In Defense of Dogs

Pet Ownership in Retirement

Part 5 of a series of articles featuring the “Foxes-and-Hounds” pack

I’m writing this blog at 3:30 in the morning because Brewster decided he needed to go out… three hours earlier than usual! Now, in lieu of struggling to go back to sleep, I decided to sit down behind my computer with one sleeping dog in my lap and reflect on my thoughts why I feel so lucky to have my two “pups!”

Like grandparents “bragging” about their extended family, dog owners have no compunction to stop and talk to perfect strangers and share their photographs and stories of their pets… especially the wonderful (and sometimes quirky) personality characteristics of their dogs! So, shamelessly, it’s my turn! Here are my two “love and joys” who joined our household literally months after I retired from full-time school music teaching in 2013. Get ready to smile… (and with my best marching band announcer’s voice): “We proudly present ‘Gracie’ (a female Bichon Frise) and ‘Brewster’ (a male Yorkiepoo, Yorkshire Terrier/Poodle mix).”

My wife and I would recommend to all retirees who are not planning to travel out-of-town a lot and are no longer facing that grueling 8-12 hour daily regiment of work (or volunteering) to consider caring for a dog. We knew we were going to take advantage of our major “life style” change when we left our careers… it was just a matter of what dog or dogs to pick… or which ones would pick us!

We went to a local outlet of a national pet store chain just to waste time “looking at the cute doggie beds and toys,” never expecting that they would actually sell puppies in cages from behind the glass! (Most experts would agree that to avoid the promotion of “puppy mills” and the dangers of acquiring unhealthy animals, you should only buy from a reputable breeder. But, this was an accident!) After determining there were no cat adoptions in the store (my wife is very allergic to their fur/dander), we walked in to view on the wall an amazing array of the most adorable four-legged furry companions begging for our attention. As we sat in the area designated as “pet introduction booths,” we sampled many young pups. Gracie picked my wife, and Brewster picked me – the rest is history!

Do individual dogs or breeds have personalities?

Brewster

According to the American Kennel Club and other sources, these specific characteristics are common. First, for Brewster:

“The Yorkiepoo is a high-energy, happy dog who’s often enthused about life. They thrive off attention and love to keep their family entertained and be the star of the show.”

“They love to play, and will be happy to take part in a quick game of fetch — but that will almost always be followed up with a desire for a cuddle (and maybe a nap on the couch).”

“Yorkiepoos quickly attach to their family, and will happily spend the day following their ‘people’ around the home. Their families are not the only people that Yorkiepoos like—they’re happy to see anyone, and will greet both friends and strangers with the same enthusiasm.”

“If you’re willing to play a lot with your pet, a Yorkiepoo is a great match.”

The Yorkiepoo Dog Profile by Whitney Coy (Rover.com)

Now, here are the tendencies for a Brichon Frise, our “Gracie,” minus the formal (fluffy) “show cut” that some purebred enthusiasts ask from their groomers.

Gracie

“Bichons are adaptable companions who get on well with other dogs and children. Alert and curious, Bichons make nice little watchdogs—but they are lovers, not fighters, and operate under the assumption that there are no strangers, just friends they haven’t met yet. Their confidence and size make them ideal city dogs. Bichons train nicely and enjoy performing for their loved ones. Finally, there’s the happy-go-lucky Bichon personality that draws smiles and hugs wherever they go.”

American Kennel Club

The American Kennel Club offers a lot of insight to help you match the dog breed to your own pet-ownership experience and life style. If you are thinking of rescuing or purchasing a new pet (especially if this is your first time), we recommend reviewing their dog breed selection site.

What about dog personalities?

Surfing the ‘Net, I came upon an intriguing but seemingly inactive set of websites (nonworking phone number, email address, and contact form) that propose to “analyze” dogs into these categories:

  • left brain introvert – “sofa spud”
  • right brain introvert – “status seeker”
  • left brain extrovert – “socialite”
  • right brain extrovert – “nervous nelly”

According to the mystery bloggers at (two different spellings) doganality.net and dogenlity.com, dog energy levels are critical to your pet selection.

