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Valentine’s Day is at the end of this week, a time for couples to celebrate their romance. Traditionally, it’s a time for chocolate and flowers, candlelit dinners, and a reminder of the love between two people.

But love and romance are not always easy, and sometimes there are bumps along the road, often when something comes between the couple. When that something is a lack of time or another person, the problem can actually be easier to solve because it can be easily defined. But what happens when that “something” is the dog?

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of couples with dogs, and I’ve heard a lot of different complaints. Sometimes, one partner doesn’t like the dog. Sometimes, the dog doesn’t like one partner. A big complaint is that one half of the couple pays more attention to the dog than the human, and the biggest difficulties come when neither person can agree on how to train and discipline the dog.

When the couple is not working together as a pack, the dog will quickly learn to exploit it, the same way a child will figure out which parent to ask for something in order to get a “Yes” answer. The dog will try to get away with whatever it can with the person who gives nothing but affection and no discipline, and may even become defensive or aggressive toward the person who does.

In extreme cases, the dog can become possessive and protective. I’ve heard of more than one incident in which a dog has bitten or attacked one partner when they tried to show affection to the other. Sadly, a lot of those incidents lead to the dog being surrendered to a shelter, but it doesn’t have to end that way.

The most important thing that two people in a relationship with a dog can do is to work together. The dog may have come into the relationship with one person, but as long as they’re all together, the dog belongs to and is the responsibility of both of them. They are all one pack, and both of the humans have to be the leaders.

This means that the people have to have an honest discussion and agree on what the rules, boundaries, and limitations are for the dog — and then they both need to enforce the rules consistently.

For example, if the rule is that the dog cannot get onto the couch, then both humans need to make the dog get down if she breaks the rule. If one of them does and one of them doesn’t, or either of them is inconsistent about it, this just confuses the dog. It could even lead to the dog claiming the sofa and trying to keep the human who does enforce the rule off of it.

If one partner and the dog don’t seem to get along, then it’s time for that human to step up and assume more responsibility for the dog until they do get along, especially by becoming the one who feeds and walks him.

The great thing about dogs and couples, though, is that dogs mirror our energy and emotions and, if there are any problems in the relationship, the dog will let you know (before you do) through her behavior. That’s why a lot of the time my first advice to a couple who is having problems with their dog is, “Look at your relationship first. The dog is telling you something.”

The other things that dogs can teach couples are how to be calm, how to trust each other, and how to respect the pack and relationship. When the couple does that, they will go a long way toward having a calm, balanced dog — and a long-lasting relationship.

Stay calm, and enjoy the romance!

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