Ask Ethel: Why Does My Dog Like Her Sitter Better Than Me?
I think you've fallen for someone else. How could you? After I wrote you that love letter last month, you want to abandon me for your dogsitter?
You hate being alone – that's why I found a friend for you to stay with during the day, because I didn't want you to have to inside-sob and be depressed in the house all by yourself.
And now that you've gotten accustomed to life with the woman who calls you her long-lost child, you want to stay there for good and never come home again? Don't you think you're being unreasonable?
Please come back,
When I pick my dog up from her sitter's house, they both came up the stairs to street level and the sitter opens the gate to the sidewalk. It's the same routine every time. The leash exchanges hands, and I head off into the sunset with my Ethel.
Well, a few weeks ago, something changed. The sitter said goodbye, shut the gate, and Ethel stood frozen in her tracks, her head turned sharply in the direction of her daytime house. I basically had to drag her the rest of the way home.
Since then, it's been the same every night. Ethel doesn't want to leave the sitter's house. When she gets to my apartment, she doesn't seem content, and instead sits on a corner of the rug, looking a little sullen and droopy. She normally begs to sleep on the bed, and one night last week, she stayed on the couch.
It's not that anything's changed dramatically in the way that I treat her. But I think she's crossed a threshold. Ethel spends more time with her sitter than she does with me, so at this point, maybe she would just prefer to stay there. And while part of me thinks I just need to deal with it –that these are the breaks when I've got a full-time job and school to deal with, in addition to having a dog who cannot and will not be alone – another part of me wonders if this is really it. What if Ethel isn't happy anymore living like this? Do I really have a right to say I should own this dog when she thrusts herself onto her belly in the middle of the sidewalk in protest?
So I called dog trainer Andrea Arden for a therapy session. In her gentle, understanding, yet unvarnished way, she says that it's probably something I just have to deal with. "It says something about our culture, doesn't it, that we're thinking about how we can get our dogs to like us again?" she says.
Arden suggested that I plop Ethel in her carrier when I pick her up each night so that I don't have to drag her down the sidewalk. "Sometimes, just breaking a pattern is enough to get her out the door," she says. I'm definitely going to try that, because perhaps excising the sidewalk struggles from our relationship will be enough to placate me. Maybe it's just crazy me who's having trouble here. Ethel seems like she'd be happiest if I just left her at her sitter's forever.
Which, I hate to admit, I've thought about. Not just dumping her there, but trying to figure out if there's a better place for her somewhere else than with me. Thankfully, Andrea didn't think I was the devil when I confessed this to her. "Life is complicated. Sometimes, the most unselfish thing to do is to say, 'Is this the right situation for this dog?'" she says. "The dog is telling you something. And that's a sign of love, that you do what's in the best interest of the dog." Let's just say I hope the carrier strategy does the trick.
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