“A dog’s energy level is a crucial component of its overall ‘Dogenality.’ Coupling their behavior with a form of temperament gives you a better idea of who your dog is, what it is that drives them, and how you should go about forming a relationship with them that will be mutually beneficial.”

https://dogenality.com/new-energy-levels/

They offer a free-trial “dogenality” assessment and even canine DNA testing. Watch Angie Wood’s video here and even peruse their other informative blogs here (posted in 2018):

  • Fear’s Effect on Dogs
  • Dog Psychology vs. Human Psychology
  • Does Your Dog Get Enough Exercise
  • Bringing Home a New Dog
  • Laser Pointer Syndrome in Dogs
  • Why Some Dogs Are Afraid of Men
  • Seasonal Dog Allergies
  • A Dog’s Work vs. Vacation
Brewster during COVID-19 “red phase” before pet grooming resumed.

In keeping with the paulfox.blog philosophy to research sources for further study, here are more (probably more current) sites to explore:

“Dogs come in all different shapes, sizes, and personalities. That’s part of why we love them. But it can be easy to fall into the trap of seeing your dog not as what they are, but as you wish they could be, and treating them accordingly. When we assume our dogs enjoy something just because they are dogs, we not only do them a disservice and set them up for failure, we set ourselves up for frustration when they fail to live up to our expectations.”

“All dogs, regardless of their breeding, are individuals. It’s essential to look beyond your dog’s breed to try to understand the traits that make up their personality. The better you know your dog, the fewer misunderstandings you’ll have in the future. As a professional dog trainer, I convey this message constantly to my clients.”

Dog Personalities from A to Z: Which One is Your Pup? by Shoshi Parks

The happy hysteria of day-to-day doggie life!

Can we go out for a walk?

As a dog owner, you expect to live many moments of basic insanity:

  • It takes years of experience for you to resolve the propensity of your two pups trying to go in opposite directions and tying you up with their leashes while taking a walk.
  • You keep buying them bones until at some point you discovered their larder is ridiculously large, encompassing a reserve in multiple plastic containers in three or four rooms throughout the house.
  • One of your cupboards is crammed full of treats, many of which were past purchases that were rejected “paws down.” You cater to the unique tastes of both dogs; of course, they don’t like the same things.
  • “You have been trained” to give out everything in pairs. At times, you take into account the alpha dog’s competitive spirit (Gracie) and her desire to steal the bone from the easy-going one (Brewster). That means you have on-hand two identical bones. If Gracie doesn’t get the bone that Brewster has in his mouth (the only one she wants), she barks him down until he gives it up. To keep the peace, after she grabs it and sets off to consume it, you unobtrusively hand Brewster another one.
  • On the day of your 40th wedding anniversary, you go out and buy one of the dogs it’s own desk chair so she can sit next to you while you’re on the computer. Yes, this means that since you have two dogs, there are two extra chairs cluttering up the space in your office.
  • Your dogs have more patience with little children than you do. As you walk them up the street, they suddenly jerk to a stop and stare at the front door of a neighbor’s house, waiting for the “human critters” to come out and play with them.
  • You acquiesce. One dog is frequently insisting that you pick him up and carry him with you. The other one, not as often. At times, Brewster can be stubborn and “hit the brakes” on a walk, simply refusing to go where you want him to go. Of course, as well trained as you are, you comply.
  • When one of your furry friends is having a bad day, you’re having a bad day. Black or blue moods spread very easily. But, in a snap of your fingers, life is joyful again, and yippee, all is forgotten.
Gracie’s favorite spot on the bed

Who’s training whom?

Dog owners share a common vocabulary and unique language. Some of it sounds a little like baby talk… (Check out the American Kennel Club’s piece, Study Shows Dogs Really Do Respond to Baby Talk by Linda Lombardi)

  • “Wanna go outside?”
  • “Need to go potty?”
  • “Good dog!”
  • “Isn’t he cute?”
  • “Did you do this?”
  • “He did his number two.”
  • “This is puppy heaven!”
  • “She gave me a kiss!” or “Give mommy a kiss! No kiss?”

