Thursday, October 2, 2008

Abusive Boyfriend Dogs and Bunny-Boiler Bitches

I've never had that boyfriend. The guy who starts out all romance-novel, but then pretty quickly it's all Where were you this afternoon, I called your sister's and she didn't pick up -- you don't need your own bank account, I'll pay for what you need -- why were you just talking to that guy, what do you mean he's a "friend" from work, you don't need no "friends" -- goddammit, when I come home I expect dinner to be on the table -- what did you say, bitch!?

He's the guy who's going to hit you sooner or later, unless you get the hell out sooner. He's right there, ready, when life takes down an otherwise capable woman, and he's always out there hunting for someone who believes deep-down that she's a piece of shit who doesn't deserve better -- he can find these weak members of the herd with a skill that would make a hungry jackal blush, and run them until they collapse.

On a first date, he may take your wrist "gently but firmly." Or steer you by the small of the back when you need no assistance. He'll wrestle "playfully" and let you know he's stronger than you. Nipping the gazelle, see. Little test.

No, I've never had that boyfriend. My romantic history runs heavy on the sweet geeks. Worst mistake I ever made along those lines was dating a Republican. But like every woman, I sure know That Guy. (He's the one all your friends and family hate, girlfriend. Listen to them. Or he's the one who can "charm" some or all of the people in public, but "changes" when he's alone with you. Run.)

He thinks he's an "alpha male," but really he fears your power and grasps for control he knows he does not deserve and cannot achieve without diminishing you.

Men, I am told, have an equivalent archetype, the "bunny-boiler." Sexy, passionate, and will cut your balls off with pinking shears because you were telling jokes to a younger woman -- excuse me, that whore -- at the party.

(I think we can all agree that the blessed union of John and Lorena Bobbitt was what happens when That Guy marries the Bunny Boiler. Police in every town, everywhere have a list of such couples. Drain on the law enforcement budget, and potentially dangerous, but at least the two of them are out of circulation as long as they stay together.)


The enormous Labrador put on a pretty good doofus act.

Oh, don't you want me to barrel into you at the door? I'm just a really friendly dumb dog, don't mean nuthin' by it! Hey! When I'm jumping from chair to couch to coffee table, I'm just being an exuberant guy! I'm a Labradork! No one takes me seriously! I'm takin' this sammitch! I'm charming, I don't have to have manners, look how cute I am!

When he grabbed his owner's arm to keep her from snapping on the head halter she'd been using to try to control him on walks, I flashed on That Guy in the bar -- the one gripping the back of his girlfriend's neck. Deadly threat and immediate coercion in a deniable form -- Just being affectionate. Just playing. Nothing wrong here officer. Ask her yourself.

Like most Abusive Boyfriend Dogs of both species, this Lab employed manipulation with the implied, rather than overt, threat of force -- right up until that didn't work anymore. Mostly it always worked with his owners. They were pretty obedient, and he'd trained them to present cookies whenever he might get upset about something.

He'd already trapped one disobedient dogsitter in the basement, prompting his owners' call to me. He was not going to go back into his crate, and if he had to use his teeth to emphasize that point, that was okay too.

Trainer coming in and telling him what to do -- and worse, telling his beyotch to disobey him? Let's start with some nose bumps. Now hard eyes. Doesn't back down? Here come the teeth!

Lest you think that successful bullying of humans is the domain of hundred pound brutes -- there was the eight-pound papillon who dictated whether or not his male owner could return to bed after getting up at night (answer: not), and successfully "pulled" his fit, athletic female owner off the straight line I'd asked her to walk, because he wanted to pee on every mailbox.

A variation is the bitch who proclaims to one human I will not be ignored, and to the rest of the family (interlopers) You will never come between us. In my experience, bitches are less likely to use "goofy" as a cover for their controlling behavior, and tend to be both sneakier and more symbolic when they make their points. Like the herding-breed bitch who left steaming turds in the exact center of her man's wife's meditation cushion. (This lady was not the bitch's owner in any meaningful way; when I suggested that there was a man-wife-bitch love triangle in operation, she quite astutely interjected "And I am the other woman.")

Are these problem dogs?

They are problem relationships.

My guy Moe is the most devoted, loving, loyal animal I've ever known. He wants nothing more dearly than to be of service, to be on the team. Moe's motto: What can I do for you next, ma'am? And he never met a (human) stranger.

Moe is also dominant, powerful, physically and emotionally pushy, protective and hyper-responsible, slightly needy, and has potential for aggression. All reasons why he stayed with us instead of being sold. It was clear by the time he was six weeks old that adorable puppy Moe was an Abusive Boyfriend Dog waiting to happen.

Different relationship, different development, result = different dog. Too bad we can't evaluate little kids and make sure they get the specific parenting they need based on temperament. There'd be a lot fewer women with black eyes cowering near the only pay phone in town. Unfortunately, most humans don't even try to evaluate the temperaments of their future pets, or the pets they are selling -- and when they do, they frequently get it wrong.

