How dogs can lift our mood, help us shake off stress

Something older dogs seem to have in spades is the ability to shrug off their troubles. Have you seen a dog shake off water? For me, that is the perfect visual of what it looks like. When my dog was uncomfortable, and then wasn't, she would shake her body like she'd just had a bath or had run out of the ocean.

This physical twisting and spinning of her big fluffy body looked like she was throwing off the stress of the moment. She shook off the stress in a vigorous shrug.

Spending time with Muttville mutts every week reminds me of this lesson from my dog. I'll see a dog get into the personal space of another dog trying to sleep. The resting dog will respond by getting up and moving away, or giving a short 'get away, you're bothering me' bark at the disturbance.

 

Whatcha doin? #sillydog #poodlesofinstagram #sundayfunday

A photo posted by grouchypuppy (@grouchypuppy) on

The rebuffed dog will get the hint, and move over to the side while he shakes off the stress from the moment. Depending on the dog, and my body language, he may decide that I will give him the attention he is seeking. 

Notice Arnold here? He was a master at not letting the stress get to him! He slid into any open space where affection and attention was being offered. I laughed out loud watching his eyes light up when he saw an opportunity across the doggy loft!

This is what I love about dogs, and volunteering at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. I get these little reminders of how simple it can be to move away from stress, and toward happiness. Dogs make great demonstrators of stress management, a skill we can use during the holidays and beyond.

What simple lesson has a dog taught you, or reminded you of that you'd forgotten?

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Dogs don't know what a holiday is, only that you're there with them

You know what's so great about dogs? They don't care about the holidays. Dogs don't know about Cyber Monday sales. They only see the new toy or smell the freshly opened bag of treats.

Dogs have a way of getting us emotional humans to focus more on their funny antics, and less on those door-buster commercials running on television. Sure, they'll sit next to us on the couch to watch You've Got Mail for the tenth time, but only to get the belly rubs.

 

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Matchmaking at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue

When I arrive for my morning shift at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, I never really know who will be there to greet me. The older dogs that come through the doors are from many different backgrounds. They are in various stages of emotional and physical health. Some dogs pass through quickly, bunking in the doggy loft only a couple of weeks, other dogs get scooped up and placed in a foster home or adopted before I see them.

Whether a dog is there a day, or years, all of the dogs become part of the Muttville family. They are loved by everyone associated with the nonprofit. Maybe that is why I never really feel bad when a familiar dog disappears from the group? I know with certainty they are in good hands.

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Thanks Muttville! Caring for old dogs helps on the anniversary of my dog's passing

Have you ever had that one dog? You know, a special dog who connected with you in a way none before them had? Thanks to the world of dog people that I occupy, I know that I am not alone in having this special experience.
 
My special dog got me to start a blog, and jump into social media as a dog advocate ten years ago. She showed me all the ways a dog could enrich your life, and that there is value of living in the present. Caring for and about my dog into and through her senior years, taught me patience and empathy for my aging parents.
 
With her passing, memories of our days together motivated me to get out of the house and down to Muttville Senior Dog Rescue this year. Each morning I'm there I get a dose of mutt magic, in exchange for doing their laundry, mopping and walks around Rescue Row. 
 
image from www.grouchypuppy.com
"Daisy and Sharon have an understanding"
 
For now, I'm content to care for them and help play matchmaker, but when I look in their eyes, I know that one of these days I will be ready to open my home to another dog. For now, I'm grateful to have this wonderful place in my town that lets me in the door every week, especially as I mark today, the two year anniversary of my dog's passing.

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Older dogs offer you something special, often intangible

When you spend time with older dogs, it feels like you've been given a free meditation lesson. Hanging with Murphy here in the doggy loft at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, I literally could feel his soothing aura embrace me while I sat next to him on a bed.

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Older dogs offer you something special, often intangible.

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Helping older dogs live their final chapter knowing they are loved

Dogs enrich our lives in a million different ways, at every age of their life, and ours. When I decided to start volunteering at a senior dog rescue, my goal was to physically help older dogs live the last chapter of their life knowing that they were loved. What I didn't realize until recently is that they are reminding ME that I am still loved. How did that life lesson sneak in here?

 

Joy on the other end of our leash @muttvillesf with Miss Pepper #adoptdontshop #❤️

A photo posted by grouchypuppy (@grouchypuppy) on

Is it the compassion I have for older dogs that inspires me to step up, and to try and make a difference in the quality of their life? I certainly know that when I get discouraged by the news, my mood is lifted after spending a few hours with a wise old face.

Offering a discarded older dog simple affection can be rewarded with a happy expression, like Pepper has in this photo. Have you ever made any dog smile? I get a shot of electricity from it!