Ever count how many times YOU “cave-in” to your pet’s requests? They stare at you with those big sad eyes (“Daddy, please share a scrap of food from the table…”), and when the “alpha” spouse turns her back… (“Oh-oh, something just fell off the table!”)

Our pooches know how to distract us, reach directly into our hearts, make us smile no matter what our mood, and finagle yet one more treat out of the bag… and, yes, we love their trickery! Hey, exactly who is in charge, here?

You should read this amusing article from an obviously experienced dog trainer Casey Lomonaco writing in DogStarDaily. We dog owners only have ourselves to blame (if we even care about their “controlling behavior!”) For me: “Been there, done that, drank the Kool-Aid, and bought the t-shirt!”

FYI, I found a promising book on this subject: Who’s Training Whom? – Six Easy Lessons to Put Any Dog Owner Back in the Driver’s Seat and in Control of Their Dog. by Carols Puentes.

The best part – learning MY dogs’ quirks

There are times when Brewster’s and Gracie’s “doganalities” seem to be much more pronounced. Here are a few “fun” anecdotes!

  • You would think I just gave Brewster filet mignon, witnessing all the excitement of full-throttle chasing after, pouncing on, tossing around, and eventually chewing up an ice cube!
  • Gracie’s demonstrates her athleticism with a remarkable burst of energy to run up three flights of stairs to get on the bed to retrieve a bone.
  • One of Brewster’s favorite things-to-do is to jump onto “good grass” (devoid of branches, acorns, or leaves) rubbing his back in semi-circles as if doing the back stroke in a swimming pool. Of course, I have to pull up on his leash to stop him. (Wife is also allergic to mold and grass!)
  • Both Brewster and Gracie sleep with us in our queen-size bed. Did I say, they take up more than 2/3’s of the bed? Brewster needs to jam himself against me to nestle in the small of my back, while Gracie chooses a spot near my feet.
  • My two dogs like to play tug-a-war with one another, albeit very briefly, fighting over a toy or Brewster grabbing one of their beds with his teeth, taunting Gracie with it, and then dragging it across the floor.
  • Gracie’s internal clock is amazing, and so is her command of “people” language. At precisely 5 p.m. when she is usually fed, she jumps off the chair, stairs at one of us, and if we say, “ten minutes,” she sighs and goes over to her beanbag chair, only to return in exactly ten minutes to remind us “dinner is past due!”
  • No matter how I often I do it, when I nuzzle Brewster’s ear, he repays the compliment by licking my wrist. “Thank you, Daddy!”
  • To make house guests laugh (even our dog groomers), if you ever ask, “Need to go outside?” – Brewster will turn around and look at his butt.

You embrace their differences, laugh at the signature looks, gestures, and motions, and especially revel in their one-of-kind “prancing.” (Brewster hops like a kangaroo when he’s at his happiest times!) As educators, we know that “differentiation is essential.” It’s no different with dogs. And, you can always tell who’s-who in the dark by the unique sounds of their “gate” and the nails on our hardwood floors.

Unlike your human children or the students in your classes at school, you are always the centerpiece of their lives, what they live for, yearning to spend 100% of their time next to their “heroes” who can do no wrong, and (of course) they simply become the center of your life.

Recap: Rationale for fostering a furry friend!

So now that you are retired, have you settled on your self-reinvention and found the mandatory “purpose, structure, and community” referred to by best-selling author Ernie Zelinzski in How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free?

For our Finale, these are Fox’s reasons for Finding a Forever yours pet!

  • Fitness (help you to get up, get moving, and get out of the house)
  • Forecasting (they seem to be able to predict your mood, the weather, or the Future, and they certainly know when something is going on outside)
  • Friendliness (despite COVID-19 restrictions, they Fight isolation and Favor meeting people and getting to know your neighbors – even a random passerby!)
  • One last burst of alliteration: Fun, Frivolity, Festivity, and Fascination (literally what they add to “the joy of life!”). You can’t beat that!

