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I want a dog but my wife is worried it will mean more work for her – how can I persuade her?

'I’ve promised I will deal with all the dog stuff'
'I’ve promised I will deal with all the dog stuff' - R.Fresson/A Human Agency

Dear A&E,

I’ve wanted a dog for ages but I can’t persuade my wife that it’s a good idea. She’s just worried that it will be more work for her – another thing to think about when she is already super busy. Our two young children are desperate for a puppy too and I’ve promised I will deal with all the dog stuff. How can I persuade her?

– Love, Dogged

Dear Dogged,

Congratulations, Dogged. Your problem is one of few that has caused division in the A&E department. Emilie immediately bounced in saying: “Of course they must get a dog. I don’t know anyone whose life hasn’t been made exponentially better with a dog.” Annabel replied: “I do.” And then we sat for a while in silence.

Emilie was ambushed with a dog seven years ago. Her husband and youngest daughter agitated for two years for a puppy, while Emilie exhaustedly dodged their emotional arrows, saying – with a full-time job and two children under five – that this was “not a good time”. Because there. Was. No. Time.

Then, one day, her husband offered to drive her to work (suspicious, in itself) making one quick stop along the way. And sure enough there was a puppy; a mutt who leapt into their arms and entered her life. Luckily for Emilie’s husband, it was a love-match and Billy has no bigger champion. Her shaggy love story makes Emilie view your dilemma through dog-tinted glasses.

But understand that the idea of getting a dog will be flooding your wife with genuine panic. Dogs significantly add to the mental load. They are “walks”. They are “we can’t leave them alone in the house for more than four hours”. They are “who can we find to look after them while we go on holiday for two weeks?”

Now that winter is here, they are “rainy walks in dark parks, with murdery corners” and “hours spent trying to find the poo in the dark”. They are “vet’s bills”, and “pet insurance” and “dog food”. They are “another whole live thing to think about”.

They are also “companionship” and “cosy” and “mental-health boosters” and goodness if you have tweenage children they are “the only creatures who are nice to you in the house”. But still, they are a lot. And life is already a lot.

Perhaps, Dogged, it’s time to stop selling the romance of getting a dog and get beady with the life admin, instead. There is no point, and frankly it’s a little insulting, to suggest that you will do all the dog stuff. Because, if you can happily find the space to look after a whole other being, and she is bowed under the weight of being air traffic control, then perhaps you could already be doing more, Dogged?

Perhaps we’re wrong. Perhaps against all the odds, the statistics, our own experience and that of all of our friends, everything is 50/50 in your house. Why not start the process by working out a more equitable chore balance and then see if you both have room for a dog?

It might be worth showing her how it would work, rather than just telling her it will. Why not prove to her that you have thought this out financially – that you’ve done the dog maths – and that you have considered when the dog would be walked and by whom, and whether or not you have a dog-mad pal keen to help in the holidays. This might ease her worries about the process and open a chink that a puppy could slip through.

The vague promise that someone else will take control is like children swearing blind they will look after the goldfish, the hamster, the lizard and “do everything, Mummy”. It’s not worth the unicorn paper it’s written on.

Speaking of the children and their pleading, your wife also probably feels a little ganged-up on. Of course, the children are desperate for a dog. All children are desperate for a pet. Some are desperate for ponies, or snakes. And there you are, being all marvellous, the dog-bringer, the dog-daddy, riding roughshod over all your wife’s anxieties and forcing her into the boring, fun-spoiler role. No one likes that role.

Prove yourself. Prove you are serious not about your desire but about your commitment to the running of the dog. While the dog ambush worked out for Emilie and her husband, we know couples for whom such an ambush only fuelled resentment. The wives (it’s usually the wives) felt unseen and unheard, and even if the puppy turned out to be a blessing, that feeling of being unseen and unheard never quite went away.

Before we get letters, we both love dogs. Dogs are often the best medicine for loneliness, for heartbreak, for anxiety. We probably don’t deserve dogs. But your wife also deserves to be heard, for you to listen to what she is saying about being too busy or having too much to do. Put the emotional blackmail aside and work on really changing how the household is run. And then maybe there will be room for one more.


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