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The Dog-In-Law

Many of you own dogs, so I’m hoping you’ll have some advice on a little interpersonal problem I’ve got going on. My sister-in-law S lives about two hours away, and since Bun Bun’s birth, she’s wanted to come up aaaaall the damn time. I don’t blame her, Bun Bun is awesome! And I like S, though I’d rather not have visitors…really ever, but I understand that this is not reasonable. However, S has a dog, and I hate the dog. NOTE: I’m sure YOUR dog/s is/are wonderful and fabulous and well-behaved, so don’t interpret anything I might say as a slight against your personal dog. This dog is not like your dog. This dog has been around us for about three years, but still growls at us and tries to bite (okay, NIP, but a nip is just a small BITE) us every time we move.

I understand that expectations about dogs have shifted. When I was young, dogs were pets, and you didn’t assume that your dog was invited or welcome. And I also remind myself that S has kind of a premature spinster thing going on, and that this dog is her main source of companionship. So for these reasons, and because it’s my basic duty to be polite to my sister-in-law, I’ve sucked it up when the dog makes me feel afraid and tense in my own home, but then came Thanksgiving. The dog bit (OKAY, NIPPED!) a three year old, and Ss response was…not cool. She was upset and sorry, but she didn’t apologize to the parents and, when talking to me, she blamed the child for provoking the dog. The provocation consisted in moving quickly. A dog that can’t be around quick movement without biting can’t be around children.

In any case, now that Bun Bun is crawling, I’m increasingly unhappy about the dog. I think S would be happy to put the dog in the basement when she arrived and just get it out for walks, but it would all be so much NICER if she’d not bring the dog at ALL and if we could see her without those tense dog-related interactions. So I asked Mr. Bunny how he’d feel about broaching the subject with her. He’s said he’s pretty sure she’ll be offended and hurt, but that he’s up for it.

Soooo, any wisdom from those of you with dogs in the family? Am I being unreasonable in thinking she could not bring her pet? I understand she’d have to arrange and pay for care, and that’s a non-trivial pain in the ass. And, second. regardless of whether or not my desire not to be around her growling, biting dog is reasonable, can you imagine a way for Mr. Bunny to express this request that would not upset you too much if it were your dog? Or is it like that BAD, BITING TODDLER, where there’s just not a damn thing you can say to the parents that will get them to realize its behavior is over the line?

29 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ana #

    I love my dog, she was like our first child in many ways, but I am also in the “dogs are pets” category.

    My sister (lives 2-3 hours away) just flat out told us not to bring our dog to her house (pre-kids) because her husband doesn’t like animals in the house. Fair enough. She’s calm and quiet but sheds a lot, and I totally get that people may not want the mess/doggy smell/whatever in their house. We were a little disappointed because we thought it’d be fun (and dog-sitters are PRICEY) but we found a sitter and left her at home & never asked again.

    Now, my sister’s 18 month old daughter is TERRIFIED of our sweet quiet (seriously, she doesn’t bark) dog, so when they visit OUR HOUSE, we keep the dog away. We’ve also kept the dog in the basement when our friend’s son pulled her tail & she jumped…we were worried she’d take it as a form of attack and so we kept her away from him every time they visited for about a year.

    You have EVERY right to dictate whether or not the dog is allowed in your house, and especially if you are in any way concerned about its behavior around your child. It is the height of insensitivity, oblivion, and rudeness of your SIL to bring her dog over without asking and to not remove the animal and apologize for ANY concerning interaction with another person (child or adult—my “friend”‘s little yippy dog once bit my husband on the finger and she laughed…yeah).

    March 2, 2012
  2. I would never allow someone else to bring their dog to my home, and I HAVE a dog (albeit only for the past 7 months). I would never consider bringing my dog to someone else’s home unless they specifically requested it, or I knew them well enough to see if it would be ok to bring her and leave her in the backyard.

    It is totally fine to tell her, no dogs allowed. If you want to offer to let the dog stay in the backyard, fine, but you shouldn’t feel bad about saying no dogs allowed in the house. You’re completely in the right here.

    This is all true even ignoring the bad behavior of the dog. It’s your house, you get to set the rules. And saying something about how now that you have a baby you’re not allowing pets in the house is very reasonable.

    March 2, 2012
  3. I do not think you are being unreasonable at all. I have 4 dogs, and although they are very nice dogs who do not nip, bite, or do anything more obnoxious to my kid other than kissing him to death, I would NEVER bring them to someones house (especially someone with small children). Dogs are great companions, but they are dogs, not people. If this person is like some of the dog people I know, there actually may not be anything you can say that won’t offend her. But maybe you could turn it around, saying you don’t want Bun Bun to provoke and make it nervous and maybe it would just be happier staying at home? Good luck- tough one!

