5 Dog Specific New Year’s Resolutions You Should Make (don’t worry…they are realistic!)

2013 is here!

Usually, I’m not one to make new year’s resolutions.  (Let’s be realistic…who sticks to those anyways!)  Call it maturity – or insanity – but this year I decided to outline a few areas of my life that I might improve upon.  I didn’t write them down….I didn’t tell anyone…but I am going to keep them in the back of my mind as I travel through 2013.

Then I realized it might not be such a bad idea to make new year’s resolutions – just for my pups.   My dogs are my constant companions…but when things get crazy, their wants and needs seem to be the first things to slip my mind.  So, here is my list of 5 Dog Specific New Year’s Resolutions.  Consider them suggestions, loyal readers; let’s see if we can take a few minutes out of each day and brighten our dogs’ lives.

1.) Hang out – OUTSIDE!  Amigo Outside

Imagine being stuck in your house for 23.5 hours a day.  (Ok, so the first day would be glorious if you didn’t have to go out to work/run errands/be productive…but EVERY day?)  Now imagine you are genetically hard-wired to roam around in the sunshine, but you are literally imprisoned in a house.  (As humans, we really can’t even imagine what this is like!)  This is the life of your dog.  Dogs are animals first…and animals spend all their life outside.  Do I want you to walk your dog?  Of course I do!  Walking is great bonding and is an awesome way for you both to exercise!  Do I want you to take your dog to the dog park?  Of course I do!  What fun for your dog to get to make friends and socialize!  Do I think it is realistic to tell you to routinely spend hours of your life doing these things with your dog?  Of course I don’t!  What can you do?  You can spend time with your dog in your own backyard.  You can take your dog with you when you visit your mom…go to the drive-up teller at the bank…go pick up fast food.  Get them out of the house – when it’s convenient for you.  Your pups will rearrange their schedules!

2.) Challenge their minds!

Some people (not you, of course!) think that dogs lack intelligence.  This could not be further from the truth.  Let me tell you – when you were a kiddo, you weren’t that smart.  Your mom and dad had to spend hours teaching you how to talk, how to walk, how to read.  They devoted their whole lives to it!  Dogs, like humans, WANT to learn…and (unlike you in your childhood) they WANT to please their parents.  So teach them!  What can you do? As I have blogged before, I think you would be surprised at how quickly dogs pick up vocabulary.  This could be as easy as saying “bone” every time you hand them a bone, or “Kong” every time they bring you their Kong for a peanut butter refill.  Before too long, you can create a game – say the word, and as soon as your pooch brings the item to you…give her a treat.  (You won’t need the treats for long – pups love this.)   You can even sit on your lazy behind for this one!  You can do it on commercial breaks, for goodness sake!  It give your dog something to do, and they will love you for it.  (There are also lots of puzzle toys you can get to entertain your dog while you are busy/away.)

3.) Keep them healthy!

Of course you take good care of your dog!  You keep them hydrated and nourished.  You give them treats and blankets and (if they are lucky) let them sleep in your bed.  Some things, though, might slip your mind.  What can you do?  Every dog, every month, should be given heartworm medication.  (I am especially bad about forgetting this.  I feel horrible!  I have the medicine, but just can’t seem to remember to give it to them monthly!)  There are also little things you can do to keep your pups in tip-top shape.  Cleaning out their ears every 2 weeks, trimming their nails, bathing them…all things we can do in our own homes that take a matter of minutes, yet sometimes these things slip our minds!  Picking up poop is another thing we often forget.  It’s our yard, why should we have to worry?  It’s in the back, no one will see it.  Dogs are low to the ground.  They aren’t careful to avoid their waste, and they trample right through it.  Then, their paws itch and they lick them.  Not hygienic!  (Oh – and they come right inside and jump on your furniture, pillows, bed, carpet…you see where I’m going with this.)

Dog reading4.) Educate yourself!

