7 unexpected benefits of having a dog

This is our dog, Caesar.

He decided to doggy-paddle in a puddle.

He is now nine months old and the end of the puppy-phase is in sight. Though it’s going to be just like coming through the night-waking or teething phases with children, isn’t it? “Oh I miss when he was all small and cute, it passed too quickly.”

It has been full-on, I must admit, but a great lesson in choosing to embrace challenges and be grateful for the positive potential in difficulties.

There are the obvious benefits to having a dog, such as a healthier lifestyle, teaching children responsibility, having a new best friend, etc. I decided to take a different tact and share my rather tongue-in-cheek list of unexpected benefits that don’t tend to be mentioned in Horse and Hound:

You are forced to be tidier.

Caesar is a Miniature Labradoodle (cross between Labrador and Miniature Poodle). We think he is about 90% lab though as he is a magnet for muddy puddles, will eat garbage, and is a real scrounger. Due to the layout of our house we have to keep him in the kitchen with a pet gate in the doorway. We let him into other rooms but only under supervision presently as he chews EVERYTHING. He also eats EVERYTHING. The problem with having him in the kitchen is that it reinforces his innate desire to find food. He is always jumping up to the dining table or kitchen counters and can reach a surprising amount.

Gone are the days when I could nip to the toilet upstairs in the middle of food prep and just leave ingredients on the chopping board. Gone are the days when we could leave our bowls from breakfast on the table and go and get ready for the day if short of time and deal with them later.

However, it turns out that there is always time to do these things that we can easily feel aren’t urgent. We aren’t the tidiest folk by nature (creative-types, innit?), though we have greatly improved because we’ve had to.

All food must go to the Lab for testing.

I can’t really complain (though I do) because I don’t like tidying but I like a tidy house. I don’t like cleaning but I thoroughly enjoy cleanliness. I feel annoyed at him when he eats our stuff, but I have to say, I am grateful for how it forces us to live.

It is another opportunity to battle feelings of inadequacy,

Just when you thought you had enough – hooray – here is another one. By way of example, this is a typical dog-issue and what it can make me think and feel:

Dog keeps jumping up at visitors.

How I can feel about it:

  • We aren’t training him well enough.
  • We got the wrong breed, he’s too big.
  • We obviously don’t walk him enough.
  • This was a mistake – we need to phone the Dogs Trust.
  • The visitor also thinks all of the above.

What I probably should think:

  • It is in a dog’s nature to jump up.
  • Training takes time – he has to fight his strong natural instincts to stop.
  • He’s still a puppy and will settle down.
  • So what if they think I’m an inadequate dog owner! I am one because a perfect one doesn’t exist (except the dog whisperer who is actually a wizard).
  • He really is lovely and it’s nice he’s so friendly.

It is about challenging the negative thoughts and the stories I am telling myself. Most of them are assumptions about what people might be thinking. Reframing difficulties in a positive light massively changes your capacity to handle them.

You have to talk to people you don’t know.

Dog owners (on the most part) are a friendly bunch. They tend to have dog walking routines and therefore get to know one another if their routines are similar. Apparently there is a dog walkers’ Facebook page for our local park.

It gives a sense of community and an opportunity to connect with people. Many of us do our commute with headphones on and/or our nose in a book. I love this about owning a dog. It also enables you to get advice and often reassurance from people who are in the same boat.

It increases your resilience to receiving rejection.

I don’t mean because if your dog is like ours they will easily change their allegiance and trot off with another family because they’d rather hang out with them and their dog instead of you (no resentment here).

I mean because some people won’t want to talk to you. They won’t like your dog prancing around their dog that is so small you could confuse it for a guinea pig. In fact, they might get seriously put out and bark “walk on” at your dippy dog who is a great judge of knowing when he’s wanted.

Though me or my dog being rejected by a stranger doesn’t tend to affect me deeply, it can ruin a dog walk for me and make me feel as though we need to leave this public space despite the fact that it is largely occupied by dogs off the lead. I can rationalise it and think it’s their problem if they want to bring their dog here and don’t want it to be within five feet of another canine. Yet we all hate the thought of being judged or resented and it can be worse from a stranger because you usually don’t have any opportunity to explain yourself.

But, why should you? People will judge you about everything; sometimes you’ll be misunderstood and sometimes they’ll have completely nailed it. It’s ok to be wrong and who cares whether they know you’re right if you are. Throw yourself a bone and just walk on.

If you train them, you get to enjoy the feeling of having a living thing obey you (if you don’t train them… see point 2).

I went for a walk with friends in half term and took the dog. As we were trying to leave she was talking to her children and was being completely ignored. She walked towards me and said:

“Don’t you just love being ignored?”

“Oh yes.” I say. “It’s my favourite. You should get a dog if you love it so much!”

Like kids, dogs know when it’s in their best interest to pretend you don’t exist. Like when another dog is in the vicinity, or some garbage, or when you forgot the training treats. When you do get training down it feels good when they trot towards you after you’ve called them. Or when they bring you a beer. Still working on that one.

You get to reinforce the lesson that your kids need to be tidier otherwise their favourite thing becomes the latest chew toy.

Thankfully nothing too precious has been destroyed. Though I did have to dispose of a baby doll and though I endorse being straight with your kids, even if it’s going to produce an emotional outburst and disappointment, I couldn’t bring myself to tell my daughter that her doll had been maimed and was in the bin. The doll she pretend-breastfed, nurtured, rocked to sleep, and loved dearly. It’s the stuff of nightmares, surely. She hasn’t sniffed out the truth as yet.

You can teach an old dog new tricks!

It is another opportunity to wear ‘L’ plates if you’re a first-time dog owner. I don’t know about you but I get so impatient with myself for not knowing. For being in that phase of learning and making mistakes. It would be so much easier to just… KNOW. To be born with all the knowledge I need to never make a mistake.

It sounds like nonsense because it is. To get the best from life we need to cultivate a love for the process of learning. Simply because we are always in that state and pretending we are not leads ultimately to the break down of relationships. No one wants to work with that person who thinks that they have arrived, that they don’t make mistakes and that everyone needs to know that no matter what. I wouldn’t want to be in a long-term relationship with them either.

So, to sum up:

Get a dog if you want to have more growth-inducing challenges in life. (Or maybe have mine?) Not really, he’s the best and the crazy, funny, happy times with him outweigh the challenges. I think it’s often the way in life that the things that make you most happy have caused you a lot of grief along the way too. You have to take the ruff with the smooth!

Fluffy cuddles make up for a lot.

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