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My girlfriend of eight months has a seven-year-old chihuahua mix that is extremely jealous, if not needy. When I first started dating gf, whenever we needed some cuddle time, she would have the dog lie down on the other end of the couch or his bed. But as time went on, this happened far less to the point where every cuddle session includes him in the middle or on both our laps or hers. If she gives me attention from there, he will literally sit up in her lap, stare, and paw at her to get it back. She crates the dog before bed but only at the last minute- literally right at bedtime when we’re both tired and THEN gf wants to cuddle but I’m passing out. Every night. For months.

I can sort of live with that. What I can’t live with is that ever since we moved in, my cat doesn’t get much cuddle time because the few times the cat has visited the bedroom, the dog of course is always on the bed between gf and I. A few times he’s bolted off the bed at her so cats terrified to come in the bedroom. If gf and dog are out for a morning walk, the cat will sneak in, every time, for some love.

As for cuddling my cat on the couch, if the dog sees this, he will slowly inch his way over until he’s in between my hand/arm and cat. Being a cat who also doesn’t trust the dog much yet, she just immediately leaves. My cat really hasn’t had much physical attention in a long time and she really does love affection from people.

Tonight while in bed I was falling asleep when my cat started crying from the living room. This was a rare meow used in distress; she wanted some attention. So I got up out of bed and gf asks where I’m going and I replied, “I’m going to cuddle cat, she sounds sad and she didn’t get any attention tonight” and gf got all pissy, “Well what do you want me to do about it?!?!”.

I think this fly-off-the-handle response was because she knows her dog is neurotically attention seeking, and that I've dropped hints for months that it bothers me that I cant cuddle gf or cat without him incessantly begging for attention. I said, "Well, maybe you could move dog when he jealously gets in the way every time he sees anyone else getting attention?“

She fired back, “well why didn’t you tell me that?” and I shrugged, “well he’s your dog. I don’t feel comfortable asking you to make him move or give me space. And it's not how I feel, I just would like to cuddle cat or even you. But I feel like I shouldn’t even have to say this!” Gf goes, “Forget it goodnight”.

Once I went to the couch, cat was in my arms purring to the point of drooling. I don't know how to communicate that gf’s dog is literally getting in the way because this feels stupidly silly but it’s actually important to the point where it's a deal-breaker.


For context:

I can recognize the difference between a dog coming in to join the fun the humans must be having compared to being jealous that they’re not on the receiving end of any and all attention being dished out.

I love dogs and have trained them for years - and have been, at gf's permission, training her's all of the basic commands she never taught him. She avoided taking the dog anywhere because he was so difficult to manage and made walking a miserable experience but I worked on that too and he's actually a pleasure on walks now. I use a lot of positive reinforcement.

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    Did you consider both that you cannot discuss the matter with anyone but your girlfriend (not the dog), and that you are already living with a married woman? Can you wait for a good mood to approach the subject with a fresh approach, like when you're busy in bed? I've heard that the words I want you all to myself are very romantic. Dec 22 '20 at 21:40
  • Was you training the dog on her request or something you suggested?
    – AsheraH
    Dec 22 '20 at 22:00
  • @AsheraH Something I suggested because anytime we wanted to travel to visit family or friends only 30-60 min away, shed have her mom watch the dog. I realize this was because she was avoiding how unruly he was, peeing on everything and yanking the leash nonstop to where she was almost in tears, helpless as to what to do. I just wanted to help. Hes (mostly) a different dog now, just has major jealousy issues which is something I cant really do alone and doesn't feel like my place.
    – speak872
    Dec 22 '20 at 22:08
  • @speak872 My honest oppinion is that the dog is manipulating everyone into giving him all the affection, your GF doesn't realize it (in part because you don't tell her) and noone stops this behavior. He is free to act like the narcissistic king of your household. We might be able to give you some advice how to gently kick him from the throne at Pets SE
    – Elmy
    Jan 4 at 7:34
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Before going to your main question ("How to ask girlfriend to set healthy boundaries with her dog?"), I think that some background for the future answer is necessary.