How many books on dogs are there?  We surely will never know, but it seems a new one comes out weekly.  There are books on dog training, breeds, behavior, history, evolution…science has finally gotten around to studying the animals that live closest too us.  There is a seemingly endless fountain of knowledge when it comes to our four-legged loves!  What can you do?  READ!  Pick up any dog book that looks interesting to you, and read it.  (I am a big fan of the library…so don’t even give me the excuse you don’t want to shell out the dough.)  Even if you don’t pick up the most highly regarded one, it will get you thinking.  Maybe you won’t agree with what that nut job author tells you to do, and you’ll start a conversation with your coworker about his dog.  Maybe you won’t believe that a dog’s brain works like that, and a Google search will lead you to a site that will confirm the unbelievable and get you asking more questions.  In any case, you will get a better understanding of what your dog is thinking or feeling…and why they are thinking or feeling that in the first place.

5.)  Give them undivided attention!

Ok, so this last one is a broad statement.  I’m not going to suggest where you do it, when you do it, or how you do it.  I’m not going to say how often you should or how long it should last.  I’m just going to suggest you spending some quality time with your furry best friend.  What can you do?  Put down your cell phone (I’m not even going to tell you to turn it off, because we are staying realistic here, people!)  Turn off the TV.  Shut down the iPad.  Just BE with your dog.   Talk to him.  Pet him.  Kiss him.   Love him.  Does he want you to throw the ball?  Do it!  Does he want you to lay down and nap beside him?  Do it!  All he ever wanted was to have your attention and to make you happy.  (And treats…he wants treats!)  Remember why you got this little guy in the first place!  It wasn’t to bark every time your doorbell rang or to track mud in from the yard.  You got him to be your companion and to make you happy.  Let him do his job!

Pablo and Buffy

Book Review: Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

There are many different reasons I might choose to pick up a certain book: favorable reviews, well known authors, interesting subject matter.  I began reading Inside of a Dog for none of these reasons.  The only reason why I decided to read this book was simply because I had seen it in many of my clients’ homes.  “There must be something to this book!” I thought.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.  This is my first attempt at discussing a book on this blog (surprising because I spend many hours each day reading…and many of those hours are spent pouring over the pages of dog-related books,) so I don’t want you to think I’m a negative person.  Usually I love all dog books!  This book was 301 pages of “states-the-obvious” with a few insightful tidbits thrown in.  Instead of being informative, Horowitz seems to ramble on about topics and repeat the same thoughts over and over.

I am unsure of what audience Alexandra Horowitz was trying to reach.  Most of the points she makes I can only describe as “DUH!” conclusions.  Some include: genes and environment shape a dog (um…of course), dogs bark for different reasons (yeah, I knew that), dog have a memory (how could they not!)  She goes on an on about how dogs are a different height than we are (I didn’t need a PhD to observe that!) and how interesting shoes are to them. Tell me something I don’t know, lady!

The biggest problem I have with this book is that it skims over what I feel is the most important clue to understand your pooch – body language.  Several times she mentions body language, but only in a passing way while discussing something else.  Body language is arguably the most important clue we have in truly understanding the “inside of a dog” and is something that I believe most people do not have a good grasp on how to read.  By omitting this concept all together I wonder what the point of this whole book is.

I would be lying if I said there were not parts of this book I enjoyed, though.  The chapter on smells did encourage me to think differently about a dog’s nose.  Horowitz did what I was hoping she would do the whole book – make me think in a different way.  “Imagine if each detail of our visual world were matched by a corresponding smell.” (pg 72)  Hmmm…interesting.  By pointing out that humans smell only good and bad….while dogs smell good, bad, and neutral…she got my brain to thinkin’.  The fact that dogs respond to baby talk because we have unintentionally “trained” them to do so was something I had never thought about, but made perfect sense.  I especially enjoyed her analogy of dogs as spies (always observing us), and that we were like that as children (but we “forget” to be like that as adults.)

