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A life with dogs: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Updated: Apr 12

Why I'm writing about my life with dogs

I wanted to write about living with dogs and my experience so far, and it felt fitting to do this for National Pet Day 2024.

It's worth mentioning that I am not a pet behaviourist, qualified trainer, or vet, but I am writing this from my experience of researching and learning how to look after my dogs, as well as advice I have received from professionals. There are an abundance of resources out there to care for animal companions but not so much about how to look after yourself when we are faced with the numerous challenges being a pet owner can bring and the impact this can have on the whole household.

So, lets dig into the good, the bad, and the ugly side of living with dogs!

The Good (A.K.A. The "worth it") -

  • Firstly, they are freaking adorable. Each of the dogs I've known in my life have had their own character and personality. It's suggested that humans are prone to a "baby schema" where infantile features draw us in and provoke a nurturing response, true of human-animal interactions -

  • There is much research that being around animals can help in the management of our wellbeing. Simply petting a dog can reduce our stress and helps release dopamine as a response. Not only that, dogs also have a positive influence on our physical health too from noticing when we're not feeling well to being able to be a medical animal and in some instances saving lives due to their responses. It has also been recorded that dogs can help with socialisation of humans with numerous instances of building up confidence and helping humans to relax.

  • The unconditional love we can receive from our animal companions is unmatched. They are there for us no matter what state of being we are in and this is something that can be a constant comfort for many of us whilst we have their company.

  • Having animals as company gives us routine and commitment to follow for another living being. With chronic illness this can be a minor inconvenience but also a need too!

  • Exercise is also a benefit of owning dogs in particular, though can be true for other animals too. Playing with, training, and the walking -

The Bad (A.K.A. The minor inconveniences) -

  • There can be some minor downsides to having dogs around, like having to take them out for toilet business or for walks in the rain, wind, snow. Though I actually enjoy this sometimes!

  • Poop machines. Honestly, dogs are just real poop machines 😂And when you have more than one dog this can feel like a constant and smelly job.

  • Commitment to training & care no matter your mood or state of being. There isn't a "day off" with animals.

  • Early mornings/late nights/mid-night toilet outings are part of the job.

  • The financial aspect can be a big'un. I would say this can jump between inconvenience and devastating depending on the reason for the financial impact and your financial situation in general. This is definitely something to consider when opting for a life with animals.

The Ugly (A.K.A. The devastating) -

Whilst we may love our dogs unconditionally and sometimes see them as a type of child in the household, we do have to remember that they are dogs for both their sake and your own. They are different to us, their ability (as far as we know) to process things in the same way as us isn't matched, and so often we may find that we have projected our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences onto our companions complicating situations - I say this from experience!

  • Guarding. Dogs are pack animals who tend to guard over resources when there is a fear that they are scarce. It was once believed that there was one dominant dog in the pack, however it is now believed that the dominance can be fluid between dogs and between resources too. For example in my dogs, Freya is definitely more dominant with toys and food as to her those resources are worth fighting for, however Arty is very much people focused and feels we are a resource worth fighting for and so guarding can happen.

  • Fights in dogs - guarding can then lead to fights between dogs, or if a dog is poorly socialised they can end up being more prone to fighting with other dogs on walks. Learning your dogs signals and body language is so important in preventing fights before the dogs behaviour escalates.

  • Stigma - there can be stigma around reactive dogs and dogs in general. Muzzles are something that can be beneficial for any dog to be trained on how to wear (as we were informed by a behaviourist) as if your dog were to break their leg, most likely a vet will want the dog to wear a muzzle when examining due to the risk of biting from the pain. And even though muzzles are a good thing for dogs to know how to wear, when a dog does wear one to help with their behaviour and anxieties, it can be seen that they're dangerous.

  • Death is the hardest thing I have been through with my animals. It is inevitable, and yet something that you can never fully prepare for at the same time. We can only do our best with what we have for our animal friends, and making the decision between quality of life, care, and death is an impossible decision and one which haunted me for a long time after my first dog.

  • Rehoming is the second impossible decision that is made with animals. Sometimes, our situations change beyond what we imagined they would be and we have to make a decision to give up our animal companions in their best interest and our own - even though painful.

My story

I have always known a life with pets; birds, hamsters, rabbits, a guinea pig, and dogs. My first dog was a Westie named Snowy and he was my dream - I had always wanted a dog and one day this became a reality. He was with me for 15 years, through some of my darkest days, and losing him absolutely devastated me.