Getting involved in the welfare of older dogs in my community is a tonic. It's a reminder that we can do something close to home, that can have a positive tangible impact. When I come home from Muttville Senior Dog Rescue each week, I feel like I've helped add to the positive column, that my actions have cancelled out some of the negativity in the world.

My Emotional Enrichment Program

Ensuring that an older dog will know they are loved during their final chapter is my goal. Every time a Muttville dog is adopted or joins a foster home, I feel so much joy. My life is enriched from the experience, and knowing they will be loved the rest of their life. 

Learn more about Pepper, the adoptable cutie shown here. Throughout August, Muttville is waiving adoption fees to qualified adopters.

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Older dogs show us how to focus more on the present

Having a senior dog in your life is the best. Mine helped me focus on the important things and to forget about the nonsense, the noisy distractions. Thanks to my dog, I found myself caring more about her wellbeing than any reality show on television. I spent more time searching for savory recipes to make her special dog treats with. She made the distracting noises from our busy city streets fade into the background.

She isn't physically with me now, during this disturbing presidential election season, but guess what? I found a calming environment at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. These oldsters are exactly the right balance to the outlandish behavior on television and online.

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Being with my older dog brought calm, and the rotating crew in the doggy are doing an amazing job at pinch-hitting for her! All I have to do is pop my head over one of the half-doors and say, "Good morning puppies! How did you sleep? Who wants to go for a walk before breakfast?"

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Empathy and Compassion: The role older dogs play

The roles dogs play in our lives continues to grow and evolve. Millions of dogs are simple companions and best friends, while thousands serve as guide dogs, therapy dogs, and guard dogs. Their jobs often change over time, but one constant force they retain is their unique ability to positively influence us.

I have experienced the benefits from having dogs in my life at all ages. As a young girl, I felt a kinship with our family dogs. They were easy to understand, and seemed to understand me too. In all honesty, I felt closer to them emotionally than my own human siblings.

I especially remember spending quiet afternoons with Scooter, the patriarch of our crew of dogs. He taught me a lot about being still, and the power of empathy. That is one reason why when I volunteer at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, I love seeing the influence of the older dogs on visiting children.

"You don't seem like a Muttville dog, you are like a little puppy," she whispered.

Image from www.grouchypuppy.com

A wonderful role these older dogs play is that of wise teachers. They are helping us raise compassionate children, often by just being themselves. The kids are learning empathy from their exposure to the world from the eyes of an aging dog.

Many city kids can't have pets. Their time spent quietly petting, or taking care of the senior dogs at Muttville allows them to experience the effect of caring for an elderly parent or grandparent. These dogs helps them see what it means to care about a live animal, rather than a stuffed one.

I've witnessed many moments, like the one above, when a young child reaches out selflessly to give one the senior dogs some gentle affection and appreciation for sharing their time. These dogs in the doggy loft are not caged so they are free to walk away from anyone, even a sweet little girl.

What is so wonderful being around these older dogs is their willingness to open up to the sounds of love.

They don't hold grudges for the turn in their life that caused them to end up at Muttville. Instead, they seem to grab the opportunity to show all of us how to let go, savor the little moments, and enjoy a quiet cuddle.

If you give them a chance, every older dog will give you their all. They are professionals at showing people of all ages what's so special about having an animal companion, and why senior dogs rule. 

Does your community have a program where young kids can experience what it means to care for and about older dogs? How about older pets in general? 

 

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My Muttville Moment: Old dogs understand loyalty

When I look at an old dog staring out of the window at the doggy loft, I see someone who understands loyalty. The older dog has experienced what it feels like to be a part of a team. They know what it means to be able to depend on someone. I sense they are feeling the loss and it breaks my heart. My compassionate response is to give that old dog all the love and affection they can tolerate, to show them that they weren't wrong to trust us. I feel compelled to step up and show them their loyalty is valued, even more than love.

Image from www.grouchypuppy.com
Mandy

Mandy is an old dog at Muttville who understands loyalty. I took her out for a walk one morning and her focus wasn't on peeing, it was finding a certain someone or their car. We race-walked down the street pausing at every, single, parked car. She determinedly sniffed each door and tire before moving down the row. I asked her repeatedly to please go potty, because it was nicer for us all if she did her business outside, rather than in the doggy loft among the other dogs. She ignored me. She had priorities.

I don't know many cocker spaniels but I do recognize loyalty, and what it means to be part of a team.

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My Muttville Moment: Big old dogs know about grace

When I spend time with old dogs I always seem to come away with a new wisdom or reminded of a forgotten lesson. Recently I sat with a big old girl named Bridgett. Her quiet watchful gaze followed me around the room until I stopped mopping and came over. She had fit her large shepherd body onto a piece of AstroTurf along the far wall. I couldn't tell if she missed laying on grass or wanted a little private space.

Since her eyes were open I decided to go visit. I'm so glad I did. Bridgett lifted her sugar face up and calmly gazed at me. I took that as a green-light and sat down on the floor. We chatted.