Over decades, I've had several dogs, and seen people taking really good care of their dog, and, unfortunately, people doing things as wrong as it's possible to do. Most of the time, the mistakes come from the owner, and not from the dog.

First, it's important to know that many people think they're doing the best they can for the dog although they're doing completely wrong. They have a biased perspective; whenever you're responsible for a dog, what you do has to be done for the dog's welfare, not for the owner's pleasure. The former increases the latter, but, conversely, the latter doesn't do any good for the former. People just don't know that, and, as a teacher, I can confirm you can't teach someone something you don't know :)

Like in almost any pack (i.e. wolves, monkeys...), there's a hierarchy that's needed for the pack's organisation and hierarchy. Read more about sociality and animals. And your GF gave her dog the 2nd place, right after her. Roughly, the one in charge of "defending" them two against intruders. And you're just (like your cat), the lowest level of the pack: the ones that come at the end, that eat what's left, don't deserve the best because you can't do more for the pack than they do. What reinforces the dog's bahaviour is being allowed to jump on laps, lay on the couch between you two, and, IMO, the worst: access the bedroom!

It's very very difficult to train a dog that's quite old and never had rules within the pack (you should start around 7 months, not seven years). Besides that, chihuahua is ranked #67 in The Intelligence of Dogs - 1994 by Stanley Coren, a professor of canine psychology at the University of British Columbia. Means it'll take more time to train, and more patience.

Now, you have some very good markers: old dog + few abilities + lack of training + lack of knowledge of GF about that. I've faced that twice, tried to explain, and failed, as people often jump back to point #1 (I love my dog, and it's not bad doing that even if one of them was slowly poisoning it with too many junk food!). Now, these people were acquaintances and we barely knew each other, only meeting for special events. My word wasn't taken seriously, and my knowledge ignored, as I didn't have enough time to prove me right (I'm not even sure they didn't see me as patronizing). It's not your case, as you're really close to GF and you have time. I think you should also do things on your own with the dog. The explanation often falls in deaf ears, results can't be denied. Don't wait for things to change, be the one in charge, you can expect much better results.

Then, as this is what I do when taking care of dogs, them being mine or not (and it works), my advice would be to, even when GF is here, adopt the strong and positive attitude of Alpha male towards the dog. Don't expect her to see or imagine or guess, she can't read people's mind or guess desires. Be calm, be nice, be patient, but be firm. Teach slowly. And win your place back. If your GF asks why you do that, it opens the channel of communication, and you can then explain what happens, the why's and how's.

This is always done for the dog's sake, and its own good, so people aren't upset; it's different, they're not used to do that, but they see it doesn't hurt the dog, and it works. FWIW: I took care of a small free-of-charge shelter for dogs (6 to 8 dogs, not more) for people going on vacation, and no available room or money for a private shelter. After 2 to 4 weeks, they would find their loved pet happy, running and playing in the middle of the pack, with less aggressivity, more manageability, following the rules of the pack, because they had found their own place. I would have placed there, according to size, age, personality, every little detail that makes a dog happy. You can't explain that to most people, only show them the results.

Back to your main question: don't ask her to set boundaries with the dog, show her how it can be done. With everybody being more happy and less arguments.

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  • Alpha_(ethology) : this is the sense of what I meant, maybe should have been more clear (I mentioned wolves and monkeys, not dogs). I agree with you that it's different, and even written in the link WP article :) I was talking about OP/GF/dog/cat and its hierarchy :)
    – OldPadawan
    Dec 23 '20 at 16:49
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    The notion of "alpha" in canines has been scientifically dismissed for quite a while now. Rudolph Schenkel, who originally "discovered" the concept, published the idea in 1947 - it's quite dated as far as animal psychology goes. The biologist Dave Mech culturally popularized the term in the 70's but has been spending the last two decades now trying to raise awareness that the original research, including his own work, was actually very, very wrong. I dont have the research on hand but here's a wiki: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_(ethology)
    – 8protons
    Dec 23 '20 at 16:49
  • @8protons : edited to make it more clear hopefully, thanks for the remark, re-reading my post, it could be badly interpreted at first sight. Better now?
    – OldPadawan
    Dec 23 '20 at 17:30

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