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Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald Headshot

30 Things Only Dog Owners Understand

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As someone who's volunteered in animal rescue for over 10 years -- and has been a foster and adoptive parent to lots of dogs over the years -- I feel like I'm constantly reminded of how dogs bring alive the Third Metric values of well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving. They bring us joy. They keep us in the present moment. They make us laugh. They touch our hearts in the most unique way.

Those of us who have canine members in our family experience an abundance of the unique ways that dogs have an impact on our daily lives. At a dog park, a fundraiser, an animal shelter or in line buying dog food, chit-chat about these unique details can often be overheard. There are a number of things that dog owners know to be true, that people who've never had a dog might not understand. Here are just a few:

1. When we ask for a doggy bag at a restaurant, we mean it literally.

Growing up, when we asked for a doggy bag at a restaurant, it was actually for the dog. The restaurant would give you the scraps from your meal, or scraps from the kitchen, and you'd bring it home for your dog. These days, people usually take home doggy bags for leftovers for themselves. But not dog owners. Dog people understand that when you're eating out at a restaurant, you've got to bring something home for the dog. I was on a business trip recently and when I was finishing my dinner, I saved a little bit out habit... and then I remembered that I was out of town and wouldn't be going home to my dogs.

2. Dog hair on the floor is standard.

dog hair

And we don't care --regular sweeping is just a way of life.

3. A Fourth of July tradition involves steering clear of the fireworks.

For the Fourth, there are fireworks just two blocks away from our house, and the whole neighborhood has lots of parties. But at my house, our Fourth of July tradition is putting our dogs in the car and driving far away for an hour because it's just so stressful for them. We can still enjoy the parties before and after the show.

4. Dogs are the most dependable alarm clock.

wake up dog

It's a Third Metric principle to keep devices -- including cell phones, with alarms -- out of the bedroom, and instead use an old-fashioned alarm clock. But with a dog, you don't even need that! If you have a dog, you know that they're so on time. One of my dog's time is 7 a.m. -- at 7 a.m. exactly, he'll stand next to my bed. And stare. And if that doesn't work, he'll wag his tail and make sure it's banging against something. If I'm not out of bed by 7:15 a.m., he'll start pawing at me. They know when to get up -- they don't wear a watch, yet they're really aware of time. And they're really thrown off by the whole daylight savings time thing.

5. It's hard to resist the head tilt.

dog head tilt

Every dog owner knows exactly what I'm talking about. Even though I'm the disciplinarian in the house ("no" means "no"), I do sometimes give in to the "best in show" of head tilts -- when they seem so confused as to why you would scrape the plates vs. letting them help.

6. They show excitement when they exit the door as well as when they are entering.

Dogs love adventure, so it's not too surprising that they're so excited when we leave the home to take them for a walk. But have you noticed how excited they are to come back into the home, too? They just can't wait to get back inside to see if they have missed anything.

7. They seem to vanish when they hear the sounds of bath time.

hiding dog

My husband does the dog-washing -- he'll get a little bucket that we have, that has all the soap and supplies. As soon as the dogs see him opening the cover of the bucket, they'll come over to me and hide. Fortunately, once the dogs are actually getting their baths, they seem to realize it's not as bad as they may have anticipated. And they love shaking the water off and being dried in the fluffy towels.

8. Even though we try to act like everything is normal when we're packing to go on a trip, they still seem to know.

Dogs' senses are so amazing: They can smell better, hear better and they're just aware of things in ways we are not -- and that includes sensing when we're leaving. So whenever I'm going on a trip and I'm not taking the dogs me, I have a suitcase that I very slowly, nonchalantly start filling. I make sure not to make a big deal out of it by whistling, singing a happy tune and giving treats. But they know. They're so aware, and they get a little frantic. If it turns out that we are actually packing for a vacation that they get to be part of, their frantic behavior turns to glee.

9. And when we come back being away from them on a trip, the excitement they show is unmatchable.

excited dog

Even if you're just gone for one night, you get a reception of joy as if you had been gone for months -- they'll dance all over the place and follow you everywhere. Heck, even if you leave to go around the block, you are guaranteed to come home to at least an enthusiastic, wagging-tail greeting.

10. If they have a regular mealtime and we are late, they notice.

Humans know how important it is to have a regular mealtime. Dogs really know this.

11. There's nothing quite like the pride we feel when our dog learns something new or overcomes a fear.

A lot of dogs come from backgrounds of abuse or neglect. So in that vein, it's amazingly heartwarming and inspiring to watch them gain more confidence and overcome their fears. When they make a breakthrough, it's amazing to watch them blossom into the dogs they are capable of being.