I invite you to revisit my other four “blogs on dogs!”

PKF

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Unconditional Love (Dogs!)

Pets + Retirees… They Go Together!

dog-2729805_1280_gdjHappy Valentine’s Day to all of my readers. I could not think of a better way to “celebrate” our appreciation of “heart-day” with reflections on what our pets bring us… adulation, affection, attachment, companionship, devotion, enjoyment, good will, involvement, passion, stimulation, tenderness, understanding…

“The power of love!” They say that all you have to do is look at the face of a sleeping baby, or cuddle up next to a puppy or kitten, and it will slow down your respiration rate, lower your blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood, and increase in your body the levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in the promoting feelings of calm and well-being.

people-1749382_1920_herney

From personal experience, having two of the most adorable and loving dogs… If you’re contemplating retirement and you have never owned a pet, let me be the first to tell you:

“Pets can change your life.”

I invite you to peruse several other blogs I’ve written on this subject:

If you are almost ready to retire, or you’re going through your first couple years of your post-employment “internship,” there’s a good chance that psychologically it would be good for you to “get out of Dodge” as you adjust to your new status. This might be a good time for you to take a cruise, tour Europe, go ice fishing up north, or plan a long road trip out west. Pack up everything and takeoff. Celebrate all those years that you put your nose to the grind stone.

But eventually, you may want to come back “to nest,” and “taste” a little transitioning into things that seem to go well together, e.g. small doses of (human) babysitting, grandparent/child interaction, and/or rescuing a pet. Becoming a homebody may also suggest the consideration of planning small or large renovation projects: fix up your garden or backyard, design your ideal kitchen, remodel the bathrooms, do a garage remake, downsize and de-clutter, etc. After the first several years of simply resting and exploring the options of your self-reinvention, NOW might be the perfect moment to add a furry friend to your family!

animals-2198994_1920_gellinger

Why get a pet?

Goodnet (“Gateway to Doing Good”) summarizes nine reasons you should adopt a pet:

  1. Pets have their perks when it comes to your health. (More on that later.)
  2. A pet will love you unconditionally. (Thus the title of this blog!)
  3. Adopting a pet is easy on your wallet. (Pet rescue from a shelter is less expensive.)
  4. Adopting a pet means saving a life. (Millions of animals are euthanized per year.)
  5. By adopting a pet, you’re giving an animal a second chance. (Another go at life!)
  6. Pets keep you active. (Dog walking provides owner aerobic exercise.)
  7. Pets bring joy and fulfillment. (Pet care enhances a sense of purpose for retirees.)
  8. dog-3243734_1920_kandykandooPets boost your social life. (Research indicates pets decrease social isolation.)
  9. Besides, how could you possibly resist this face?

 

Medical benefits including psychological health

There’s an avalanche of online research that backs up claims that pet ownership is actually “good for you!”

Pet owners know how much their furry friend improves their quality of life. But it’s not all about unconditional love—although that actually provides a wellness boost, too. On an emotional level, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety; health-wise, it can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity, and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke.

— Alexandra Gekas

 

dog-3128192_1920_maja7777

Here are my “top dozen” reasons and resources to peruse:

  1. Having a pet decreases stress: Promises Treatment Centers
  2. Caring for a pet lowers your blood pressure: WebMD
  3. Owning a dog reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels: Harvard
  4. Pets keep you fit and active: Gerontologist
  5. Daily dog walking helps you to lose weight: Healthy People
  6. Owning a dog can help detect, treat, and manage disease and injuries: HuffPost
  7. Pet therapy eases pain management and reduces anxiety: Loyola University
  8. Pets may reduce doctor’s visits: American Psychological Association PsycNet
  9. Having a dog may make you (at least feel) safer: LifeHack
  10. Pets help you build friendships and find social support: Harvard
  11. Dog owners are less prone to depression: GrandParents.com
  12. Pet ownership adds meaning and purpose: BestFriends

 

Believe it or not, pets can be the best medicine, especially when a person is dealing with chronic pain such as migraines or arthritis. Just like Valium, it reduces anxiety. The less anxiety, the less pain…

People who have pets are less harried; there’s more laughter in their life. When you come home, it’s like you’re George Clooney. You’re a star. This is a primary reason pets are used in various forms of therapy.

