For those of us who saw 101 Dalmatians or even Must Love Dogs at an impressionable age, the concept of a dog meet-cute is practically programmed in the back of our minds. Literally every time I spot a guy with a dog, I do a double take—just in case he looks crushworthy. It seems easy enough: If you’re gonna approach somebody cute, a dog is an easy icebreaker. And if you really love dogs, at least you know your priorities are aligned. But what looks like a smooth move on the screen sometimes flops out in the field.
I’m definitely not opposed to a real-life, canine-sponsored romance. Once, partly for journalism, partly out of genuine curiosity, I even joined TinDog, “the Tinder for dogs,” to see if my scruffy mutt Phoebe and I could find a compatible match. (We did not succeed, but it was more due to the app’s glitchiness than any shortcoming on our part, I’m sure of it!)
Unfortunately though, when men hit on me via my dog IRL, it often feels lazy, and a bit invasive, like commenting on a woman’s tattoos. It reminds me of trying to read a book alone at a bar or coffee shop: You’re almost guaranteed to have somebody bug you and ask what you’re reading, as though you left the house with that book expressly hoping it would prompt a man to strike up a conversation with you. Taking Phoebe for a spin around the block means frequently fielding creepy comments (dogcalls?) like, “I wish you would walk me some time.” Walking my dog is a thrice-daily routine I perform to keep her healthy and happy, and it needn’t include fending off unwanted attention from strangers who view the cute creature at the end of the leash as bait.
When men approach us at the dog bar, the dynamic goes from friendly to cringey fast. I’ve had strangers pick up Phoebe without asking (she’s a 35-pound mutt, not a chihuahua), or rub her back excessively while saying bizarrely suggestive things to me like “I think your dog and I are dating now,” or “I just love her aggression.” Woof!
When a man goes from “Hey, that’s a cute dog” to “You’re cute too, can I get your number” in one breath, before I can even react to the first sentiment, well, that’s gonna be a no from me and my dog, dawg. You need to lay some groundwork first, to establish a rapport. Recently, a cute, smiley guy passed us, asked what breed Phoebe was, made me laugh with a joke about “her inner Cujo,” and kept walking. If I ran into him again, I would not be mad about it—and would probably be inclined to chat a little longer, because he’d already endeared himself to me.
Sometimes, though, people really do use dogs as bait. The “cute-pup-as-chick-magnet” strategy has given rise to “dogfishing,” a maligned trend in which dudes post pics with dogs that aren’t theirs on dating apps to lure matches. It’s born of the same ethos as posing with babies, or nieces—a fuckboy trick to make women think they’re tender guys who can care for vulnerable, cuddly creatures.
In real life, men and women fish with dogs too, usually ones that don’t belong to them (probably because dog owners are less likely to fetishize their own, as it were, fur-children). Male dog walkers have confessed to me that their canine clients serve as wingmen—ahem, woofmen—while out on the route. Anna Sides, mom to a stunning Weimaraner and Vizsla, tells me that every now and again her single friend asks to borrow the dogs to take them to the dog park to meet guys, and it works. “She’s gotten quite a few numbers that way,” she says.
This is probably an innocent, if kinda lame, tactic—if you’re lying about the dog being yours, your Fido front is easily foiled in one date, two max. But if you must rely on a canine crutch to sniff out a mate, be sure to disclose that you’ve borrowed the beast. And it doesn’t hurt to throw in a self-deprecating comment, say, about how its resting bitch face is more appealing than yours.
If you have your heart set on a dog meet cute, dogspeed. But don’t be creepy and, while you’re at it, don’t be corny. An Elite Daily article dispensing advice on how to flirt at the dog park suggests the pick-up line, “We should schedule a play-date sometime, but like, not for our dogs.” You owe it to your dog to do better than that.
Originally Appeared on GQ