and suggest a temporary fix: shaving, not wearing the baseball cap, keeping the noise level down until your dog adjusts to the new person. If you are uncomfortable being straightforward or afraid of embarrassing your mate, consider how the date will go if your partner walks into your house and shouts at the top of his lungs, “HELLO BUD!” and your dog freaks out. It will not only put a damper on the day, but make the whole let’s-all-get-along thing a lot harder in the future.
Whether or not this is an issue, provide a place for your dog to escape to if he’s afraid or just plain jealous. It can be a well-padded kennel with a cover and his favorite toys, or a “pet cave” (small or large)” or even this Igloo. Purchase this well before the day your partner comes over, so your dog can experience the hideaway as a peaceful, relaxing place. You don’t want your dog to feel like he’s being locked away from you whenever your boyfriend or girlfriend visits.
The Way to a Dog’s Heart is Through His Nose
Before the big day, bring in an item of clothing that your partner has worn, like a t-shirt she sleeps in or sweatshirt he works out in or even a used towel. It can be anything that is permeated with their scent and hasn’t been washed after using.
Show it to your dog, and let her sniff it. As soon as she does, give her a treat. This will train your dog to associate the scent with something positive. Repeat this exercise as much as possible before your partner arrives.
Choose the Place Wisely
You wouldn’t bring a first date home before you’ve laid eyes on each other. Choose a neutral place for the first meeting. A park or outdoor café is perfect. This alleviates your dog’s need to protect her territory.
Don’t force physical contact. Allow your dog to approach your partner when she’s ready. Ask your partner to avoid direct eye contact and to stand perpendicular rather than facing the dog.
When your dog goes up to your partner, have him or her give your dog a high-value treat, like a small piece of roast chicken, hot dog or burger. If your dog remains timid, and won’t take the treat from your partner’s hand, try tossing it on the ground, gradually throwing it closer and closer until your dog is comfortable enough to take it from your partner’s hand. If you have a dog that won’t take a treat directly from anyone’s hand, tossing her a treat should be enough to establish a positive impression of your partner.
When your dog has taken a few treats, have your partner play a few rounds of your dog’s favorited game or give her a chew bone or a stuffed Kong.
Reinforce and Reward
Every time your dog looks at and approaches your new partner, give the dog a treat. When your dog asks for a scratch or a snuggle, she should be rewarded and praised. Stay close to supervise, but all the affection and treats should come from your new partner.
If your dog appears relaxed, walk or ride to your home together. Once there, have your partner give your dog a favorite chew bone or toy. Don’t pressure the dog; if she wants to retreat to her dog cave, that’s okay.
As your dog becomes more comfortable, have your partner assume more responsibility. Feeding your dog is especially effective for creating a bond. Go for a walk, and let your partner hold the leash. It should be no time before your dog recognizes your Significant Other as another person who will love her.