Welcome to Part 2 of the Blog Series. The last post talked about common struggles that most people encounter when they first decide to adopt a dog. And while our intentions may be coming from a positive place, we may not necessarily be in the right place mentally to make that kind of change in our lives.
Many times we believe that adopting a dog will give us that companion that we have been missing out on. Since dogs tend to love their owners unconditionally, we are able to get that satisfaction of feeling needed and adored. And although that is a great feeling initially, it tends to wear off after time goes by due to us needing that constant external validation. After a while the dog becomes more of a hassle and we want to find other things that make us feel good that don't take as much work or effort. But the problem is that we are constantly looking for that quick fix which means we will never be completely satisfied.
So, how can we ensure that getting a dog will more supplement our healthy lifestyle, rather than create a "quick fix" for that temporary loneliness or sadness? We have to get ourselves to a point that we are emotionally stable enough to be able to take care of a dog. Otherwise, if we try to depend on external things to feel better about ourselves, we will never feel secure enough to love ourselves unconditionally no matter what life throws at us. I tell a lot of my clients when we are discussing coping skills or ways to ease anxiety or depression that they should find internal motivation just in case their external motivation fails them. In other words, let's not rely on other people, object or animals to be our primary coping skills. They may be helpful at first to get ourselves to a place that be can be stable, but ultimately if for whatever reason we end up losing that coping skill, what is there to keep us going?
Don't get me wrong, dogs can be very helpful in assisting with mental health recovery, but I always recommend using that as a supplement, rather than a primary approach. It's very important to develop skills and habits that keep us going even when things get hard. Because I guarantee that they will. Life has a tendency to throw us curveballs every once in a while, and we need to be prepared to tackle those as they come at us. Developing consistent habits that become our lifestyle will make it easier to push forward when things get in the way. Those behaviors will become automatic and we will eventually find it more normal than not to utilize them.
Now that we understand the importance of building a strong foundation before looking at adding a dog to the family, let's look at some things that you can start implementing TODAY. Of course, to find what's best for you, I always recommend seeing a therapist. Honestly I believe that anyone can benefit from therapy, even if it only involves gaining a better understanding of thinking and behavior patterns.
1. Start experimenting with different activities. I have always been an advocate for physical activity as a part of mental wellness. Now, this does not have to be extreme sports, endurance training or crossfit. Sometimes simply going for a 30 minute walk outside or on a treadmill (depending on the weather) can be very beneficial for mental wellness. Other low impact activities include yoga, swimming or stretching. Besides, if you're considering getting a dog, getting into a walking routine can help prepare you for the physical activity that owning a dog requires. Find something that you enjoy doing, and that you will do even when you don't feel like doing it. (Spoiler alert - there will always be a point in your life where you don't feel like doing something. You will have to force yourself to do it anyways.)
2. Write things down. Sometimes writing your thoughts down in a journal or notebook can help you make better sense of your thoughts and emotions. Write down the reasons for wanting a dog. Are these reasons superficial or do they go deeper than that? Is there something you might need resolve before you take that next step towards adoption? Is there a chance that you might feel overwhelmed with owning a dog a few weeks into it? Try to notice and understand your thinking patterns related to other long term commitments you have made in the past. Do these patterns set you up for success or failure for future commitments? And if they set you up for failure, what are some things that you can do now to address them? You will also have to determine whether or not you really want the dog. Like the quote says "If you really want something you will find a way. If you don't you will find an excuse." Will you find an excuse to get rid of the dog once things become challenging? All of these things are tied to your emotional well-being and should be addressed before considering dog adoption. Of course, talking to a mental health professional about these concerns can be extremely helpful to come up with a solution that is best for you.
3. Create a schedule/routine. Owning a dog requires a routine. They need to be regularly taken on walks, given potty breaks, given play time, and of course fed and watered. Creating a routine/schedule that will accommodate for this will make the transition easier if you do decide to adopt. Maybe you decide to wake up an hour early to go for a walk, then make some coffee or get some other work done. A dog can easily fit into this schedule, and you can take it for the walk with you, and it can eat and drink while you make your coffee or get ready for your day. You may also decide to start taking evening walks after work or carve out a little relaxation time before bed. Not only will that accommodate a future dog, but it will also get you in the habit of practicing self care by taking time for yourself, which is what you need more of anyway right? ;)
4. Create a plan. Owning a dog requires extra money and time. Do you have the extra time/money to make it happen? Be sure to figure out the financials and time schedules before moving forward as well. Create a timeline if you need to focus on certain areas of your life first before adopting. Be realistic! Don't give yourself 2 weeks to try to change habits. As a matter of fact, don't put a time cap on it at all. Deadlines, no matter how far out, create extra pressure that we tend to focus on, rather than just understanding that we may need more or less time depending on what we are working on. Be patient with yourself, and give yourself the time you need to get yourself on track before adopting. I guarantee that no matter how long it takes for you to feel like you are emotionally stable enough to own a dog, there will be the perfect one at the shelter waiting for you once you're ready.
Coming up next:
Do some research on the type of dog you want to own. Be sure to subscribe to get updates every time we post!
Be Well and Wag On