Going to the dogs

Thanks to a collection of family dogs, only two of my years on this planet have been spent dog-free. Two too many as far as I’m concerned.

Four years ago, after a heart-breaking farewell to Pascoe, the family dog (who stayed with my parents), my wife and I packed up and moved to Hamilton so I could continue studying the effects of strength training on muscle. Due to a “no animals” clause in our lease, we survived two years dog-free but spent many days missing the family dogs. After threatening to leave the apartment to find animal friendly living, our landlord came around and let us get a dog.

A quick trip to the SPCA later, my wife fell in love with a wiry, energetic dog called ‘Darnell’, which we quickly changed to Griffin. We couldn’t leave without him, perfect timing as his ‘roommate’ was adopted minutes before we arrived. Fast forward a year later, we moved into a nice house with a yard that’s close to big (and underused) fields for the dogs to run in. Best of all, Griffin now has a ‘tall drink of water’ to spend his days with, a playful lab cross named Daphne. Having two 40lb speed machines can be a handful at times, but the ‘terrible two’ have added so much to our lives that they’re definitely worth it.

I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship of dogs and human-kind, not only from an evolutionary perspective, but also their contribution to human health. Just the simple fact that they can learn around 150 words of a language of another species floors me. I have a hard enough time remembering the French I learned in junior high. Outside of the obvious stress-relieving benefits that dogs can provide, there’s much that can be learned from their approach to life. Here’s five lessons that I’ve learned from having dogs:

1. Set yourself up for success

I don’t think my dogs can take credit for this one, because if they had it their way they’d probably eat until the food ran out. Fortunately I get to make the decisions for them. They don’t need to worry about over-eating, picking the wrong food, or making sure they’re getting the right mix of macronutrients. Everything to do with their food is done for them; no choices, no decision making.

Now I’m not saying you need to have a master in your life to tell you what to eat and distribute appropriate portions to you at fixed intervals. But the equivalent of this would be to set yourself up for success by stocking your home with food choices that will help you achieve your goals. Make good decisions in advance so that mistakes don’t happen when you’re hungry and want to destroy every drive-thru between you and the grocery store. Sure you could hop in your car and go and grab something, but I suspect that you’ll be less likely to indulge in some less-than-stellar food choices if you’ve stocked your cupboards with only the best.

This lesson extends to more than food, but everything really. Are you going to hit the gym regularly if you live an hour away from it, or would that gym 5 minutes away be a better choice? Pre-decide for yourself by removing obstacles to the behaviours you want to perform, and add obstacles to the behaviours you want to stop. Give your willpower a break for a change.

2. Chase your goals with everything you’ve got

My dogs are highly active, usually exercising for one hour per day in the winter and 1.5-2 hours per day in the summer. Fortunately for us they like to retrieve, because there’s really no chance in hell that I could wear them out any other way than throwing a ball for them. They also love when I do sprints, but more because they like to run around me in circles, probably laughing the whole time. Stupid human!

They both LIVE to fetch. When I throw that ball, there’s only one goal and it’s to get that ball before any other dog. There are no distractions and nothing gets in their way (especially Griffin). They’re so focused that they once ran into each other head first, resulting in a few stitches and $1250.00 worth of dental surgery between them. Now that’s dedication.

What if we could all pick one task and go after it with that much focus? We spend our days multi-tasking, flipping between twitter, Facebook, email, and sometimes even actual work (myself included). But what if you cut out the distractions, single-tasked, and for complete blocks of time, chased individual goals (or tasks) with 100% focus? You might find yourself even more productive.

3. Know when to ‘phone it in’

Going back to playing fetch, once the dogs have the ball, they can phone it in. Even though they always want the game to continue, they never sprint back. Sure they come right back, but it’s usually a casual jog. You can’t go at 100% for 24 hours a day, there are times when you need to dial it back, but do it strategically. Set your priorities, and adjust your focus and effort accordingly.

4. Take time to recover

Thanks to the ‘Chuck-it’, my throwing arm is now a cannon. Couple that with about 30-50 reps of all out sprints chasing that ball and my four-legged friends sleep like babies. If you don’t take time every day to relax or make sure you get an appropriate amount of sleep, you won’t be able to perform at your best the next day. I don’t recommend you spend 16 hours per day sleeping like my dogs, but don’t feel guilty about taking time to recover and recharge. I’m pretty sure these guys don’t feel guilty about laying around for a while.

Napping dogs

5. Slow down and enjoy life

I have to thank Nate Green for this one. It was his post on how his dog inspired him to be more patient that had me thinking about how my dogs have influenced me. The time we spend exercising the dogs is totally phone-free. There’s no twitter, text messages or phone calls. Just me, my wife, and the ‘terrible two’. Sure this gives me time to think about how my research is progressing, growing the websites and starting a business. And sometimes it’s spent just being present in the moment, watching two animals that are so excited to have the chance to run in a field. You’ve got to appreciate the small things in life!

Thinking of adding some fun to your day?

I know dogs aren’t for everyone, and they’re definitely not a good fit for everyone’s lifestyle. My dogs have positively influenced my life quite a bit and they ask for nothing in return. Definitely worth the ‘work’ in my opinion. If you or someone you know is considering adding a dog to their family, please consider your local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as there are always dogs looking for a caring home. We’ve had only good experiences with the local SPCA and the two furry friends they helped us find.

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Dan Ogborn