They are matchmakers or deal-breakers in the dogged dating game.
Judy Stanley, an advertising account executive from Calgary, cites as the ultimate nightmare date the time she invited a man she had met at a professional singles club to her home for a pre-dinner drink.
“He arrived with a bottle of very expensive wine and some cheese and crackers for us to enjoy before going out. As he put everything down on the coffee table, my Jack Russell Terrier rushed at the cheese and knocked over and broke the bottle. It wasn’t only the wine that was chilled; the atmosphere turned quite frosty. He was really annoyed and couldn’t wait to get out of my house. And – surprise, surprise – he never called again. That’s when I decided that in future I would only consider dating ‘dog people.’”
The dating scene is a notorious jungle filled with all kinds of predators. And if meeting Mr. Right isn’t hard enough, trying to establish a relationship becomes even more complicated if you’re a besotted dog lover. While dogs can be wonderful matchmakers, on the flip side, they can also be deal-breakers when one party can’t abide by the “love me, love my dog” credo.
“It’s certainly not necessary for both parties to be dog crazy,” says dog trainer Gillian Ridgeway of Toronto, who in her 30-year career has had to play the role of family counsellor to many couples facing this dilemma. “You can’t force somebody to love your dogs the way you do. But there has to be mutual respect and understanding for both viewpoints if the relationship is going to work.
“My husband is not a dog guy. At best, he likes my dogs but he would never try to train them or be involved in their daily care. But he understands how I feel.
“I always tell my clients that if your dogs are important in your life, spell it out right at the beginning. By the same token, the dog also has to play its part; it has to be well trained and sociable. Similarly, in a blended relationship, it’s easier to like someone else’s children if they are nice and polite and not precocious brats.”
Ridgeway points out that sometimes other issues at stake can cite the dog as a deal-breaker, such as one party being highly allergic, which can be an insurmountable problem. Also, dog lovers need to recognize that many people are genuinely afraid of dogs.
When Jennifer Bullington of Toronto met her future husband Steve in a bar, there was immediate mutual attraction. It was her friend who blurted out that Jennifer was a “package deal” with her dog ‘Hoshi.’
“He went instantly pale when I told him she was a 90-pound Akita,” recalls Bullington. “As a kid, he had been chased up a tree by a pack of dogs and had been terrified of them ever since. He was visibly sweating the first time he came to my door to take me out on a date and he later confessed that his heart was beating like a jackhammer.
“But Hoshi made it very easy on him. When I opened the door, I gave him a big hug to show the dog that he was a friend and to welcome him into our home. And when I turned around, she was lying on the floor waiting to have her tummy rubbed. He actually bent down and patted her. That’s when I knew he was definitely the man for me! If she had been aggressive, it would have been a deal-breaker and I possibly would never have seen him again.
“Hoshi has really helped him to overcome his fears and now that he trusts her, he’s beginning to learn about other dogs. Although a trip to the dog park still makes him sweat.”
Looking for love
The biggest question facing many dog lovers is where to go to meet ‘dog people.’
These days, the Internet is probably the most accessible communal arena to interact with people with similar interests. Fortunately, Internet dating is now considered very acceptable in many social circles.
“There are millions of single pet owners in Canada,” says Robert Yau, who together with his dog ‘Hershey’ founded DateMyPet.com, an on-line dating community. “It’s our second-biggest market outside the United States, which has around 40 million single pet owners – not to mention the millions more who love animals but for one reason or another don’t have a pet in their lives. An on-line pet-friendly community means you are adding an extra filter in your search to find someone who loves pets possibly as much as you do.”
Dan Cohen, founder of AnimalAttraction.com, another on-line pet-loving community that also has a growing membership in Canada, agrees. “People who love animals have certain personality traits. They tend to be kind and caring and treat their pets like children. So they are obviously attracted to people who share these traits and have similar ideas about their pets’ needs.”
