I try to pay a regular visit my grandparents once a week, and on special occasions like their birthdays. Most of these visits coincide with my aunt, uncle and cousins being there as well. They also always bring their dog, let's call him Fifi.
Fifi is a small/medium dog (depending on your definition of dog sizes), and he's really misbehaved. He continually begs for food and attention, rubs himself against your clean pants (hair everywhere), ruins your nylons with his nails, sits on your feet, walks in front of you when you stand up and barks/whines a lot. Fifi's owners can't control him, they let him roam free through the living room, encourage the begging with snacks and act like he's being funny when he barks or ruins an outfit by talking baby-talk to Fifi (or offering more snacks).
As a result, both my grandparents and the rest of our family have made regular, serious requests to leave the dog at home on family gatherings over the past 6 or 7 years. Apparently, this is not an option, for reasons unknown to me. What I do know is that my grandparents/rest of my family would never put up with this if there wasn't a really, really, really good reason.
Fifi causes problems. We can finally have a good talk going with each other, one that's more interesting than just the regular 'he died, she's got cancer, they're getting divorced' remarks my family is so keen on making, and either Fifi acts out in a way that needs attention, or one of his owners starts talking to/about Fifi in a way that ends the interesting conversation prematurely.
So far, we've tried getting these conversations back on track (or not to end them in the first place) in a few ways:
- Saying 'just a sec' when Fifi's misbehaving is bothering someone, taking Fifi's collar, guiding him away/making him sit in an appropriate spot and then just continuing the conversation. This almost always end in one of his owners baby-talking to Fifi, calling him from across the room, and/or mentioning someone's name in the process, taking over attention and causing us to have to interrupt our conversation.
- Asking Fifi's owners to take care of him, then continuing the conversation. Same problem as the other approach: owners start calling Fifi from across the room, and most often we have to act anyways to actually get Fifi to stop misbehaving because he doesn't listen.
- Just keep talking. There's instances when one of his owners will shout across the room 'FIFI! Did you just fart?!', drawing everyone's attention and then start a monologue about how we shouldn't give Fifi anything to eat when he's begging because now you can smell what happened (or something similar). We've tried to just keep the conversation we're having going or turning back to it as soon as possible, but so far it has had really low success rates, as it's kinda difficult to keep your attention to something when someone else is trying to take it too.
- Attempting to ignore Fifi and his owners hasn't worked so far, as Fifi just keeps begging, rubbing or scratching, and his owners keep paying it attention, and in such a way that they demand our attention as well and we can't keep the conversation going.
So, given that:
- Fifi can't be left at home (for whatever reason),
- His owners can't control him (and themselves) at family gatherings,
- We've tried to address this with Fifi's owners and neither Fifi nor his owners seem capable of changing their behaviour.
- Either I or the person I'm talking with regularly need to interrupt an interesting conversation to save pants, nylons or food because ignoring Fifi and letting things happen is no option,
- We can't just pick another time to visit when the dog won't be there.
- Fifi's owners aren't causing trouble on the rare occasions that we meet them without Fifi (e.g. only my aunt will be there, and uncle will be home watching Fifi)
How can we keep an interesting conversation going or recover it, when Fifi and his owners are present at a family gathering?