Dear Readers: Every year I step away from my column briefly to work on other creative projects. (Anyone interested in my personal essays and photographs can subscribe to my free newsletter: amydickinson.substack.com).
I’ll be back next week. Today’s “Best of” topic from 10 years ago is: “Going to the dogs.”
Dear Amy: My sister recently lost her job. I let her and her 2-1/2-year-old daughter, “Mariah,” move in with me while she gets on her feet.
I have a 9-year-old toy poodle, and he’s gentle and great with children.
The problems began when Mariah started biting the dog.
My sister refuses to do anything about it. She says biting is a normal part of toddler-hood. I know she lets Mariah be rough with him when I’m not around to stop it.
I thought I had a system worked out — I made sure he was always with me when I was at home, and I put him in his crate when I was at work.
However, the last three days when I returned home, the dog was outside the crate. My sister admits that she let him out.
I understand this is a very hard time in her life, but something needs to be done. She refuses to cooperate or compromise. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. What can I do?
Dear Worried: Biting is not necessarily a “normal part of toddler-hood.” It is, however, a very common toddler reaction to stress.
You can assume that this little girl is very confused and stressed. It also sounds as if your sister is not doing a very good job with her.
You should try your best to teach your niece appropriate behavior around pets. Teach her how to be gentle. Teach her to stand still while the dog dances around her legs. Teach her to pet the dog on the top of the head and encourage her to help you by pouring water into his bowl.
Tell her, “Always be gentle. Never put your hand near his mouth and never touch him when he is eating.” Always watch the dog and toddler when their paths intersect.
Your sister is a mess. It is up to you to decide how much of her own toddler behavior you can tolerate. You may have to tell her that unless she can respect your very reasonable boundaries, she’ll have to find another place to live. — August 2012
Dear Amy: I am 13 and have the best dog ever. He usually follows me around the house, and mopes when I’m gone.
He hasn’t been following me around the house as much lately and has been acting kind of mopey. I believe this is because I recently got a smartphone.
I am worried that I have been spending too much time on it and not giving him enough attention.
My pup is only five, and he’s healthy.
I love this dog with all my heart and am saddened by the thought that he might feel that I don’t love him.
How can I make sure I’m spending enough time with my dog and not my smartphone? What are some ways to resist using my smartphone?
— Smartphone Addict
Dear Addict: First, you and your folks should make sure your buddy gets a good medical checkup right away. Dogs tend to act mopey when they’re not feeling well. You are perceptive to see that your inattention has a real impact on your dog.
It is possible that he is sad and depressed because he misses you.
This is similar to the way some kids report feeling neglected by their parents when their parents are glued to their own smartphones, instead of talking and listening with full attention to them.
I recently read an interesting interview with psychologist Sherry Turkle, author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.”
Turkle pointed out that an important part of adolescence is the ability to be on your own for the first time, amusing yourself and exercising some independence.
Your phone is your constant companion now; it fills a space that should be filled with your own imagination and with interaction with your best dog buddy, as well as human friends and family.
When you come home from school, put your phone in a drawer for two hours. Close the drawer and leave it there (not in your pocket). You and your dog will both feel much better if you play and hang out together without the distraction. — November 2012