Sadly, though, these thought provoking points are few and far between.  By the time I got to the end of the book, I was reading just to be finished.  I was also trying to figure out why the heck so many people had read this book.  I can think of at least a dozen books that are more interesting, more informative, and have more practical advice than Inside of a Dog.  This book was just too long – I feel Horowitz rambles on about random topics for seemingly no reason.  She gives little short “stories” about her own dog, Pumpernickel, at the beginning of new chapters.  I think they are meant to be cute and lighten the tone of the book, but they kind of get annoying.  And I don’t think I’ve ever said anything related to dogs was annoying!

I assume Alexandra Horowitz must be qualified to write this book, but after reading it I’m just a bit confused. 95% of this book any dog owner would be able to tell you with simple everyday observations of their own pup.  Thing that were suppose to be informative ended up just being boring…and things that were suppose to be cute and fun just ended up grating on my nerves.

In other words….I wouldn’t waste your time with this book!  (If you are still interested – and yes, sometimes I read books I hear are bad just to see how bad they are! – check out an excerpt here.)

Ditch your shrink…get a dog

“People don’t change.” 

My mama was the first person to utter those all-too-true words to me in reference to some boy who I thought was perfect…or at least could be if I could tweak him in just the slightest way possible.  Who among us hasn’t tried to change a significant other or even a friend?  If you haven’t then let me save you a lot of time and effort and give you two pieces of advice: (1) people don’t change (2) Mom’s are ALWAYS right. 

At some age, you simply are who you are.  You can change how you dress or even how you talk.  You can eat organic and stop smoking, but you are always you.  If your dad was horrible to you when you were young – you hate your dad.  If you never want to get married – you never want to get married.  If a cat attacked you – you probably aren’t too keen on cats.  Even if it was years ago.   People spend thousands of dollars at psychologist offices trying to access (or repress!) memories that are causing them mental anguish.  They want to change the way they think so they can change the way they act.  No completely impossible but no easy task.

This is why I love dogs.  They are exactly the opposite of us.  Dogs live completely in the moment.  Changing the way a dog thinks and acts is as simple is creating a routine and being patient.   The Lost Dogs by Jim Gorant is a perfect example of this.  (I’m not even going to go into the dog fighting or Michael Vick aspect of this book!)  The book chronicles the lives of pit bulls who were kept in deplorable conditions, perpetually starved and beaten, and trained to be brutal fighters.  It’s been a few months since I’ve read the book, but I believe it is something like 99% of them were rehabilitated and went on to lead wonderful lives.  It wasn’t easy, and sometimes it was scary for those working to help them.  Once they were removed from that  horrible situation, though, they immediately began to heal.  If you don’t want to read the book, just pick it up the next time you are at Barnes & Noble.  The pictures included – shots taken of the dogs with families, often with small children – are sufficient evidence to know these truly are changed animals.

I can say with all certainty that if I had been chained up, starved, and constantly abused for a matter of hours (let alone weeks/months/years) I would not be able to recover in such a short time.  By looking to our four-legged friends, we can learn how to live in the moment.   My puppy Buffy was found with her orphaned litter mates on the side of the road.  We then adopted her and (though we are fabulous parents!) took her away from her brothers and sisters to a strange new environment.  Do I think she wakes up some mornings missing her siblings?  No.  Do I think while dozing off for a nap she curses me for not letting her go outside to play earlier in the day?  Of course not.  She lives in the moment!  She thinks about food when she’s hungry and sleep with she’s tired.  She doesn’t worry about that paper she shredded or that shoe she chewed up (although in that moment, she knew I was mad!)  All she knows is that she’s happy and healthy and that she has a loving home.

So, the next time you come home from work beating yourself up over the failed presentation, the lost sale, the bad quarter….try to be more like your pup.  Just let it go.  We are only human, so you won’t forget about it entirely.  But trust me, you’ll feel a lot better.

And that’s why you should ditch your shrink and get a dog.