The next best thing to a vacation? Man’s best friend.
You work hard all year long, oftentimes burning the candle at both ends. Technology keeps you constantly connected and time off just means more work crammed into less days. A holiday would be great, but you can’t get away and end up letting stress get the best of you. If all this hits too close to home, relax, slow down, pet a puppy.
It turns out that for animal lovers, vacation serenity may not be so elusive. In Made for Each Other, author Meg Olmert—who has studied the biology of the human-animal bond for over twenty years—explores the healing power of pets. She discovered that petting your pooch boosts the immune system, beta endorphins associated with “runners high,” dopamine, and serotonin. In other words, it makes you really, really happy.
But as any dog owner can attest to, taking on a furry friend is not a quick and easy fix. Alex Valdivia, a professional in-home dog trainer for thirteen years in both Miami and Atlanta, explains that mismatching breeds to owners’ personal lifestyles is one of the biggest issues in dog ownership today.
“Imagine somebody who works all day and lives in an apartment, and then gets a greyhound—a dog that is bred to run and chase,” says Valdivia. “They get home after being gone for ten hours or so at a time and don’t even like to jog. Guess what happens when that dog sees a squirrel? He’s gone. And not because he hates the owner or is a bad dog; it’s because he’s finally getting to do what he was born to do.”
Valdivia’s behavior modification techniques come from a life of animal observation and fascination, starting with his first pet dog at five years old. As a young adult, he worked with dolphins and sea lions, then moved on to perfect the technique of canine training under the tutelage of several veteran trainers with a wide range of working styles and philosophies. From there, he tweaked and personalized his own brand of pack-theory training with astonishing results.
With so many years of experience under his belt, it can be frustrating for Valdivia to see prospective owners misunderstand (or ignore) what each dog breed is naturally coded for.
“Jack Russells are terrier dogs that kill rats,” he explains. “If that kind of dog never gets to dig outside and then the owner has a cookie crumb that falls into the couch, guess what? Goodbye designer couch. The digging dog, following his true nature, will shred it.”
He goes on to give more examples, saying, “a guard dog who is kept outside in the yard will bark or growl at every neighbor and small child that strolls by. The water dog who never goes to the lake, beach, or pond will attack a water hose when it turns on. People then see them as aggressive and want to get rid of them. It’s terrible.”
Instead of blindly choosing a dog, Valdivia suggests future owners consider several questions: What is nature’s job for the breed that I’m getting? What are they bred for? How does my lifestyle complement their natural tendencies?
“That right there will take care of fifty percent of the battle, and training will do the rest,” he says.
From working with puppies and adults, to abused and rescue dogs with severe behavioral problems, Valdivia has facilitated laudable transformations. So, what else does he suggest for a rewarding relationship with your canine?
“Stop trying to humanize them as an equal member of your family,” he advises. “The reality is that the dog needs a leader and they are looking to you. Once you can think like the leader of the dog pack, you will solve nearly all the problems you have with the dog. Those behavior issues will become virtually nonexistent.”
Valdivia’s Cheat Sheet for Travelers
Q: Where do I leave my pup when I go on vacation?
Valdivia suggests doing an assessment at your pet boarding facility of choice about one month before departing, preferably one with different areas for various sizes or breed of dogs. Take your four-legged friend to the complex three or four times during the month before you leave, visiting for a half-day each time. This allows the dog to associate the establishment as his place for group play. When departure day arrives, your pet, having already connected with the handlers, the location, and his fellow boarding mates, will be less stressed, will eat better, and has a lower risk of getting sick. All that’s left is to say, bon voyage!
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