She said, “As long as we’re with each other…”
“We know we’re in exactly the right place,” he finished.
~ from Once Upon A Marigold, Jean Ferris
I sometimes hear from my clients who experience disharmony in their relationship with their Dog, “I’d spend more time with my Dog if we would get along better.” To this I always respond that it is the converse that is true – if they spent more time together, they’d be better connected.
It seems that the more time goes on, the less of it we seem to have. There is always something that is competing for our time – work, family, responsibilities, shopping, chores, and, oh yes, the Dog. According to a survey, 75 percent of people walk with or spend time with their Dogs only two times or less each day, and 87 percent of those walks are 20 minutes or less (Gallup, 2006). This begs the question, is that enough to create a friendship? The short answer is, no.
On average, a Dog lives 10 to 13 years. Given the average lifespan of a human, which is 79 years, Dogs live approximately only one sixth as long as we do. That’s not nearly enough time, as I spoke about in a previous post, In The Blink Of An Eye. Our time together is precious and fleeting, and if we are to grow together as friends, we need to devote time to each other. We need to go beyond the necessities of feeding and bathroom walks, although those activities, if done in an engaging way, can become wonderful moments of connection. It means becoming involved in each other’s activities. As measured by the Monash Dog-Owner Relationship Scale, those who were actively engaged with their dogs in activities – whether structured, like agility, or unstructured, like daily games of fetch – scored higher on the Emotional Connection scale than those were were not actively involved (Dwyer, 2006). It’s a simple formula: more time together = better friends.
Increasing time with our Dogs is mutually beneficial:
- Studies have shown that both ourselves and our Dogs enjoy increased levels of oxytocin during positive Human-Dog interaction (Handlin, 2011). Oxytocin is the “feel good” hormone and can help reduce stress and stress related hormones, such as cortisol. The more time together, the better we feel.
- Dogs make us feel loved. They are always happy to see us. Spending more time together will create mutual feelings of love and importance in both ourselves and our Dogs. This is an emerging idea in psychology known as “mattering”, which states that the more an individual perceives that they are a significant part of the world around them, the less likely they are to suffer depression and anxiety (Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981). This is obviously a gross simplification of the concept, but it illustrates the point.
- The more time we spend together, the better we understand each other. We learn more about our own and our dog’s strengths and weakness, fears and inspirations, habits and mannerisms.
- We learn to communicate more effectively simply by being together more often.
- When we spend more time together, we share more experiences, and therefore become closer because we have more opportunity for commonality.
There are so many ways to engage with your dog. My dogs and I enjoy hiking a few days a week, and we also go to the local dog park often. One way to spend time together that I believe is very effective in deepening the friendship between us is the power of touch. Dogs communicate physically, not verbally. Spending time every day touching, petting and massaging your dog will communicate to them how much they matter to you. Giving them a massage is a very effective way of not only bonding and expressing your devotion to them, but it can help you learn about their sensitivities and even alerting you to potential health issues (if they become agitated at a certain touch point, it may mean they are experiencing discomfort). Petting, massaging, kissing and even hugging are ways of spending quality time together that expresses how important you each are to each other (there has been some discussion recently if Dogs like to be hugged. I think it depends entirely on the individual Dog; it is not a species-specific rule).
We live in hectic times. Life seems to move at light speed. However, our friendship with our Dogs have the ability to slow us down for a moment. Friendships grow by being nourished with love, commitment and time together. Devoting ourselves to being physically present with each other creates a connection that cannot happen by being apart. It’s like a well-worn pair of slippers, you need to wear them often to create that perfect fit. However, simply being next to our dogs is not enough to create kenzoku. For that, we need to devote our minds. We’ll explore that in The Roots of Devotion, Part 4: Devotion of the Mind.