Image from www.grouchypuppy.com
Bridgett

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My Muttville Moment: I see you, you old dog!

When you look at an old dog, what do you see? Do your eyes go straight to any obvious deformities or unusual features, the grey muzzle, or white whiskers?

Is your focus on what they look like, or who they are? When I see an old dog my impression is built from the ground, up.

Starting at their feet, I'm checking out their mood and posture. Does their body language tell me that they want my company, touch, or attention? My first impression begins with their attitude. Like older people, old dogs don't have time to waste on stuff they are not in the mood for, and will not pretend.

Image from www.grouchypuppy.com
Coco Chanel

If they prefer a nap to a walk, you know.

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The positive influence old dogs have on managing our own aging process

When my dog got into her old age years, I noticed. I listened to her creaky joints when she would get up from a nap. She would step out or off of one of her beds, then slowly stretch her long Husky Shepherd legs out behind her, until her toes flared. My eyes went wide in surprise, the first time I heard her joints make small popping noises like my toes do sometimes.

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

I had more firsts with her the next several years. Looking back now, I'm seeing her movement into old age through changes in my own body. Previously I had seen my 80 year old mother in my dog's aging process, now I see myself.

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Finding your heart dog reflected in another

Volunteering at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue every week brings me in close contact with old dogs. All of my desire to help them get another chance at love and affection with a new family is satisfied by the end of my shift.

This week I had the unexpected additional pleasure of spending time with Patricia, a shepherd with the looks and personality of my heart dog who passed away almost two years ago.

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

Instead of feeling sad about my loss, or reminded of the hole she left behind, I felt joy. I felt gratitude for having some time with another dog who enjoyed my company so much she dozed off on my feet, and stuck close to me every chance she got. I even got a very sweet smile reminiscent of my angel girl. Her soft eyes and fur are an elixir and soothing balm to noises in the world.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, come see Patricia for yourself and find out what I mean! From the Muttville posting:

  • Patricia is great with dogs
  • Excellent walking on a leash
  • Loves new people (Yep!!)
  • Patricia about 10 years young and weighs 45 lbs.

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Need a reason why old dogs matter? Here's five...

Puppies are very cute, but I don't want one. Never have. Even when we had a litter of puppies during my childhood, they were sweet creatures but they couldn't hold my attention like our adult dogs. The older dogs kept my interest because I wanted so much to understand them better. I craved their respect and trust. The puppies were sweet blobs of unformed clay, while the adults were sharp intelligent animals. 

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

Fast forward a few decades, and my Shepherd Husky refreshed my memory of why old dogs matter, and how they positively influence your life.

Now, volunteering at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, the mutts are sharing many reasons why we should care about them, and for them, more than ever.

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How (and when) dogs become members of our family depends on culture and country

During a vacation last year across Turkey, I had the chance to see stray dogs for the first time. They displayed their own unique way of hanging out, and engaging with people. The spaniel in this photo was an intact male who seemed to enjoy checking out various groups of tourists exploring the ancient Anatolian ruins of Perge.

Compared to other groups of foreigners, I think he was encouraged by our body language to get very close. I certainly welcomed him, even petting him for a few minutes. He decided on his own to lie in the shade with us, and listen to our guide talk about the baths for about ten minutes. 

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

After returning to San Francisco, I realized that I had witnessed what it must have been like for dogs thousands of years ago. These stray dogs displayed a desire to be near people, even if the people showed little desire to have them close by.

This spaniel wasn't unusual, the stray dogs at the many UNESCO sites we visited sensed that we were people who responded positively to their overtures. Neither side was threatening. How they chose to engage varied. Some came in close for physical affection, while others were content at lying near us in a relaxed and trusting manner.

As a dog lover, watching  how other tourists and visitors responded to the roaming dogs, one can appreciate why these dogs had to be cautious around people. I saw some tourists and locals reacting badly to a dog's presence near their shop or just walking down the street.  

It was obvious the dogs were trying to survive in a place where they weren't always abused, just mostly ignored or tolerated. 

I did not see pet dogs, but at a rural cultural and educational center, there was a puppy and an older deaf Beagle being cared for as part of their property. They lived outside in dog houses, or freely wandered the property. They were definitely members of the group who ran the premises, interacting freely with them. They were not chained up.

Experiencing dogs who belong to a place rather than a person was a first for me. Having that experience set inside ancient communities made it easier to image the evolution of dogs over thousands of years.

How (and when) dogs become members of our family definitely depends on culture and country.

This trip showed me firsthand that dogs are incredibly adaptable creatures! But from my perspective, once you've experienced the joy and companionship of a dog, anything less is unacceptable.

- Sharon Castellanos

Have you experienced dogs who belong more to a place than a person?

 

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