Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We love dogs and cats equally and reserve treats and positive reinforcement for questions about your turtle, guinea pig, bird, snake, fish, or other beast.
Dear Beast Mode,
My landlord has a big, sweet dog, and she’s starting to reach middle age. She has a lot of energy, but the house that my landlord lives in and rents rooms from is not very big, and it does not have a large backyard. The landlord is frequently out, and as a homebody who sometimes works from my place, I often end up spending hours alone with his excitable pooch. She always wants attention and to go out. While she is sweet and I generally like dogs, she’s a lot to handle and a much bigger responsibility than I would take on if I were to get my own dog. Whenever I’m around, even if I’m working quietly in my room, she whines and moans for attention. It’s become impossible for me to tell when I need to take her out to relieve herself and when she’s just exploiting my fear of her relieving herself in the house. I hate that I start resenting her when I’m stressed, but she’s not my dog, and she’s constantly seeking a level of affection I can’t always provide. What should I do?
Dear Discontented Tenant,
Dog owners have a tacit agreement when it comes to dogsitting: If I take care of yours today, then I’m allowed to ask you to look after mine in the future. The arrangement brings equilibrium to the universe, but those cosmic scales are only balanced when there are dogs on each side. As a caretaker by happenstance, your situation is all out of whack. I can feel it in the universe.
I don’t know what tenants’ rights are like where you live, so I can’t give much advice beyond suggesting you strike up a polite conversation about the dog’s care. If the pooch is frequently going to the bathroom when her human’s gone (and not just meandering in the yard or on walks), then a medical issue might be to blame. All dogs are different, but an average adult should be able to hold its bladder for at least six hours. Inform your landlord if she’s relieving herself all the time, as he really should take her to the vet to make sure nothing’s wrong.
We’ll get back to the landlord in a moment, but let’s start with things you can do to make your life easier. All dogs are preprogrammed to believe their happiness is part of the lease. Naturally she’s going to bug you; she assumes that attention and treats are contractually agreed-upon terms. While it’s not your responsibility to train the dog, you can help get her on a schedule. Pick a specific time each day when you can take her to the yard and play with her. It’ll be annoying in the beginning, but try your best to ignore her pleas for attention outside this designated period. If she has a Kong toy, load it up with treats and some peanut butter (preferably from the landlord’s supply). This will keep her occupied and give you respite from the begging. Dogs love schedules (what dorks, right?), so she should hopefully get accustomed to her new plan after a few weeks.
I want to believe your landlord is a reasonable person (which can be a grand assumption for a landlord), and I hope he understands that he’s put you in a difficult position. If he’s regularly gone for big chunks of time (six hours or longer), then he ought to hire a dog walker or pay for doggy day care. Remind him that you are providing these services for free and that they were not part of the lease agreement. If he doesn’t see what the big deal is, you can get creative: Find the average cost of dog walkers in your area and ask to renegotiate your monthly rent to account for this fee. Again, I don’t know what your relationship is like, and I don’t want to jeopardize your living situation, but your landlord should at least be made aware of what’s going on inside his house while he’s gone.
Let’s say your landlord is away for three- or four-hour periods during the day. From his perspective, this is a reasonable amount of time to leave a dog alone. In this scenario, refer to my first piece of advice about picking a designated playtime. Considering the dog has lots of energy, it’s also possible that she’s not getting enough daily exercise. Your landlord can remedy this by taking her to the park or on a long walk in the mornings. That’s a fair suggestion for you to make, assuming he doesn’t do it already, and, best of all, it’s free of charge.
This isn’t a perfect situation for you, but things can improve with a little cooperation from both landlord and dog. There’s reason to be optimistic: The balance of the universe depends on it.