Happy people are connected to other people. But if you ask me, happy military people are connected to their dogs, too. In a military family, dogs may have the ability to shape your habits during deployment and PCS so that you are less vulnerable to feeling depressed, disenfranchised and just down in the dumps.
If you are thinking of getting a dog, take this quiz to find out if you are ready. If you already have a dog, try one of these three suggestions from the experts:
Dog Meet Neighbors. Neighbors Meet Me. In this post Getting connected | This Emotional Life Psychologists Marty Seligman and Christopher Peterman say that getting connected to other people is a key part of being happy.
“You can take steps to increase your connections with others. Once you do, you’re likely to feel happier, which in turn makes it easier to make more friends, and then you’re experiencing the “upward spiral” of positive emotions and increased happiness.”
One of their practical suggestions is to take your dog for a walk every day because a regular walk gets you out there with all the neighbors … and their dogs. Taking my dog Wilkes around the block every day has led to meeting an adorable older couple in my neighborhood with their fierce little Corgi. It has led to dozens of conversations about peonies and roses and tomatoes with the other gardeners in my area. And the cuteness of my dog has distracted my crazy neighbor from twitting me on the willfulness of my children and my inconsiderate Bon Jovi blastathon.
Let Your Dog Walk Out Your Depression. A dog that roots around in the refrigerator for garlic olives and bleu cheese and uses your bed as a potty break might depress anyone. Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer, says that the first key to having a well-behaved dog is to walk that dog for a minimum of 45 minutes a day. Wait! Don’t stop reading! I know you don’t have 45 minutes a day to walk a dog—especially if you have small children in the house and your service member is working killer hours. I know that walking a dog with a toddler on a Big Wheel and a baby in a stroller is the kind of skill only the rare spouse can achieve. My adaptation of this when my youngest is home is to do laps around the yard with the dog. I don’t do 45 minutes worth, but I find that the act of putting the dog on the leash makes Wilkes so happy. It also gives me the break I need to clear my head and feel better fast.
Look Deep Into These Doggie Eyes. Dogs can actually be an excellent way to calm down and refocus. In Five Good Minutes in the Evening, authors Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine say that even the busiest person can live each day better with the five-minute mindfulness exercises. I’m not too good at mindfulness, but the exercise that works for me is the one in which you pay attention to the pet who loves you.
“Notice the way your pet moves, hear the sounds they make, feel the texture of their fur, gaze at their face and into their eyes. Be open to the give and take. Allow yourself to receive the gifts of love, companionship and belonging.”
I do this nearly every time I walk in the door after work. Instead of the crazy jumping I used to get from my dog, he chills. I chill. And my military life with this blessed dog in tow is just a little bit better.