While a pet dog may successfully control some of the behavior of humans he lives with, ultimately he cannot be in charge of the relationship. After all, the human has the ability to drive him to the pound at any time -- the human can end the relationship unilaterally and permanently, and the dog has no recourse, can't really break in and boil the bunny in retaliation. Just as real Abusive Boyfriends become more controlling and dangerous when they perceive that a woman might be strong enough to leave, ABD's controlling and violent behavior is grounded in their unconscious knowledge that the humans they bully still maintain the power of the doorknob, the car keys, and the checkbook. It escalates when the human attempts either distance or discipline. So, although the dog's temperament is a major factor, we cannot hold a dog responsible for a human-dog relationship gone wrong. That leaves one other party in the relationship.

People who have one Abusive Boyfriend Dog frequently find themselves with one after another.

Others are lucky enough, or careful enough, to acquire good-natured, easy-going dogs who are secure enough that they feel no need to "control" their humans. They may have had many dogs with no real problems before the one who prompts the call to me. The ABD is a surprise -- I raised all my dogs like this, and none of them ever chased me into the bathroom when I tried to take garbage away from them.


How can I tell whether I may have enabled my dog to become an ABD, or a BBB?

• You find yourself altering or limiting your relationships with other humans because the dog is "protective" or intolerant of guests or your SO/dates/family members.
• The dog is destructive, anxious, hysterical when you go out, and may have been labeled as having "separation anxiety." He may even actively attempt to prevent you from leaving.
• The dog steals stuff in order to initiate a keepaway chase and gain attention, or in order to have something to guard.
• The dog bolts, plays keepaway, or otherwise acts up when you are preparing to leave.
• The dog resists training for door manners.
* The dog does not get off furniture when told to do so, and resists yielding to humans.
• The dog is uncharacteristically subdued and mannerly in the presence of the vet or obedience trainer, especially when away from home.
• The dog is uncharacteristically overtly aggressive towards the vet or obedience trainer.
• The dog guards you. Many owners call this "protective." It is not. The dog who guards you from your eight-year-old grandson or your husband or every stranger he sees is the canine equivalent of the guy who picks fights in bars because You was looking at my woman. This is possessive, not protective. (The same guy will run like dollar-store pantyhose in a genuine pinch, leaving you in the alley with the knife-wielding mugger.)
• The dog "disciplines" human family members, or threatens them, particularly when he is occupying furniture or has something he's guarding.
• The dog responds enthusiastically to "cookie training" and then becomes "stubborn," resentful, or threatening when the bribes are withdrawn.
• The dog constantly solicits fondling and touching in the manner of his choosing, but resists grooming, physical shaping, physical corrections, and other forms of touch that are not of his choosing.
• The dog claims space in your bed, and may guard it from one or both of its rightful occupants, or from your young children
• The dog is "fine" with you because you don't do anything "unreasonable" -- but threatens or bites others who find and push his "buttons."

Do you suspect you have an ABD or BBB? This list is not a Cosmo quiz -- it isn't a case of "eight of the above and you are living with an ABD." It's a suite of issues that you may want to think about. However, if you have ever said or thought the following, you have enabled an ABD:

• But he's so sweet! And he's sorry that he lost his temper with me, just look at those eyes! He doesn't want to do it again; I'll just let him have the couch next time, it's no big deal. And he's good with the kids Skylar's lip is already healing.

Next week: How to reform an ABD, or Shotgun Therapy for Bad Attitude.


  1. I have a neighbour who's male miniature poodle is just like this, but he ain't good with the kids....

    good writing, I'm really enjoying your blog Heather.

    Barbara Brown

  2. You are awesome. I haven't even read through all of this entry and I love it.

    I could tell stories, but I'm sure they'd all end up sounding something like the examples you gave...

  3. Hey Barb --

    You caught an editing error. (Imagine that!)

    I am still a bit fusty with html tags in Blogger, and didn't catch this one.

    It now reads as intended, so maybe your neighbor's poodle is looking even more familiar.

  4. Can't wait to read part 2!

    BTW, I know someone who knows Lorena Bobbit. She's not a bunny boiler. She is a shy, sweet woman who was abused by a jackass once too often. Which is not to discredit your theory, it's just that she's not a good example of what you're trying to show.



  5. You nailed it! I know someone who is in denial that has a BBB who is terrorizing her original dog while controlling everything that happens.

    The denial is the hard part...the excuses are just irritating.

  6. OMFG--parrot people partake in this exact type of relationship. I have a tiny little rescue conure who came to me when he was two. He'd already been horrendously spoiled and lost his home because of the behavior problems that resulted from it. I planned to rehab him and then find him a home.

    But I decided to keep His Royal Adorableness (Myles) because I suspected he would end up a ABD relationship. Sure enough, he failed your test with flying colors: he's a true love child of Ike Turner and Lorena Bobbit. And no, I don't let him get away with it.


I've enabled the comments for all users; if you are posting as "anonymous" you MUST sign your comment. Anonymous unsigned comments will be deleted. Trolls, spammers, and litigants will be shot.