I’ve always been a cat person. I used to like the fact that they were independently minded, did their own thing, were cute, furry and tough when they wanted to be. When I lived at home we had a few cats over the years and I never once wanted a dog.
That changed over the course of a few holidays with friends and their dog. It soon became clear to me that there really is no comparison between dogs and cats – they’re furry but the similarities end there. Early last year we acquired a rescued Lhasa Apso after a long period of time thinking about getting a dog, doing the research, watching endless episodes of The Dog Whisperer and looking at Google image search results for ‘lhasa apso puppies‘ (if there’s anything cuter than a puppy I haven’t seen it). Nine months later and I wouldn’t swap Billy for the world.
So here is my list, in no particular order, of the things I love about having a dog, and if you’re half tempted to get one, they’ll hopefully tip you over the edge.
1. Dog packs accept both dogs, humans and you
Dogs are, at their core, pack animals. Whereas we humans might live in a house, a caravan or boat, dogs live in a pack. It’s the essence of their being and while their distant relatives wolves only accept other wolves into their pack (and treat everything else as food), dog packs can contain both dogs and humans. Which is great as dogs are incredibly social animals that will treat you as family, want to be with you at all times, will protect you with their life and do whatever they can to keep the peace and keep you all happy (which may involve licking you).
Once Billy got used to the fact that he was in my pack and that he wasn’t the pack leader, he completely relaxed, put his trust in me to make the decisions about what we do, feed him, shelter him and generally take care of him. That trust he has in me swings both ways so I trust him – I almost never put him on a lead since if I call him he’ll come to me and behave himself with other dogs – he knows it’s my job to protect him from bad dogs so he lets me do it and shows me by cowering behind me or barking that he needs my support. Likewise if I see a dog I’m scared of I can cower behind Billy and he’ll take care of the big hairy beast!
2. Dogs live in the moment
We humans tend to live in the past, often a slave to previous experiences and letting that cloud the present. It can cause repeated arguments over and over again, the last time you walked along that path you sprained your ankle so you tread more carefully (which ironically makes you more likely to sprain it again) and so on. Whereas dogs live in the here and the now. Take my dog.
When he was rescued he’d spent 10 days out on the moors in the depth of Winter, lost a lot of weight and most likely been, cold, wet and miserable for that whole time. When my friends parents let him in the house did he jump for joy? Collapse in a heap and cry? Sit looking longingly out the window and ponder the last 10 days? No, he jumped into their lap and didn’t give it a second thought. Dogs that have had tough lives aren’t defined by that. It’s usually us humans who project that onto them by being edgy in situations we know they’ve suffered in and dogs tend to mirror our emotions.
Dogs don’t hold grudges. If you tell one-off for misbehaving they instantly let it go because that was in the past and this is now. They make the most of every moment they have in their lives and that’s something that, to a certain degree, we should all do. It’s certainly something I try to do and is the perfect excuse when I misbehave and am being told off – I can simply reply with “live in the moment, the past is gone!”. It doesn’t always work.
3. Cute dogs turn you into a babe magnet
I’ve never had much luck with women. I partly put it down to the fact that I’m too nice and women generally go for guys who treat them badly (I stand by that assessment and should probably write about it some time). I also put it down to my lack of boyish good looks and “on day release from a lunatic asylum” look when I have my hair cut short. Then there’s my irritating sense of humour. The list goes on.
Anyway, since getting cute little Billy things have changed. Suddenly I’ve gone from being the sort of person women cross the street to avoid to being completely approachable and any stunningly attractive woman I walk past will stop and speak to me, usually noting how sweet my dog is. If only I realised this when I was single… Anyway, I’m happily married now but if you’re single and struggle to meet women then I’d highly recommend a Lhasa Apso.
4. Going for a walk is fun, dogs know this already
I’ve always been a highly active person. I’d go mountain biking, hiking, footballing, running, snowboarding, oh the list goes on. But on a normal sunny day if I didn’t have some kind of action activity planned I’d just sit around and do nothing in particular. This changed when I got a dog.
Since walking a dog is an essential part of having a happy dog, you really have to walk your dog at least a couple of times a day. And that’s great! Now if it’s a sunny weekend afternoon or evening I’ll put the earphones in, listen to some podcasts and go walking along the local canal with Billy and just keep going. Sometimes for a good couple of hours.
It’s not just going for a walk, it’s going for a walk with my little mate. We’re a team. He could run off if he wanted to but he never does, he wants to be with me and I want to be with him. It’s hard to describe what a fulfilling thing taking a dog for a walk is, but trust me, no matter how frustrating a day I’ve had, it melts into insignificance a few minutes into a walk with Billy. And that’s even if we don’t bump into any attractive women.
5. You can train a dog to annoy your friends (or “why bark when your dog can bark for you?”)
While Billy got used to us he spent the first two nights barking for several hours non-stop. I wanted to kill him but fortunately managed to avoid it. And that was it, he wouldn’t bark any more. This was troubling because I wanted to get him to bark on command as a way to annoy people (particularly my wife) and any instructions you read about training a dog to bark on command starts with:
“First get your dog barking, then repeat the command you wish to use over and over…”
And since I could never get him to bark under any circumstance I was stumped. Eventually I realised that on a long walk he’d have mad turns where he’d run around in large figure of eights barking away. And then he’d snap out of it. It took many of these episodes and me saying “speak” to him (then later at home looking at him and repeating “speak” while being met with a blank expression) before he finally realised what I meant. When he got it and barked it was truly an amazing moment! They don’t speak English but dogs are pretty damn clever when you consider that us humans are incapable of understanding any non-human animal on the entire planet. We’re a lot more stupid than we realise.
So as if to prove it, I can now annoy my friends by getting Billy to bark on command. Dogs rock!
6. Dogs teach you empathy
Dogs think differently to humans. When a child gets overly stressed (perhaps those monsters under the bed are sharpening their claws) the human reaction is to provide comfort, often with the act of cuddling. In humans that calms the child down and everything is right with the world again.
With a dog, cuddling is read very differently. So if you come home and your dog is stressed as a result of you being away, bouncing off the walls and urinating on your shoes and you do the human thing and cuddle it, the dog actually reads it as “ah, so my human master is happy with the way I’m behaving, I’ll continue to be this way EVERY time they come home, particularly the part where I pee on his shoes”. So by treating a dog like a human you’re causing unwanted behaviour. (And no, fortunately my dog’s never done this, although I’m sure he’s been tempted).
Instead you have to remember that a dog thinks differently to you and it makes you see the world through their eyes rather than your own. You empathise with them. If more humans displayed empathy towards each other I’m pretty sure it would be a better place. That’s what dogs do for the human race. Or me.
7. As Cesar Millan says: “When a dog is balanced, you are going to enjoy a true friend”
Dogs never judge you. They never get bored of you. They never fall out with you. They never decide that they don’t like you any more and don’t want to be your friend. When I got Billy I assumed I’d want to leave him at home when I do some things to have a break from him. But now that I have him I want to have him with me all the time. If my company allowed dogs at work I’d spend a lot more time in the office and a lot less time working from home! I’m much more relaxed and productive knowing that he’s laid around on the sofa in my home office. And if I have a tricky problem to solve, I take him for a walk and come back with renewed vigour.
All I have to do is feed him, shelter him, walk him and in return he gives me everything he is. If you ask me, you’ll never see a better deal than that!
And the cuteness comes for free.