Downtime

My Boyfriend’s Untrained Dog Does Whatever He Wants

Both pup and man need help. How can I even have this conversation?

A dog with a crown on its head
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to beastmode@slate.com. We love dogs and cats equally, and reserve treats for questions about your turtle, guinea pig, bird, snake, fish, or other beast.

Dear Beast Mode,

My boyfriend of a few months has a 3(-ish)-year-old pit bull mix who really seems to run the show around their small apartment. He bolts onto and all over the furniture, jumps up on the counters, and runs around the apartment at full speed. Generally, this wouldn’t bother me, as it’s not my home, but the dog’s boundary issues are a problem when I want to come over. He’s jumpy and nippy when he’s let out of his crate, which can actually be scary because he’s a big dog and I am a not-so-big person. He won’t let me in the bed easily and will frantically jump, paw, head-butt, and nip when I try, the worst instance of which resulted in a massive scratch down my face and neck. When my boyfriend and I do settle down to sleep, the dog pushes into my space, edging me out of the bed.

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There are some stern “noes” and whatnot from my boyfriend, but the behaviors never seem to actually change. I don’t know what the exact day-to-day routine with the dog is like, but it seems like he’s not getting out of the apartment enough to boil off some of his energy. When he does get out, it’s for short, anxious walks at random times with pulling, aggressive barking at other dogs, and charging people on bikes.

My boyfriend and I are past the early stage of our relationship, and I want to spend more time with him, but I’m tired of enduring scratches, nips, jumps, sleepless nights, and generally being worried about any of it going too far. My instinct (and experience with dogs) is that the pooch needs more exercise at regular intervals and firmer boundaries around access to furniture and the bed, and that both dog and man need further training and routines. I’m not trying to create a “me or the dog” ultimatum situation, but at what point can I advocate for myself? And how do I even have that conversation with my boyfriend?

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—Untrained Puppy Love

Dear Untrained Puppy Love,

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It’s never too early to advocate for yourself. The beginning of a relationship may be inherently awkward, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore something that makes you uncomfortable. Not only has your boyfriend burdened you with an unruly pooch; he’s also shirked the responsibility of identifying this problem in the first place. You needn’t worry about it being “too soon” to bring up your concerns. This is something he should have addressed before you even came into the picture.

Having a big, energetic dog takes work. They demand exercise, require socialization, and crave a steady routine. Your boyfriend may not know the basics about raising a dog, but you clearly do. Your assessment of the situation is spot on and you should share it with him, because he needs to hear it.

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Let him know why this is making you uncomfortable. You write that you’re worried about the dog’s rambunctiousness “going too far,” but you’ve already been scratched, nipped, and bullied off the bed. Your boyfriend has likely gotten used to this behavior (which would explain why it persists), so he may not even realize that it’s an issue. Sure, an excited pooch will cause some collateral damage, but these should be rare events—not everyday occurrences.

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Identifying and sharing a problem with your partner is a good thing. What’s great is that you are in a position to offer solutions to it too. You already laid out the smartest of those in your letter: The dog “needs more exercise at regular intervals,” “firmer boundaries” should be established, and they both “need further training and routines.” At the same time, your boyfriend doesn’t need to turn the dog into Lassie overnight. Any improvement will help, and he might be surprised at what’s achievable right now. Can he turn those short, erratic walks into longer, scheduled ones? I wouldn’t suggest taking a trip to the dog park right off the bat given the pooch’s lack of socialization, but an on-leash hike can provide both physical and mental stimulation. Offer to tag along; it’ll give you three some much-needed time together outside the apartment.

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Exercise is essential, but this dog is in need of some real training too. Taking a group class is a great and unintimidating way to start. Both dog and human will receive expert guidance, and the homework assignments will be crucial for their continued education. For recommendations, check with your local Humane Society or ASPCA. (These organizations may also host classes themselves.) No matter how involved you become in the dog’s training, your boyfriend should appreciate any help you are comfortable with providing. I want to emphasize the word should, as he needs to realize that you are the one doing him a favor and not the other way around. At the heart of your concern is the dog’s health, and both he and your boyfriend are lucky to have such a compassionate newcomer in their lives.

This is far from a “me or the dog” ultimatum; it’s you and the dog. Your happiness and its well-being are directly connected. It’s time for your boyfriend to address both.

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