What I learned about love from a dog therapist

My mom once made the joke that I should have a t-shirt that reads: I almost got married, and all I got was this lousy dog.

He kept the computer and pretty much every other valuable thing we co-owned, and I kept the dog. Breakups are nasty. By the time I left him, I just wanted to leave, and happily ceded any belongings he wanted to take time to fight over. He almost immediately got together with that sweet, young actress we used to work with when we did black box theatre in North Hollywood, and I went to a dating seminar, at which I was shocked to find a cadre of handsome men sitting in the back, only to overhear that they were college freshmen getting extra credit for a Psych 101 class. We all took notes together on our iPhones (well, I took notes. I think they might have been texting honeys. You can never tell.) Don’t make yourself too available. You have to make him understand your affection is a commodity, and he has to earn it. That way, he will not only be more receptive to it, but will actually begin to seek it out. And, when you withdraw your attention in response to bad behavior, he will want to work to win it back.

Better informed by all of the advice sourced by books and dating experts of my chances of finding love again, I decided to deactivate my Tinder account and start taking pottery classes. At least, my friends would consolingly remind me, I had my dog. A pure and selfless companion whose sole purpose in life is to sit and snuggle with me while we watch Criminal Minds.

My dog, unfortunately, does not snuggle. My dog isn’t a very good dog in general, and that is the honest truth. And I love the hell out of him, so you can take my word on that. I used to describe my dog as being like a cat, but then I offended a lady who owns a cat, so I don’t do that anymore. We are like roommates who have lived together far too long; everything I do seems to annoy him. He growls at me when I continually shift around in bed at night, he will occasionally take a swipe at me on my way to the kitchen (you’re hungry again, you jerk?) Once, I attempted to write a children’s book about him, and the rewarding and virtuous life of being a rescue pet parent. An editor actually took the time to write me back just to let me know that my manuscript actually persuaded her to not get a dog.

After a particularly bad incident involving the ingestion of roughly 30% of the poly-blend throw someone had gifted me from Crate & Barrel, my vet referred me to an Animal Behavioral Therapist. I instantly adored the idea. I thought, this is L.A.! Everyone’s into something weird! Now, I would actually have something to talk about, when What’s-Her-Name is going on and on about how her hypnotherapist is helping her cope with her audition anxiety, or when that really sweet girl from barre class whose name I can never remember is talking about how reiki healing cured her sleep apnea.

As usual, this did not quite pan out as I would have best imagined. I got some uncomfortable laughs, some furrowed brows, a what? In my endeavor to finally, after 8 years, assimilate into LA culture, I actually managed to out-do it.

The therapist, however, was bomb. She was understanding and kind, hella smart and full of advice on how to manage my problem child pooch. She assessed the issues we had been having (he hates me, etc.) and developed an extended behavioral plan to address them. A cornerstone of this plan was centered around the way in which I interacted with my dog. In order to win his trust and willing affection, the doctor explained, I needed to not make myself too available. I had to make him understand my affection was a commodity, and he had to earn it. That way, he would not only be more receptive to it, but would actually begin to seek it out. And, when I withdrew my attention in response to bad behavior, he would actually want to work to win it back.

It became obvious rather quickly that my failures as a single non-20-something and a pet parent might be far more connected than I could ever have anticipated, which was tragic given the circumstances under which I originally acquired said pet. I told the therapist not to fear, that I had become an expert at strategically withholding my affection, and that the next time my dog texted me, I would wait at LEAST 15 minutes before I texted him back.

She laughed uncomfortably, which was also beginning to appear to be a reaction at which I was an expert at inducing. But at least it makes for a good story. My dog and I had become a living meme, sitting at opposite corners of my studio apartment, the words: YOU HAD ONE JOB! as the caption. I rejoined Tinder, once again in search of a companion who might be more tolerant of my affection. I was able to use my Dog Therapist story as an ice breaker on a date with the cool, sort of short, hipster-artist dude who lives at The Brewery. As I delivered the punchline, where Dog Therapist gives me the same advice Dating Coach gave me, he laughed and said, “Well I guess it just goes to show, men are…” I chimed in, “… dogs!” As he finished with, “… I was going to say simple.”

He didn’t call me again.

Mikayla Park is a substitute teacher and non-profit creative person living in the slums of Beverly Hills. She can also be found at her slightly satirical, highly foul-mouthed teaching blog: A Note from the Sub

[Illustration via author]

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