Chesterman changed everything. We found this eight week-old, golden-furred Lab-pointer cross on Vancouver Island and—partly on a whim because we hadn’t planned on taking a dog home that day and partly as the culmination of a year of consideration—we scooped him up in a borrowed blanket and walked him across a BC Ferries sailing to his new Vancouver home.
In the weeks that followed, there were moments of doubt. The needle-sharp nipping. The neediness, something to which my wife and I—a then-childless couple— had to adjust, hard. The stubbornness (“why won’t you just walk?”). The crap on the carpet; the bites on the baseboards. But as Chester grew, so did our bond.
Every change was for the better. My laziest, rainiest, most-Netflix-laden day was now punctuated with at least six to eight kilometres of walking. I had a new hiking partner, a beach-buddy, a reason to hang out at a grassy park rather than a concrete coffee shop.
My cardio improved on autopilot. My stress decreased. I lost weight.
This dog’s simple empathy coddled my wife and I through the loss each of a parent and the stressful welcoming of our twin babies. We both feel safer in our house, even if he’s never thwarted an honest threat. He’s the reason we spend more time running trails and less time running errands.
A dog’s greatest joys are family-time, hard exercise and a hearty meal. But, frankly, those should be all of our greatest joys. Sometimes we just need a toothy, drooling furball to help us reset to our base needs.
Yes, for these reasons and so many more, life’s better with a dog.
You’re Healthier with a Dog
The studies are in—your life will be measurably better with a dog.
We get it. You need hard health-stats to sway you into the doghouse. Lucky for us, they’re easy to find.
A 2011 study from the American Psychological Association concluded that pet owners had greater self-esteem, enjoyed greater levels of exercise and physical fitness and tended to be less lonely than non-owners.
Plus, dogs (and cats too) can extend your life. The study also found that pet owners are less likely to die within one year of having a heart attack than non-pet-owners (one per cent versus seven per cent). The same study saw that elderly patients who owned pets visited the doctor less than non-owners, and people with certain chronic diseases saw lower instances of depression if they also owned a pet.
Furthermore, a 2016 PhD thesis by Nikolina Antonacopoulos at Carleton University in Ottawa also found that, over an eight-month study of two groups (one group acquired a dog each while the control group did not), individuals who acquired a dog became more physically active, while the control group did not differ in their activity level. In fact, within the group of new-dog-owners, only 24 per cent were achieving 150 minutes of weekly moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity at baseline, but by eight months in this had increased to 42 per cent.
Need more? A 2009 study out of Japan concluded humans saw a measurable increase in oxytocin—a feel-good release often dubbed the “love hormone”— following eye contact with their dogs. In fact, the longer a person gazed into puppydog eyes, the more oxytocin was later detected in the subject’s urine. This study, and the others, concluded what so many already know—spend more time with a canine, and you’ll be a happier, healthier human.
Point/Counterpoint: Adopt or Breed?
Adopt: A Dog in Need
Kallie Milleman, Community Development and Media Relations Specialist at the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society, looks at adoption as a good news story for both dog and human.
“Lots of animals are looking for a second chance at a forever home—adopting is a great way to do that, to give a dog a second time around,” she says, adding that humans tend to garner great satisfaction from the act too.
However, there are several factors to consider before adopting a dog or puppy—whether they’ve had a previous life, or are newborn. “First visit [the adoption] website and look there—all the animals are posted,” says Milleman. But that’s just a starting point.
To really suss out your canine companion, Milleman recommends clicking through the “Meet Your Match” survey, which was developed by the ASPCA and is available online at ontariospca.ca. It’s an approximately 15-question survey that examines your lifestyle to pair you with a dog who can keep up (or vice-versa). Your survey results will indicate one of three colour codes: Purple (couch potato), Green (life of the party) or Orange (the middle ground). Your next step? Call the adoption agency and let them know what “colour” a dog you’re looking for—they’ll explain your available options.
“Then research vets in your area—if you get a dog, you need to get a vet. Think about pet insurance, do some research—there are some great companies in Canada,” Milleman says. “This about your budget—pets need regular medical care, food, toys, bedding. These are costs you’re going to incur.”
And if you choose to purchase a dog from a breeder, Milleman just asks that you do it safely. “Cross your t’s and dot your i’s,” she adds.
Breeders: Shop Responsibly
Breeder is not necessarily a four-letter-word. The Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) offers several tips for ensuring you’re buying from a responsible, ethical breeder of canines.
