I have a wonderful relationship with my husband’s parents. My mother-in-law offered to dog-sit for us when we went on a last-minute, 10-day Christmas trip becaused the kennels and dog sitters were all booked. We delivered the dogs to her house with their food, toys, snacks and bed. We checked in by phone twice while we were gone and she mentioned she was feeding them the same food her own dog eats, and giving them table scraps, and “spoiling my granddogs.”
When we picked up the dogs, they had red, irritated areas on their skin, they had gained weight noticeably (in 10 days), and they had picked up two bad habits: begging and snatching at our food, which they had never done before. They refused to eat their own food for two days after we got home (a premium food that we think is superior to the grocery-store brand my mother-in-law feeds).
We got them back to health and didn’t say much about it to my mother-in-law, because she was so nice to take our two dogs for that long on short notice. Now we’re planning another vacation in October and she’s offering to dog-sit again. I’ve told her we’ll just board them at the kennel, but she insists that’s a waste of money and keeps urging us to leave them with her.
How can I make it clear to her that we’d rather not without hurting her feelings for her past generosity?
G.L., Garland, TX
Your mother-in-law was generous in offering to take care of your dogs before, and now, and you’re right to be considerate of her feelings and grateful for her help in the past.
The most direct way to handle this is to have a sit-down with your mother-in-law (with your husband present to show his support). Tell her that you’re very thankful that she was able to help you out before, and that you could not have gone on your Christmas trip if it had not been for her.
I assume you retrained your dogs to mind their manners since they returned home, so don’t mention the bad habits they picked up. Instead, focus on the dietary requirements of your dogs. Separation, a new routine and a new home (even a temporary one) can lead to digestive distress, so the problem may not have been entirely your mother-in-law’s fault. However, the weight gain probably was. If you’re boarding your dog at the vet, tell her you’d feel better if a veterinarian kept an eye on their digestive distress while you’re gone.
However, there’s another way to approach it. Why not give your dogs a vacation, too? Make reservations at a dog spa/day care center. While you’re gone, the dogs will be able to interact daily with other dogs during group playtime. Some of the fancier pet hotels include petting time, reading time, snack time and other extras designed to make dogs feel good and have fun. At the end of the week, the pups can have a day of pampering with a bath, brushout, nail and teeth treatment and a trim, and go home to you refreshed and renewed.
If you go this route, tell your mother-in-law that you’d like to take the opportunity to give your dogs a vacation with playtime in which they can work on social skills, supervised by professionals, plus a spa day for each. You might also mention to her that that there are a lot of couples out there whose in-laws don’t have the slightest interest in their dogs, don’t welcome the dogs into their homes, want the dogs locked in another room when they come over, and basically don’t want to have anything to do with them. Let her know that you recognize that you’re lucky to have a mother-in-law who’s dying to have the “granddogs” over to spoil them. Then make a date to meet her and her dog at the local dog park or dog beach for a playdate.
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