A couple of years later and we got Arty, another dream. He is more determined in his terrier instincts but is very clever and follows commands (mostly). We then introduced Freya 3 years later. Another dog of the same breed and has the same dad as Arty too.

There was definitely a big adjustment period, figuring out their signals, body language, and training them in living together, but mostly we got there.

However, they both have anxious behaviours which can cause reactivity, guarding, and disagreements between them both. I often say, when they are left to themselves they are fine, but as soon as a human is involved we trigger a response. Having two dogs is the first time for both myself, my partner and thus having an occasional multi-dog household for the rest of my family is a learning curve too. Unfortunately, this has led to some tension in the family where dogs have had spats and led to cut contact.

So, we are trying to now be even more proactive dog "owners" than we already were and have a vet trained behaviourist working with us to further our knowledge and training - it is always nice to hear we're sensible, responsible, and good "owners" with what we already had in place and our current knowledge.

This is the nutshelliest of nutshells I could do, it all goes a lot deeper than this, but much of it is ongoing or will be covered below.

How to cope

Deciding to share your life with animals is a big decision and not one which should be taken lightly as it does come with its challenges and can bring up a lot of emotional impact along the way, such as:

  • Worry tends to be the biggest emotion for me. Whether we are doing the right thing, whether they are okay, if there's anything we're doing wrong, if we've made the wrong choice by introducing another dog etc.

  • Shame in letting the dogs down and being seen as a "bad dog owner".

  • Frustration in the training and will of the dogs themselves - similar to therapy, we have to meet them where they're at. You can't force training onto a tired dog!

  • Anger when they do get into a fight, both at the nature of it but also at ourselves for not preventing it - hindsight and all that.

But there can also be lots of wonderful emotions and feelings too; joy, laughter, happiness, relaxation, love, care etc.

Ways that have been helpful in coping with what comes up for me:

  • Remembering they are dogs! This is the biggest one for me. I love them like they are my animal children but they are dogs and need to be treated as such. Still with care, love, and affection, but knowing their temperament, nature, and behaviours.

  • Focus on what's in your control - other peoples perceptions and reactions are not in your control, and whilst this may be hard to experience, you can only control how you behave and respond to situations.

  • Knowledge - Reading and research has been such a comfort and useful tool for me. Arming myself with what can be useful in different situations has helped my confidence and soothed my anxiety too. Though try not to dwell on this and become obsessed with it, you can't know everything and that's okay too.

  • Remembering they are dogs again - we can have high expectations for our animal friends but they can't always live up to these and that's okay. A mindset shift for me with Arty and Freya is remembering they are living with each other due to my own decisions and we can't expect them to get along all the time so some level of guarding and snapping is expected! And it's then my job to manage this as best I can.

  • Putting your wants down and focus on their needs - I love my dog cuddles, but when I am seen as a resource to my dogs, cuddles aren't always the best things to offer them, and so my want of this needs to be second to the dogs needs and wellbeing. This doesn't mean I can't still give them fuss and attention just not excessively! If you have one dog this may not be too much of an issue unless your dog then starts guarding you towards other humans.

  • Asking for help - don't be afraid to ask for help. As I mentioned earlier you can't know everything so if you're in any doubt get your dog checked over by your trusted vet, go to training classes, and speak to a behaviourist if needed.

  • Acknowledge, sit with, and process your emotions - therapy has been a huge help for me in being able to lay out my emotions and be with them. It can be draining to be putting new training, measures, and routines into place. Dog's need consistency and it can be hard, especially when other things are going on in life! This has been especially true when family tension has broken down and erupted....

  • Remember that there are still good times. For us, the good times far out weigh the bad. And whilst the bad moments may fill us with all of the difficult emotions, they do pass and are fleeting. This may be different if your dog has caused harm to another being, but you can get through it day by day. This has been my motto in all the hardship "slowly, slowly" and "day by day".

  • Breathing and relaxation have been useful when I have found myself feeling stressed and overwhelmed. They help to slow the body down as well as grounding back to the 'here and now'.

  • Reality checking with trusted friends and family about the situation at hand and how you're managing it all. This can be good reassurance but also good for managing your expectations of yourself and the dogs.

Is there anything you'd add to this?

Snowy, Arty, & Freya:


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