    March 2, 2012
  4. Jen #

    I own a dog (who is 100% asshole), and I have never once assumed she is invited anywhere. Kooky spinster stuff aside, it’s not the same as taking your kid with you. (Also, kids are not always invited to events, either. So there). I would tell her (or have Mr. Bunny tell her) that BunBun is terrified of dogs or something like that. Maybe ham it up and suggest she had a frightening run in with a dog recently or something. Always easiest to blame it on the preverbal child.

    March 2, 2012
  5. Suck it. The SIL will have to deal. Bun Bun is not to be nipped. Period. I don’t care if the SIL’s pet is the precious iguana of Gibraltar, Lassie, or Toucan Sam. Bun Bun has rights too. Not to mention her parents. And her unborn sibling.

    March 2, 2012
  6. No dog. The dog will bite your baby and then you’ll never speak to S again.

    My parents had an almost-comatose black lab for many years (seriously- this dog) and never took him anywhere except to my uncle’s farm. This is a normal way to deal with your dog. Yes, pet sitters are expensive (though they took him to this free-range doggie daycare run by a pair of lesbians, which is HILARIOUS in a county that voted 85% Republican) and so are kids and… tough.

    If you want to be nice, you can always tell her you’re not comfortable. If you want to use politeness as a weapon, you can say you’re just so worried that the dog won’t be comfortable around the baby! And you wouldn’t want the dog to be put out, oh NO, so really the dog should stay somewhere else.

    March 2, 2012
  7. ASP #

    Um, asking someone to not bring a dog to *your* house is not unreasonable. We have 2 dogs and I’ll admit, they’re complete assholes when people come over to visit but totally fine when it’s just us. We actually put them in the garage when we have company because our bulldog wants to have sex with anyone under the height of 4 feet and our Wheaton wants to lick people to death.I get that your SIL lives 2 hours away and would need someone to take the dog out if she were gone all day, but she shouldn’t expect to be able to let a dog that nips people be around little ones. I would just kindly ask her if she has to bring the dog, that you would prefer it be left in the basement or she could bring a small (I hope it’s not a Great Dane or anything) crate to confine him to when she’s visiting. Just say that Bun Bun is at that age where she doesn’t quite understand that she may do something to annoy the dog and consequently be bitten…or nipped. Whatev. You have a perfect example to offer her with the incident with the 3 year old. Either way, she shouldn’t be bringing the dog around kids if it’s nipping them.

    March 2, 2012
  8. When in a similar situation (neighbour’s dog… thankfully our friends’ dogs are much better behaved and entirely welcome in the house), I approached it as a concern for the dog. I explained to our neighbour that I was afraid our children would hurt the dog. I’d recommend something similar for your SiL. It’s also entirely true, since I imagine that Bun Bun must be at a grabby stage by now, and babies are not known for their delicate handling of pets. If she does bring her dog, then it means both baby and dog will have to be watched like a hawk the entire time, which will be rather wearing for all concerned.

    I suppose you could also offer to contribute towards the cost of dog-sitting. I don’t think you should be expected to, but it’s always an option if you’re looking for more ways to smooth things over.

    March 2, 2012
  9. Agree with all previous posters. We have dog AND small mobile child and, while our dog is super gentle, once a child is moving it can be very startling for a dog. I would never presume to bring my dog to anyone’s home, and so I think you are well within your rights to tell SIL to keep the dog at home. It will be happier there than in the basement, anyway. You can also pitch it like “Bun Bun is pulling herself up to stand, and we really don’t want her to hurt the dog by doing so” or “I think that it’s important that we protect both the dog and Bun Bun” or “Are you crazy you are bringing a biting dog into my house with my BABY???” Any one of those will do.

    March 2, 2012
  10. Trinity #

    I’m not ususally one to advocate for the passive route, but I wonder if you could simply say that BunBun has allergies? Or that your ped has expressed some reservation about her being around pets of any variety at this time?

    I think you’re completely reasonable to not want the dog around BunBun. And yes, this would also be for the dog’s sake, because dogs that bite kids? Get reported to the health department. And then get quarantined for a period of time. At least they did in VA. Given the dog’s history of biting small things that move unpredictably, it seems like a perfectly reasonable request. Really. And I say that as someone who takes her dog with her just about everywhere.

    March 2, 2012
  11. Louisa #

    Tell her the dog goes in the basement. Period. And that’s very nice of you.

    March 2, 2012
  12. “Gosh, I just love that dog of yours SOOOOO much, and I know it would break my heart to pieces if he ever nipped at BunBun and had to be subsequently sent to ‘live on a farm in the country,’ if you catch my drift. I just cry and cry when I think about it, truly I do, and the more I think about how awful that would be, the more I think it would be so selfish of me to let you put him in danger by EVER BRINGING HIM TO MY HOUSE AGAIN.”

    Something like that.