See if the breeder is engaged in their community—do they participate in breed and/or performance clubs? If so, it’s a good start. When you meet the breeder—are they interested in educating you, before and after you take home the puppy? Have they performed genetic testing on their dogs to ensure healthy pups?
Has the breeder invited you to meet-up pre-purchase, and interviewed you about your lifestyle? Have they offered to show you the kennels ahead of time? The more the breeder wants to know about you, the better chance the pups are being raised right.
What about veterinarian care before you take the pup home? According to the CKC, at minimum, “your puppy should come home with their first set of vaccinations, vet records and a unique identifier such as a microchip.”
And finally, be prepared to wait—and while doing so, check the breeder’s references. Look for red flags—such as breeders who only accept wire-transfers for payment, or a too-good-to-be-true price, or staggered pricing based on specific physical characteristics within the same litter (e.g.: eye colour).
Running through this list, and checking other resources available at ckc.ca, is called crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s.
Dogs and deer don't mix.
Your dog loves to run wild. But the wild doesn’t always love your dog—particularly in protected areas, like those managed by Parks Canada.
In 2019, Parks Canada recorded 469 law enforcement incidents related to dogs—resulting in 303 verbal warnings, 11 written warnings and 46 charges. These ranged from a dog off-leash in a town or picnic-site, to the more serious, like dogs harassing wildlife.
Regarding the latter, between 2009 and 2019, Parks Canada recorded 696 human-wildlife incidents involving dogs within their areas, nationwide.That’s why the regulation of domestic dogs is enshrined within the Canada National Parks Act: “every person who brings a domestic animal into a park or who keeps a domestic animal in a park shall have the animal under physical control at all times.”
Keeping Rover on-leash in downtown Banff or within the fences of Elk Island National Park may seem like a no-brainer, but Parks Canada media relations officers also remind visitors that even in the vast backcountry of regions like Jasper (10,878 square-kilometres) or Wood Buffalo (44,807 square-kilometres), your pup still needs to be on-leash: “It may not seem like a significant decision to let a dog roam off-leash along one of the beaches or forested trails, but with thousands of dogs coming to some national parks or historic sites each year, dog owners’ decisions have a cumulative effect on the animals that inhabit the area... Parks Canada maintains or restores the ecological integrity of protected areas, which includes stewardship of wildlife populations.”
As such, not all Parks Canada—or other provincial and territorial parks—allow dogs at all, on-leash or otherwise.
Check the regs before you visit. And some parks or historic sites have fenced, off-leash dog parks—perfect for letting your pup blow off steam before you hike into that scenic, stewarded, peaceful and protected on-leash trail.
Every tent’s a pup-tent.
This one should go without saying, but it bears repeating that even deep in the back-forty you need to pick-up and pack-out your dog’s poop. Scooting it into the bushes with a stick doesn’t count.
Use a fixed-lead at the campsite—like Ruffwear’s Knot-a-Hitch—to give your pup freedom to roam without offering the chance to dash next door for wieners.
Don’t let your pup pee near food-preparation areas, wash-up huts, swimming zones or kid’s play areas. The campground is not a fire hydrant.
Leaving your pup alone at the campsite can mean howling, barking and perhaps even dangerous situations like getting attacked by wildlife or eating something they shouldn’t. Fido wants to have fun too—if you brought him along, don’t leave him behind.
Paddling With Pups
No Rover overboard.
Your dog should be comfortable in and around water first—and mind the breed. Certain breeds, like bulldogs or Dachshunds, are not well-suited to swimming.
Buy a well-fitted lifejacket—we like the Hurtta Life Savior (pictured above)—and let your dog get accustomed to it on land; running around the yard or house while he wears it helps.
Encourage your pup to get in the canoe, kayak or rowboat on-land, at home. Lure with treats. Let Fido snuggle in and get used to the feel of the boat.
Ready for the water? Ensure your launch is quick and smooth. Seat your dog in the bow, then push-off without delay. When your dog can no longer see bottom, she’s less likely to jump out.
If the hull shape of a canoe or kayak is causing your dog to be restless, consider laying a piece of plywood (or similar) to create a flat area. Comfort is king—if the dog can’t keep comfy, he’ll never stop fidgeting.
Think shade—can your dog sit in a canoe, under the hot sun all day? He’ll need something to keep cool.
The Pet Effect
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), in partnership with Cohen Research Group, conducted an online survey of 2,000 pet owners in 2016. These were just some of the findings:
- 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership.
- 54% of pet owners reported physical health improvements from pet ownership.
88% of pet owners agree doctors and specialists should recommend pets to patients for healthier living.
Learn more at habri.org.