My wife loves a mangey mutt more than me (he gets the kisses, I get the kennel!)
00:20 GMT, 26 June 2012
You only need to observe the seating arrangements in our house on a Saturday TV night to gauge where the strongest bonds of affection lie.
There’s me, at one end of the sofa, largely ignored, while at the other end my wife, Maxeen, is snuggled up with the love of her life, our terrier Arthur-Rex.
Her comments on the evening’s entertainment are always addressed to him. Every now and then, her hand will reach out to stroke his head or tickle his belly.
Tell-tale: The seating arrangements in the home reveal where the strongest bonds of affection lie
‘What about me’ I want to say. I quite fancy having my tummy tickled and the chance to swap some pleasantries with my wife of 36 years. Not a chance. I have truly been ousted.
Having worked as a vet for 40 years, surely I should share her love of the dog But no, for my jealousy overrides my natural affection for the animal.
What does Arthur-Rex have that I don’t, I often find myself musing.
Perhaps it’s something to do with his puppy-dog brown eyes, which stare up at her, urging her to talk to him. Whereas mine, bloodshot, with huge bags under them, are enough to make any woman run for the hills.
Maxeen’s love affair with Arthur-Rex started just over eight years ago, in Tobago, when the little terrier scampered along the beach, chased by a pack of hounds and dashed under her sun lounger. She reached under and scooped him up in her arms.
‘What a sweet little poppet,’ she declared. ‘Don’t you think’ She glared at me from over her sunglasses.
All I could think was: Rabies. Worms. Mange. Fleas.
But my veterinary warnings went unheeded. The dog was flown back to the UK and taxied straight into Maxeen’s heart once he landed.
Canine confidante: A study revealed 33 per cent of married women believe their pets are better listeners than their husbands
Of course, I’m not the first husband to be usurped by their dog. A recent survey found that 33 per cent of married women believe their pets are better listeners than their husbands — which I suppose isn’t too surprising.
Pets give their owners unconditional love, warmth and companionship — always ready to listen and offer a sympathetic nuzzle. But hang on, I could do that as well.
I suppose Arthur-Rex can wag his tail in response. Whereas long gone are the days when I could wag anything.
He can reach across to give her a reassuring affirmation of love in the form of a big lick. He listens to how she’s feeling. He gets her emotional messages and doesn’t get bogged down with words.
Our car journeys bring out these differences all too painfully. Arthur-Rex sits on my wife’s lap, reassurances given to him with the occasional kiss on the head.
I get ‘Shouldn’t you be in third gear’ or ‘Watch that car ahead, it’s braking’, while Arthur-Rex gets another endearment whispered in his ear.
There are no brakes on the love given to him.
Being pushed out by the pooch can be a serious problem for men — one which even drives some couples to marriage guidance councillors.
‘It underscores what I tell men: the secret to being a good listener to your wife is to listen without offering advice,’ says relationship counsellor Alexander Seinfeld. ‘Pets do this better than husbands.’
It looks as though unless we menfolk learn to offer sympathetic acknowledgments such as ‘really’ and ‘I see’, rather than coming up with solutions, we could be in danger of losing out to our dogs.
In some cases, dogs are even cited as the reason for marriages breaking down. I once had a client, a middle-aged lady, who doted on her elderly Cairn terrier, spending all her waking hours with him.
A woman's best friend: Women and dogs even have their own language of love
She’d bring him in for monthly
check-ups with me, even though they weren’t really necessary. At each
consultation I learned a little more about her rapidly disintegrating
relationship with her husband. It got to the stage that when I suggested
the Cairn could benefit from a bit more exercise as he was getting
overweight, the lady left the marital home for an apartment on the sea
‘It’s so that
Bertie can get plenty of walkies along the promenade,’ she informed me.
‘We’ll both feel so much better for it,’ she added, cuddling the Cairn.
Her husband was never mentioned again.
and dogs even have their own language of love. Women often talk to
their pets in a high-pitched baby voice, which makes a dog feel more at
The same pitch of voice is used by parents the world over when talking to infants and, in almost every species of animal, high-pitched sounds are made by infants and juveniles.
In the dog world, low-pitched sounds like growls are associated with dominant animals. Whereas high-pitched sounds like yelps are associated with subordinates.
Although this may work on the dog, I don’t fancy my chances of getting Maxeen’s attention with a plaintive ‘How about it, love’ in a falsetto voice.
In talking to their pets, women should be careful about their body language. It’s OK to nag hubby with hands on hips, or holding a frying pan.
Hubby can retreat to the greenhouse. But while a dog has the ability to pick up on human social cues, he might get hold of the wrong end of the stick. And not in a playful fashion.
Bond: Women talk to dogs in the same high pitch used by parents when talking to infants
When I’ve rowed with the wife in the past, I’ve seen Arthur-Rex cowering in his box, ears flattened against his head, quivering. He thinks he’s to blame. The shouting stops. Time for reconciliation. It’s the dog that gets the attention, the wife saying: ‘So sorry pet. Did he frighten you’ as she bends down and cradles Arthur-Rex in her arms. Greenhouse time for me.
When they’re not snuggled on the sofa together, my wife and Arthur-Rex can be found gazing into each other’s eyes — my wife has realised that by looking at your pooch as you talk to it, then he’s more likely to pay attention.
But that gaze should not be a hard stare, as in the dog world this is seen as a threat. Whereas between humans it’s seen as a sign of sincerity.
Says he, shifting his eyes away from the wife, blaming heavy traffic when arriving home late for supper, having stopped off for a quick jar on the way. Perhaps that’s why I doze off later and start snoring, stretched out on the sofa.
‘Look at him. Just typical,’ Maxeen says, addressing Arthur-Rex, snuggled up beside her. He gives her a loving lick.
I know who’s in the dog house. Me.
Malcolm D. Welshman is the author of Pets On Parade, published by John Blake Publishing at 7.99. Kindle version at 99p.