If you have a dog around, your blood pressure is lower. A lot of it goes back to reducing stress: You might lose your job, your house, your 401(k)—but you’ll never lose the unconditional love of your pet.

— Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, veterinary consultant for Good Morning America and author of the book Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual.

 

doggies 2017 to 2018 - 3

Increasing your regular habits of exercise

The experts say that physical activity promotes flexibility, muscle strength, stamina, and balance, and helps us to remain mobile into our 70s and 80s. Caring for a pet may help! For example, studies from the National Center for Biotechnology of the U.S. National Library of Medicine (like this one) indicate that older adults who walked dogs with frequent moderate to vigorous exercise are associated with lower body mass index and faced fewer limitations to their daily living activities.

Having trouble sticking to an exercise program? Research shows that dogs are actually Nature’s perfect personal trainers—loyal, hardworking, energetic and enthusiastic. And, unlike your friends, who may skip an exercise session because of appointments, extra chores or bad weather, dogs never give you an excuse to forego exercising.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that only 16 percent of Americans ages 15 and older exercised at all on an average day! This is where your canine personal trainer can help.

—Dawn Marcus

walking-2797219_1280_mohamed_hassanHow much exercise is enough? Well, according to the World Health Organization, the “best practices” of a good health and wellness program includes:

  • 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily for children 5 to 17 years old
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week for adults 18 to 65 years old, plus strengthening exercises two days per week
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week, with modifications as needed in seniors over 65 years old, plus flexibility and balance exercises.

The good news? From Bark, “Researchers at the University of Western Australia found that seven in every 10 adult dog owners achieved 150 minutes of physical exercise per week, compared with only four in every 10 non-owners.” We already know that grabbing that leash, whistling for the pup, going for a brisk walk, and getting out to see what’s going on in your neighborhood, may help to reduce stress, depression, lethargy, the risks of obesity, and many other medical problems.

 

dog-1027549_1920_haidi2002

The all-essential quest for “mattering” and “feeling needed”

In the past blog “Retiree Concepts,” I mentioned the book, Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy Schlossberg (definitely an excellent buy), and reviewed the issues of “marginality” (bad) and “mattering” (good). The essential question is worth repeating here: “Do you feel “needed” and that you “make a difference” to others?”

Caring for a pet does a great job of fulfilling our need to find in our retired lives the “purpose, community, and structure” referred to Ernie Zelinski in his book, How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free.

As we grow older—especially after we retire—it can be difficult to find structure and meaning day in and day out. Dogs take care of that.

— Kristen Sturt

They force people to continue to do things. So, even if you’re not feeling well emotionally or physically, the dog doesn’t care. I mean, they care, but they still want you to feed them and take them for a walk.”

— Kristi Littrell, Adoption Manager at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah

At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, they’re using dogs to help soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. They’re finding the guys who have a pet are able to re-enter society a little bit easier. They’re showing a decreased suicide rate, one of the biggest health threats [veterans] face. These guys who have a pet have someone they’re responsible for, someone who cares about them. And they don’t have to explain what they’ve been through.

— Dr. Katy Nelson, associate emergency veterinarian at the VCA Alexandria Animal Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia

 

It’s not only about the tangibles – physical, medical, mental

It’s simple… every day, my pooches make me feel good!

Oh, we have all witnessed the “life-changing power of pets” (Psychology Today) and the tremendous social bond partnering a dog (or cat) with a human. We agree, “Pet owners have big hearts and bestow good feelings on both animals and people. Having a pet does not replace a human social network, but rather enhances and enlarges it. Cats, dogs, birds—and pets of all species, shapes, and sizes—bring wellness.”

our two pups 051216 - 1On personal observation, I can attest that walking my dogs in the neighborhood can be one of the most contemplative (almost meditative) experiences of the day. I commune with nature, let my imagination wander (dream “wide-awake”), notice things I have never before stopped to see, hear, or smell, and reflect on my life goals. I find the “pause” in my daily routine (or should I say “paws”) makes me feel refreshed, thoughtful, more calm, tolerant, and patient while at the same time more alert and focused, and always leaves me in a better mood.