While both web sites started out as exclusive dating sites with delightfully user-friendly questionnaires that cater to a pet’s needs too, they have expanded into more general social-networking communities where pet lovers both married and single can look for play dates for their pets and network on both business and social levels.
“I signed on after I found I was getting nowhere on regular dating web sites,” says Sally Johnston of Toronto. “At least I know if I ever get to the point of arranging to actually meet someone, they understand that I take my responsibilities toward my two dogs very seriously and that I can’t stay out all night carousing because I have to take them for a late-night walk and have to be there to feed them in the morning.”
In the past, both DateMyPet.com and AnimalAttraction.com have arranged social get-togethers in various cities for their members to meet. But these days, both Yau and Cohen say that because the communities have grown so fast, they are leaving it up to special-events planners and even upscale pet boutiques to plan “yappy hours” and pet-friendly occasions.
Dogged social pursuits
What started with a simple question of “Why can’t I bring my dog to the bar?” developed into Sky Bark, a hot nighttime venue in Los Angeles. The brain child of Brandon Hochman (inventor of the PETaPOTTY grass-topped doggy toilets), the hip spot is on the rooftop of the company’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters and offers a stunning 360-degree view of the city.
“It’s a place where pet people can meet and mingle, have some drinks, relax and not worry about Fifi and Fido back at home.” says Zach Sofsky, Sky Bark’s sales and marketing director.
Started in 2005, Sky Bark has become a trendy celebrity hangout. All the fun social events appropriately offer canine guests refreshments and ample designated potty spots.
“We limit events to 200 people and their pets and they sell out quickly,” says Sofsky.
Realizing the need for pet-friendly nightlife everywhere, the directors have opened another club in Boston and are looking to open other venues in the United States. According to Sofsky, they also have their eye on Canada.
Of course, meeting someone who loves dogs often means they have their own pets too, and this raises another social question: How do you go about ensuring that the pets will get along with one another?
“It’s a good idea to first introduce them on neutral ground, such as a dog park,” says Ridgeway, adding, “I always suggest to owners not to lavish too much attention on their own dogs at this first meeting.”
Of course, while things may be fine in the dog park, canine attitudes can change when a newcomer comes into a dog’s home territory and it can be further complicated if one of the partners also has a cat.
“It takes patience,” says animal behaviourist Dr. Nicholas Dodman, professor and director of the behaviour clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts, and author of If Only They Could Speak. “In a home environment, let new pets get to know about each other across a closed door by keeping them in separate but adjacent areas of the house. Switch areas periodically so they don’t become territorial. Feed them separately on either side of the door for a while before introducing them face to face. If there is a cat involved too, it’s a good idea to have it protected in a crate for the initial meeting and have dogs on leashes. When the dogs finally get together, do ‘fun stuff’ like playing with a ball and grooming, and reward with treats.
“But there is no guarantee that things will work out. If necessary, call in an animal behaviourist and let them work with you on your home turf. Worst-case scenario, you may have to permanently confine pets to separate parts of the household.”
It seems that issues between pets are often easier to solve than the issues between people.
“At the end of the day it’s all about compromise,” says New York psychologist Joel Gavriele-Gold, author of When Pets Come Between Partners. He has resolved many problems where pets have been potential deal-breakers in relationships.
“I was once faced with the scenario where a couple wanted to move in together but the woman didn’t want her new man’s puppy in her house, claiming it upset her three-year-old dog.
“As we spoke, I discovered that she had an older sister and growing up she had tried really hard to get her sister to love her but she never really did. I explained to her that she was simply projecting this situation from her past onto the dogs. In most cases, once people understand where they are coming from emotionally and we are able to highlight their psychological history, it’s possible to resolve issues.”
People always say they love dogs for their loyalty and it seems this characteristic is reciprocated. According to Dodman, when there’s a problem between people over dogs, seven per cent will remain loyal to their dog and let love fly out the window.
This article is from Dogs in Canada