Training the family dog was largely the husband’s realm before the 90s when the majority of dogs were kept outdoors or owned for work or sport. Being kept outdoors they would often fall under the “man take care of outside” gender role that went along with taking out the trash and mowing the lawn. There was little to no training for the dogs kept as pets or guardians and hard knocks for those owned for work or sport. As dogs being kept as “indoor” pets grew in popularity amongst the masses dogs began to fall under the wife’s jurisdiction because “woman take care of inside”. In the early aughts I had left the nest and found myself participating in a hetero-couple dynamic of my own when I made my entree into dog training. Dogs were the new kid and in an affluent community there was plenty of people that wanted help.
I’ve worked for myself and, for the most part, by myself for twenty three years as a dog trainer and, therefore, haven’t been exposed to sexism from coworkers or higher ups but I have witnessed what I would call sexism from time to time in my line of work when dealing with clients. As my career in working with clients and dogs directly narrowed to one type of training service I’ve become more aware of sexist attitudes regarding pet dogs between hetero-couples.
The only service I offer, with rare exception, after so many years in the business is that of working with the client directly to help them train their dog. Within this dynamic I’ve been affected by some attitudes and behavior I didn’t always see when more heavily focused on a boarding and training model which reduced my contact with the human element of the equation. I had forgotten these attitudes still remain in our society until I began to work more intimately with my clients, paying closer attention to the dynamics within the household.
The vast majority of my clients are women married to men. The wife of a heterosexual couple is most always tasked with training the dog. I understand why this make sense for a couple who has structured their life in such a way that one person is in charge of home life and all that it encompasses. But outside of the dog falling under the wife’s jurisdiction I’ve noticed some dynamics I would label as sexist between hetero-couples where the dog is concerned. The vast majority of these dynamics being exhibited by Boomer couples.
OBSERVATION No. 1: He’s not going to participate.
It is not uncommon, with the largest percentage by far being Boomers, that the husband does not participate in the sessions. If Gen Xers and Millennials seem to be living a traditional husband/wife life, hubby’s time is often occupied by the demands of his profession and as such he’s otherwise engaged during my scheduled time with the wife but in many cases they find a way to make the schedule work so they are both available to participate. But, in the case of Boomers, they can both be retired, kids have flown the nest, nothing but time on their hands and the mister still chooses not to participate in our lessons. I’ve picked up on some non verbal cues indicating the reason for this on the rare occasions they have graced us with their presence if only to dip in and out of the meeting. One of the vibes these men are putting forth is that being called to the meeting is beneath them and they have shown up only at the behest of their betrothed. They often join the meeting with a sullen look and hands in their pockets.The other feeling I’m picking up on, based on their crossed arms and argumentative tone, is that they don’t seem keen on taking advice from a woman about dogs.
OBSERVATION No. 2 He may not give consent to our plan.
Showing little faith in the one to whom he gave the task, the misses and I are sometimes stopped short of achieving our goal because her better half has determined that he doesn’t approve of our plan altogether or, at least, some aspect of the plan. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, my heart sinks when a woman has to tell me “he said ‘no’ “. Just today a woman told me “he won’t let me” regarding a step in our protocol that helped her carry out her task of keeping the dogs well-mannered. My resume and referrals, evidence in the dog’s behavior and a solid argument for the plan cannot dissuade a man that has made up his mind about something long before the argument or evidence was presented. He wants us to find a way around the limitations he’s given us.
A recent client’s husband was quoted as saying “Why can’t we just do the things that worked for us with the last dog?” after I put a plan forward that would help them achieve their goals in a matter of months as opposed to the 3 years it took their previous dog to become trained; a plan that was tailored around the client’s age, the dynamics of a two dog household, the dogs’ large size, their concern for the safety of their grandchildren which didn’t exist during the formative, ahem, years of their last dog and the sake of their relationships with the parents of their grandchildren. In a recent correspondence I had to reply to her email letting her know that if her husband would not allow us to proceed with my recommendations I would not be able to help her. She said she understood and asked me to “wish her luck”.
I don’t know what took me so long to make the connection that these are the same dynamics I witnessed with my Boomer (barely) parents when it came to the family dogs. It wasn’t just the dynamics of our family as I had once believed but rather a common way of relating to one another within the confines of a heterosexual marriage amongst that generation. My father had the final say regarding any animals we had under our roof. More times than not his decisions were not in alignment with the rest of the family’s wishes and my mother seemed powerless to be influential.
In the socio-economic class in which I work today, Gen X, Millenials and Gen Z, did not inherit the same attitude with vast majority percentage in which I find it present in the Boomers. It is the rare occasion I encounter it amongst the younger generations. I’m happy to report a cooperative dynamic is observed within these younger groups. One exception I want to point out is that not all of my boomer clients operate in this way. A few of them have willingly shed these attitudes and beliefs as witnessed through their cooperative participation. I prefer to work with two equal partners that are making decisions together, putting in the same amount of work on a shared goal. We’ve come a long way in fifty plus years in navigating toward a more equitable partnership within our romantic relationships. I’m thankful for that.