Dr. John V. DiAscenzo, my talented friend and PMEA music education colleague with great background in research, would now demand of me, “Show me the specific studies that support your claim that walking dogs make people feel happy!” Got it! I found numerous references, including this article from the National Institutes of Health.

 

You can’t buy this kind of shared love… a snapshot

  • No matter how good or bad my day is, the moment of my return to home, stepping into “puppy heaven,” Gracie and Brewster rushing up in full gallop to lick (kiss) and welcome me, jumping up as if to say, “Oh, we’re so glad he’s back!”
  • The vigorous wagging of her tail and the “happy dance” Gracie does when I reach for her favorite bone
  • The “nesting” impulse of Brewster as he paws his towel on top of our bed, just before he curls up in a small ball, leaning into the small of my back (giving me great lumbar support) and falling asleep
  • Gracie pushing Brewster out of the way when jockeying position to receive pats on the head from a visitor
  • canine club 2Expert cuddlier Brewster flipping on his back so you rub his tummy, and when you are distracted, gently pawing at you begging you not to stop
  • Gracie’s “happy barks” and squeals of excitement when mommy brings in the supper dish
  • Gracie jumping up onto the extra desk chair to watch daddy type on his computer (we even had to buy her own chair)
  • Brewster winning a contest for the most puppy-pushups (up/sit/down) in dog (people) training classes
  • Having totally original “dog-o-nalities” and never failing to amaze me every day, being awakened by them at 6 a.m.
  • But, after going out, all three of us climbing into the La-Z-Boy® combo recliners and falling back to sleep, Gracie between my legs with her chin on my ankle, and Brewster on my left shoulder like a violin shoulder pad

 

Lowering the numbers of neglected pets in overcrowded sanctuaries

Finally, although perhaps not the most significant rationale for a retiree to go rescue a pet, these are estimated animal shelter statistics from the ASPCA and the American Pet Products Association (source):

  • Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats.
  • Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).
  • pit-bull-2047469_1920_rescuewarriorApproximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats).
  • About 710,000 animals who enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners. Of those, 620,000 are dogs and only 90,000 are cats.
  • It’s estimated that 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats are owned in the United States. Approximately 44% of all households in the United States have a dog, and 35% have a cat.
  • According to the APPA, these are the most common sources from which primary methods cats and dogs are obtained as pets:

appa stats

LiveScience posted “A Blueprint for Ending the Euthanasia of Healthy Animals.”

Do you have Kleenex handy? Read “10 Shelter Stories That Will Make you Smile.”

Simply put, if you have it in you to consider pet adoption, your action will probably save the life of a sheltered animal and give it (and you) a second chance!

 

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Additional resources

Do you need more research? Be sure to visit the final link in the bulleted list below, which also has an exhaustive bibliography worth viewing.

 

CODA: The “‘last words” as a recap and a final website for you to check out:

Studies have shown that owning a pet can be physically and mentally beneficial for people of all ages. In the case of senior citizens, just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol, and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.

— Seniors and Pets

But, you knew all about this, right? So, what are you waiting for?

For me, I gotta go… and take Gracie and Brewster out for another walk!

Have a Happy PET Valentine’s Day!

PKF

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Besides the numerous pictures of Gracie and Brewster, photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “puppies” by kko699, “dog” by GDJ, “people” by Herney, “animals” by Gellinger, “dog” by kandykandoo, “dog” by maja7777, “walking” by mohamed_hassan, “dog” by haidi2002, “pit-bull” by RescueWarrior, “dog” by groesswang, “kitten” by creades, “pretty-girl” by TerriC, and “dog” by Leunert,