Dogs bring us joy. Companionship, pure goofy dog comedy and having a snuggle buddy are ways dogs can add happiness to our lives. Dog ownership also includes difficult moments resulting in anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness and frustration.
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As an active volunteer with local animal rescues and the national nonprofit, Pinups for Pitbulls, I see stories of struggles people face with foster pets or recently adopted dogs. Issues like dog reactivity, medical concerns and training hurdles are peppered in my Facebook feed every time I scroll. I also regularly see posts about people’s aging pets, and the myriad of issues that can stem from their advanced age.
We bring dogs into our lives because we recognize that the positives far outweigh the negatives. Even so, struggles can sometimes cloud that context. Thankfully, we’re not alone. I spoke with a trainer, a licensed psychologist, a veterinarian and a college instructor with a background in positive psychology in order to give you four different ways to help you to keep “up” about your pup.
Integrative veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby shares, “When I work with dog owners that are thriving, it’s because they have a support system. It could be in the home, a relationship with pet sitters, a connection with a veterinary team and online friends who understand their experience. The important part is they have a team that they draw strength from.” It takes time to establish connections, but the reward allows pet owners to not feel isolated when dealing with any number of issues.
“There are resources that can help you, regardless of the issue,” says Victoria Meyer, certified dog trainer and behavior specialist with Mischief Managed Dog Training in Fishkill, New York. “Those resources wouldn’t be successful if they passed judgment.”
It might be intimidating to reach out for help, but the benefits for you and your dog will have lasting positive effects. Your team can also provide a respite; a safe space where you know you can ask tough questions and receive answers with you and your dog’s best interest in the forefront
I don’t have children, but I have nieces and nephews. When I visit them, I can see how much they’ve grown in a way that their parents can’t see. They’re with their children every day, and their growth may be hard to recognize (like not being able to see the forest for the trees). The same is true with our pets. Taking the time to appreciate and acknowledge tiny accomplishments and areas of growth is more valuable than worrying about the long-term goal.
Dr. Buzby relates to this subject by reminding us to take a lesson from our dogs by living in the moment. “You can’t ignore the reality of what you’re going through, but if you allow yourself to live in the moment, and appreciate little moments of joy, you’ll be less consumed by ‘what-if’ scenarios that you can’t control.”
Victoria, paired with a difficult dog while in school for her dog-training certification, would often end her day exhausted and with fresh bruises.
Through the extensive training, she reminded herself that “my current struggle is temporary and that tomorrow is going to be better.” She uses that context to inform her clients. “We haven’t had a first chance yet for this to be our last resort,” she says. She shares with clients that her training wasn’t perfect, but success doesn’t mean being perfect each time, it comes with appreciating the learning moments along the way.
Licensed psychologist Kristin Zaccaro, PhD, reminds us: “Social media breeds comparison, and comparison is the thief of joy.” It is a filtered lens where we often only post our best pictures or best moments, when the reality is that life is filled with a spectrum of events. It’s important to have this context when using social media.
I have found myself falling into the comparison trap on Instagram. I’ll look at a photo of a dog at the summit of a mountain and think, “My dog should be doing that, too.” Dr. Zaccaro’s retort is “Should, according to whom?”
Life with our pets is a journey that isn’t linear. Much like preparing for a marathon, even if you walk for a little bit during training, you’re still training.
While social media can breed comparison, it can be a valuable tool. Carin Zinter, MAPP, is a psychology instructor at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts. She shares: “Social media allows us to connect with people we may not see in real life. Human connection can help us to grow our village of people with like minds and circumstances.”
Carin also reminds us to recognize our triggers, what’s leading to joy and what’s leading to stress. If being a member of a certain group or a friend with certain people is causing anxiety, it’s OK to set boundaries or block posts. Setting a timer for scrolling allows your time to be used in a positive and constructive manner.
“You can see the obvious value in play, because it’s what kids, and puppies, do naturally,” says Carin, whose master’s degree is in Positive Psychology. “The more opportunities that you can give yourself, such as creating space in your day for play, the more positive emotion you are going to generate.”
Positive emotion can help you to connect, but it can also help you to problem-solve. While you’re at play, your brain is still at work in the background. You’re more likely to come up with a creative solution if you disengage from a problem and perform an activity that has no stakes attached, purely for enjoyment.
Staying “up” about your pup isn’t always easy. It’s my hope that with resources like creating a strong network for you and your dog’s team, reframing how you view success, using social media as a positive tool and bringing play into your lives will strengthen your relationship. Our time with each other is finite, and finding joy together is what we hold on to as memories after our dogs have crossed the rainbow bridge.
Top photograph: Minerva Studio | Getty Images
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