Tips for ensuring your pet takes to a new boyfriend or girlfriend.

IT’S easy to love a dog.

What could be better than to be greeted with passionate ecstasy, even if you’ve only been away for two minutes? How lovely to be adored, always and unconditionally; and by a companion who never criticises or argues, and who doesn’t even notice when you’ve had a bad hair day.

According to a new study, pet ownership among single people is on the rise. In the US it rose up by 10% between 2006 and 2011. And that is likely to be mirrored on this side of the Atlantic.

But what happens when two become three? How does an adored pooch react when a love rival moves in? It can’t be easy to have a man ousting you from the couch; chucking you out of the bed, or getting in the way every time you want a cuddle.

According to dog trainer Rachel Meadows, it’s all about preparation. “Most dogs accept a new system,” she says. “But they won’t if all the attention they’ve been used to goes away. If, because of the new relationship they are getting less walks, less hugs, and less stimulation, they will find other ways to release their boredom, and that can come across as a behaviour problem.

“If a boyfriend moving in means that the dog won’t be allowed on the sofa anymore, you have to teach the dog new rules in advance, but make it a game. Make it fun to get him off the sofa, and reward him, rather than force him.”

Lizzie Broekhoven, 19, is crazy about dogs. So much so that she’s making a career of them, and is currently doing a college course in dog care. She has owned her terrier, Bauer, since she was 13.

“He sleeps on the end of my bed,” she says, “and he comes everywhere with me. He’s my baby.” Lizzie lives at home, and the family own another dog, too: a teacup chihuahua called Poppy.

Eighteen months ago, Lizzie met Chris, who often stays over. “He’s OK with Bauer sharing the bed,” she says, “because he keeps to the end of it. But if Bauer knows Chris is around, he scratches his face in the morning, and scratches on the door, because he knows Chris will get up. That annoys Chris, because I won’t wake up.”

Does he get jealous of the dog? “Well he’s always saying, ‘you kiss that dog more than you kiss me’. He thinks I indulge Bauer too much. If you pet him for a while, he starts scratching your face. I think that’s cute, and I continue to pet him. He says I shouldn’t do that. He says it’s crazy.”

Bauer is the owner of several beautiful collars. Lizzie’s favourite is a Newbridge model, and she loves putting him into a bandana, too. But she draws the line at clothes. “He was given a T-shirt for Christmas, but I’d never make him wear that,” she sa ys.

Who does she love the most? “I love Chris to bits. I have a goddaughter and she’s up there too.” She pauses. “But Bauer would have to be number one.”

Jeni Duff, 27, is a veterinary nurse in training. She’s doing her degree in UCD, but works in a practice at weekends. “I worked there full time, before I started the degree. Seven years ago, a litter of puppies came in. They’d been rescued from a halting site. I took them home and bottle fed them.

“I ended up keeping two; Panda and The Stig. I was living at home, but my parents agreed. We thought they were Jack Russells and would only be small. A few weeks later, their mother was found and she was a greyhound! So they kept growing, but luckily, not too much.

“Two years later I met Richard; we moved in together last year. In taking on me, he took on the dogs, too. He had to agree to live in a house with a garden.

“We do row about the dogs. He says he can’t have a serious conversation, because I’m always petting and kissing them. Sometimes he says, ‘I think you love those dogs more than you love me.”

Is that true? “It’s hard to say. It’s a different kind of love. But it’s the most amazing thing to come home, and the dogs are just there. They jump up in welcome and that will never stop, no matter what I have done.”

Being a soft touch, Jeni often brings other dogs home. “I’ve rescued two rats too. We’ve had so many rows about that, that now I check with Richard first. He asks ‘are they house-trained and how big are they?’ ”

Has he ever said, ‘it’s me or the dogs?’

“Yes. But only when he’s messing. It’s not really that he means it.”

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