    I do not own a dog, but I am absurdly in love with dogs. Nipping is not okay around kids, full stop. Our beloved dogs of my childhood came with us only when we visited the cousins who had a big fenced in pasture for their goat, who liked a good game of chase. And these were both dogs who were later given cutting-edge medical treatment to prolong their lives, to give you some idea.

    March 3, 2012
  13. Nicole #

    You could tell her that your child is unpredictable and is known for fast gestures, grabbing, and possibly biting that that for the dog’s and her safety the dog can’t come. We just today got barked at by “a very gentle” dog. Kids and other people’s dogs = not good.

    March 3, 2012
  14. Lindsay #

    My sister has a terrible scar on her cheek from a dog bite. Now, she DID provoke the dog because she tried to pet him while he was eating but she was only 18 months old. Our mother should have been watching closer, the owner should have been watching closer – blah blah blah. My sister is fine and the scar is a part of who she is..but my mother felt a lot of guilt because she had considered asking the dog’s owner to leave the dog outside and thought “Nah, he’s a good dog.”

    March 3, 2012
  15. As every one else said before, this is unusual for a guest to bring their pet, be it the most precious sweet doggie on earth, it is still a dog and unless specifically invited, he is not included. The problem is that she has done this until now, and telling her to stop it will cause friction. BUT, you have the child. And for a loooong time, she will not understand why to not do certain things. So, for the common happiness and wellbeing, the dog needs to be confined, especially considering the nipping incident, which is worrying. If she still wants to bring it (which I suspect she will), it needs to be in the basement.

    This is another example that being nice does not pay off. Good luck! You’ll certainly need it.

    March 3, 2012
  16. I think you said it really well yourself: “A dog that can’t be around quick movement without biting can’t be around children.” Period.
    In terms of how to bring it up with S, I like the suggestions above to phrase it as being related to concerns about how BunBun and the dog would get along, given BunBun’s new grabbiness/crawling/etc. It seems like anything that blames it on her dog in particular is not going to go well. I’m not sure (given how S handled the incident with the 3-year-old), that you’re going to be able to get her to see her dog’s behavior as concerning. But that doesn’t really have to be the goal. Really, all she needs to understand is what rules there will be for the dog at your house.

    March 4, 2012
  17. Lisa #

    All of my family lives in another state. My dad often travels to see us and usually drives so he can bring his dog. On multiple occasions he has asked if he can stay with us, and I always have to tell him no. His dog is not good with children (nor with other dogs which we have). Is it hard to tell him no? Of course. But he is mature enough to understand. I would hope your SIL is too. If not, too bad for her. You have every right to protect your daughter from an unsafe situation.

    March 4, 2012
  18. I have friends who put dogs on the human level. It’s okay. That’s their thing. But when it comes to your house I think you get to decide. I’m happy that Mr. Bunny is open to speaking to her about this. That certainly helps. Yeah, I bet you it will offend her, but the the thing is in the end she will deal with it because she loves Bun Bun. I wish you luck with this. I know how sensitive of a subject it can be.

    March 5, 2012
  19. As you know, I am insanely gaga for our dog.But I don’t for a moment think that you’re being unreasonable, and I think your SIL is suffering some kind of lapse in not leaping to the most obvious conclusion herself: the pooch should stay behind. (I think the dog-in-the-basement alternative would make nobody happy – not the dog, not your SIL and not you guys…a dog-sitting arrangement, on the other hand…). I’ve known dogs like your SIL’s and it’s all okay (insert nervous laughter) until something goes wrong. And you don’t want that something to involve Bun Bun. Again, your SIL should already have connected the dots here, but…

    And I agree with Trinity – suggest that Bun Bun is developing allergies and her pediatrician has instructed that she shouldn’t be around dogs.

    As a former, er, spinster, I have a lot of understanding for a single woman who adores her dog. The dog is companion, support, solace. But I would hope that she would feel utterly wretched if something ever happened to her niece, and that the specter of this would pretty much clarify what she should do/how she should react to this request.

    March 6, 2012
  20. oh man… i can’t even believe that your SIL would question that you didn’t want her big dog around your 10 month old baby. seriously?

    since becoming a mom, there have been situations i’ve found myself in where i felt afterwards, i didn’t do what was in adam’s best interest because i didn’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings or i felt embarrassed to take a particular action. that was earlier on and obviously it was never anything that threatened his safety or anything like that. i always felt like shit afterwards and i’ve since made the decision that i’m not going to do shit like that anymore.

    i don’t think you’re being unreasonable at all. i would never have given it a second thought before having adam if someone asked that i not bring my dog (family or otherwise). you have to look out for bun bun (and yourself for crying out loud!! the damn dog has bit you!!) first and worrying about her feelings should be a distant second.