12. When friends or coworkers ask to see pictures of our human family, we have to scroll through hundreds of dog pictures first.

dog pictures phone

Since I volunteer in animal rescue, I literally have thousands of photos of dogs on my iPhone. So when people ask to see pictures of my husband or my family, I have to look through all of them to find them because my phone is mainly full of pictures of dogs.

13. We have lots of beds around the house.

Dog beds, that is. Yet, when it's bedtime, the dogs always know to go to the one that's in the bedroom.

14. No matter what we do on the car ride to the vet, they know they are not going to the park.

sad dog car

You can act totally normal, but the dog will always know something's up. Always.

15. They're so helpful when we make a mess in the kitchen.

dog kitchen

When my husband is in the kitchen cooking, I call the dogs his "assistants" because they're always watching him as he cooks -- and keeping the kitchen floor clear of crumbs.

16. They have such joy from rolling in smelly things -- often after a bath.

17. Financial priorities are different for people who have dogs.

It's not uncommon for a dog guardian to say "I'd rather live in my car rather than give up my dog," because they're a part of the family. They're not just a dog. The bond is so strong, you just can't imagine giving them up without doing everything you can to be resourceful.

18. We don't give a thought to spending money on their care vs. spending money on luxuries for ourselves.

When it comes to their needs, you are happy to supply them with what they need and maybe pass on that new purse.

19. We don't mind their slobbering on our face, even if their mouth has just been... somewhere less savory... moments before.

dog lick

Dogs will lick their private parts. And who knows where else their mouths have been. And then their mouth is all over your face. And dog owners just don't care. It's not a concern if you're a dog person -- you just go with it. You know that it's just how they connect with you and show affection.

20. We don't mind picking up their poop. Several times a day, every day.

dog poop bag

Sure, it's not exactly fun, but you just get used to it. In fact, you'll even pick up other dogs' poop, too, to be a good citizen.

21. We sing... and compose.

We just start coming up with these songs that we sing to our dogs. About the walk, about how they're a good dog. "Let's go for a wa-alk!" You just start making up songs, like you do with babies.

22. It's hard to wake up grumpy in the morning when there's a dog in our face.

wake up dog

I pray, meditate and do yoga in the morning, but honestly their happy faces are the best way to greet the day. Even if my yoga pose can't be perfect because there are some furry critters on my mat thinking I'm on the floor so I can pet them.

23. We start to say "sit" and "lie down" to humans.

I sometimes do this with my patients not intentionally, but when I'm asking a patient to have a seat, I might say "Sit!" accidentally instead of "Please have a seat." Sometimes I have just come from the animal shelter to the clinic. And then we have a good laugh, especially if they have a dog.

24. There's your life before having dogs, and there's your life after having dogs -- and they're completely different.

It's like there are two time periods: B.D. (before dogs) and A.D. (after dogs). It's a different life. Once you have one, usually most people feel like they can't imagine life without a dog.

25. Even though all dogs are adorable, there's just something a little cuter about my dogs.

dog on leash

Sure, I'll ooh and aah politely over someone else's dog as they're showing me their pictures on their iPhone. But I'll always know in my heart that mine are cuter.

26. We have multiple lint rollers in various locations.

You know how some people keep lip balm in their car, in their desk, at home, on the counter, etc.? That's how dog owners are with lint rollers.

27. When we purchase a car, we keep in mind how a dog crate will be able to fit in it.

Not all cars are created equal.

28. We probably laugh and smile more times throughout the day than most people.

laugh with dog

Not that everyone else's lives are more miserable... but it's impossible not to crack a grin when your dog does something amusing, which is pretty much several times a day. Dogs definitely bring you extra the smiles and laughter that you might not get without them.

29. Whenever we give someone a lift, we give them a head's up that we have a "dog car."

dog in car

I do animal rescue stuff and often have to transport dogs, and I do my best to keep the car clean, but there's just always a lot of dog stuff in it. People with dogs are used to it, but for people without dogs... sometimes they will then offer to drive.

30. Yes, is it super sad when you have to make a difficult decision to help them transition from their journey on earth to the rainbow bridge, but you have peace of mind that you were there for them all of the way.

framed picture of dog

You had the opportunity to relieve them of suffering, and they have a special place in your heart forever.

Okay, I've stopped at 30, but there are so many more possibilities. Can you add to the list? What about your canine companion is inspiring, amazing or just simply adorable?

Please note: If you are inspired to add an animal companion to your life, please make your decision carefully. Being a pet guardian is a long-term commitment. Please visit your local shelter or rescue group for assistance in choosing the right pet for your lifestyle. If you are interested in having an animal companion, but aren't sure you are ready for the commitment, please consider fostering or volunteering at your local animal shelter. Petfinder.com is a great website to find pets available for adoption.

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