MIAMI - You've met the love of your life -- the person you want to cuddle with on the couch, snuggle up with under the blanket, share kisses with and enjoy all the wonderful moments that couples share when they're in love.
But while you were busy making goo-goo eyes with your new lovey dovey, baby, sweetheart, you totally forgot about the other love of your life waiting for you at home. And when that someone finds out you've been cheating, well, you better hope the goddess of treats and squeaky toys is at your side to protect you.
Helping your new romantic interest and your pet adjust to one another can be challenging. But with patience, persistence and a pinch of bribery thrown in the mix, your four-legged and two-legged loves can learn to get along. And if you're lucky, they will fall in love with one another just as you have fallen in love with them.
Like any relationship, it takes two to tango. Both pet pal and the partner must make an effort. With a little help from you to choreograph the dance, you'll soon be the envy of everyone on the doggy park dance floor.
Here are a few simple steps to get you started.
Step 1: The First Date
The first meeting between your pet and your new partner is by far the hardest. It's one that will bring dominance issues to the surface faster than you can yell, "No!" when your normally docile Labradoodle lunges for your new romantic interest.
To avoid dominance issues, arrange a first meeting on neutral ground, such as park, beach or other open public space where your pet won't feel crowded. Make sure your new love interest brings along some of your pet pal's favorite treats to create a positive association: new person equals yummy treats.
During the first meeting, let your pet make the first move. Urge your partner to relax, while Fido or Fifi sizes him or her up. Pets can read people faster than it takes you to read a trashy novel. Your partner is just one tense muscle twitch away from being sized up and discarded.
Step 2: Come On Over
Once your pet is comfortable with your new partner on neutral ground, it's time to graduate to a meeting in your home. Don't rush this step, though. It may take a few meetings on neutral ground before your pet is ready to welcome your partner onto what until now has been his exclusive turf.
A few days before this meeting, leave something with your partner's scent in your house. This will help your pet get used to the new person more quickly.
Once your partner arrives, the three of you should go for a walk. When you get back, allow your partner to feed your pet pal. The goal is to allow your pet to associate your partner with his or her normal routine.
A fearful or territorial dog may bark at your partner or even become aggressive if the two of you show affection toward each other. This is your dog's way of protecting you. It's something that may require more than just bribing with treats to overcome. In some cases, you may need to seek the help of a professional trainer.
Once you've gotten the initial meetings out of the way, here are some things you can do to build on that foundation.
Building A Future Together
Patience Rules: Getting a pet to accept your new mate will take time. Like any relationship, it can't be forced. Sure, you can make things easier on yourself by falling in love with a pet lover or pet owner.
While we can't dictate who we fall in love with, dating services for pet lovers have sprung up to make the process easier. Dating a pet lover may help, but there's no guarantee that the loves of your life will get along, especially if your partner also brings a pet to the relationship.
Stick To Routine: This means adhering to the schedule -- feeding, play time and walks -- as much as possible and adjusting it gradually to accommodate the needs of both your pet and your partner.
A sudden change in routine creates stress for your pet pal. Pets manifest their feelings any way they can. Chewing, marking territory and withdrawing from the situation are some of the ways they react to stressful situations. You may interpret your pet's actions as signs of jealousy, but experts say they are probably more related to disruption in their routine.
Forge A Connection: Forging a connection also means bonding through bribery with your dog. Treats are to pets what jewelry, flowers and an unexpected gift of power tools are to humans. Giving your pet a special treat or toy whenever your partner arrives creates a positive association.
Once your pet feels safe, let your partner assume some of the daily responsibilities of feeding, walking and playing. The more your pet sees your partner becoming part of the routine, the more accepting he will be.
Compromise: You will never please your four-legged and two-legged loves all the time. Compromising is the only way you'll find the balance to succeed most of the time. Sometimes that means favoring your partner's needs over your pet. And sometimes, your partner will have to get used to sitting on the floor next to you, while Pookie sits on the couch with his head on your lap.
Strict Expectations Lead To Disappointment: Your pet doesn't have to love your partner as much as you do. And don't expect your partner to adore your pet.
Communicate: Make sure your partner understands your level of dedication to your pet. If your partner is not a pet owner, you should also take time to educate him or her about the importance of closing doors, putting away potentially dangerous objects and not leaving half-empty beer bottles and chocolate cupcakes on the coffee table.
Learn To Let Go: No matter how hard you try, sometimes the relationship between your mate and your pet won't work out.
If so, be prepared to let one of them go.
Pets aren't the only ones who may be strained by the new relationship. Maybe your partner is allergic to pets, or maybe (horror of horrors) she doesn't like animals. Allergies can be controlled with medication. But you have to prepare for and accept the worst-case scenario -- your pet falls in love with your new partner or vice-versa, but the love is unrequited.
If that happens, you're going to have to decide which one to keep. Surveys suggest that women think dogs are more loving and cuter than their boyfriends. Sorry, guys. This is one battle you may not win.
Relationships are never without challenges. Relationships with pets are no exception. But making the effort to help your pet and your partner get along is worth the effort. The payoff? You get to keep your two loves without jealousy or guilt getting in the way.
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