    March 6, 2012
  21. hi bunny,
    you know I love dogs (especially my dog) but I would never take him into someones house without being 100% sure (actually make that 24555555% sure) that it was ok with the owners of said house. That being said, I do know not all dog owners are like me, some are very self absorbed and clueless. We have a friend who always brings her dog to our house when she comes to stay and I HATE it because it is so badly behaved and it screams all night and just is really distructive. I am far too chicken to tell her that she can’t bring the dog though, I just sit there and hope that one day she’ll realise it’s a bad idea. So I guess you could take the same route as me, but I’d like to warn you that it doesnt work and you only end up getting yourself more stressed. Can you lie and say that bun bun has had an allergic reaction? Thats probably what I’d do, a white lie is sometimes better than the truth, especially if your friend isnt going to handle the truth well. It’s just a fact of life when you own a dog that you have to pay for kennels when you go away and it’s really really unfair that any of this is your concern cause it shouldnt be.

    The other side of the coin is that as a dog owner, and a childless dog owner at that, i’d say if you do decide to be perfectly honest with her then understand she WILL be hurt. It’s very hard to explain how much my dog means to me and it hurts when people say negative things about him so just understand that she probably doesnt see her dog as ‘just a dog’ so as much as she’s in the wrong assuming she can take her dog anywhere, part of me can understand how she’s made the assumption. Because we all want/assume that everyone will love our dogs as much as we do. Us dog loving bunch are a deluded lot!!!

    Bottom line though, you should somehow (white lie or truth) stop the dog from visiting. You need to feel like you’re keeping your family safe and you need to be able to relax in your home.

    I hope it goes well xxxx

    March 7, 2012
  22. PS I dont think the dog staying in the basement is a great idea either. Personally i’d rather pay to have my dog looked after in a kennel or have a dog sitter look after him than lock him in a basement. The dog wont understand why it’s down there in a strange place by himself and he’ll probably misbehave more because of it. GOOD LUCK Bunny!

    March 7, 2012
  23. I love my dogs, but most times hate other people’s dogs. Especially little yappy dogs. And yes nipping is still biting. Just because they are little doesn’t mean it is okay to bite. I say let your husband field the topic so she is mad at him. Just have him tell her that you are both concerned that the dog will hurt the bun bun and while you would love for her to continue to come visit (even if you don’t really want that to happen as much either), could she please leave the dog at home when she comes. Your house your rules. That is my philosophy. Another solution would be to adopt pitbulls as we have done. No one brings their dogs to our house for fear that our dogs will eat theirs….and we don’t correct those notions….just kidding we do.

    March 7, 2012
  24. My parents drive a semi-truck together. They have two yappy little dogs in the truck with them. When they come to visit, I don’t even allow these two little dogs in the house with the baby. I just said “yeah, no. That’s not cool.” Even though I have a dog. But I don’t like my dog, either, sooo… maybe I’m not the best assvice giver here.

    March 10, 2012
  25. Misfit Mrs. #

    The danger of being bit is really worth bringing up the issue with the SIL. Once it happens there will be hard feelings that won’t repair easily. Mr. Bun would be a rockstar for just saying that the nipping is a concern and that having a toddler mixed in is not worth ruining a good family relationship. I feel like you are dead on on this one. Keep up the good fight until there is some resolution that won’t end in stitches.

    March 17, 2012
  26. Melissa #

    I think it is crap when people bring their dogs to your house. I would just say no. But then again I am in a similar situation with Xmas 2012 at my mother in laws house. My SIL wants to bring her 3(yup cause that is needed) pitbulls. Which I hear stories of how they rip food out of our nephews hand (he is 5). It isn’t my home so I can’t say anything but I did express concern to my MIL that I didn’t want our son who will only be 1.5 yrs old around them. I’m sure it will end in a blow out fight with my sister in law (aka spoiled brat) getting her way. So in turn I will pull out the crazy mom and they will be locked in the garage or anywhere else where my child will not be and my son will be with me at all times. They can’t be trusted (SIL/BIL/Dogs) My child comes first and they are animals.

    June 22, 2012
  27. Anon #

    I know where youre coming from. My mother in law has this awful little dog. Its bitten kids, me, and just about anyone who walks past in when its with her. I have a very well behaved dog myself who constantly gets nipped and growled at whenever the little rat comes over. If my fiance wasnt such a mommys boy I would never want that dog in my house.

    December 29, 2013
  28. Designer77 #

    Dogs are animals. Until they start talking to us via some electronic chip (“Up”), and can tell us exactly what they are thinking, we need to remember that they are animals. Even a “good dog” can turn if provoked or hungry or just in a pissy mood. Your child is your number 1 concern. You have NO reason/need to have to explain yourself as to why your SIL cannot bring her pet. It’s your house. Period. (Speaking as someone who JUST told the parents they could not bring their dog overnight – we don’t have pets for a reason – please don’t bring yours!)

    January 30, 2014

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