The best job I’ve ever had has been being a dog sitter. It is perfect for me, combining my love of dogs, spending time outdoors, and walking. I started dog sitting about a year ago after realizing I was spending way too much time wishing I had a dog of my own and missing my own who are with my parents. Aside from being a great job, I’ve also met my neighbors and explored Baltimore more – helping me transition from newbie to local.
Punctuating my time between studying and researching with a dog break keeps me calm as well. Dogs are very wise (and silly) creatures, they know themselves and their needs so well. Over the year, I’ve found that they know how to be happy with almost anything. I’ve condensed down all the memories and moments into four concrete lessons I’ve learned from dogs about treating myself.
1. Sleep when you need to
Most dogs spend a lot of time sleeping, that’s a fact. One of the happiest moments I’ve had was dog sitting for a house with a golden retriever, pit-bull mix, and a little orange kitty. I fell asleep on the couch for an hour and woke up to all three of them barely hanging onto the couch snuggling next to me. It was adorable!
Many weeks, I average about 5 hours a night of sleep (like many of you as well) and that particular week was overwhelming at school and piling research deadlines. I’ve noticed my productivity declines rapidly when I’m unable to catch enough zzz’s. Like the dogs I watch, I know that sometimes I have to put off other responsibilities to take care of myself. There have never been regrets after napping.
Tidbit: Taking off an hour to sleep will make you more productive and be better in the long run!
2. Treats are very necessary
I sat a boxer-mix who wouldn’t go into the crate unless there was a promise of a treat. It was a nightly ritual to hold the biscuit in my hand and point to her crate. I understood it as her needing a boost to help her through a “difficult” situation.
There have been nights where a chai latte or 10-minute meditation session has helped me calm down, assess the situation, and make a clearer plan about how I’ll tackle a problem. On the other hand, most dog owners use treats to tell their buddy “good job!” I use this philosophy in my own life – Did I ace an exam? My treat is going to be a nice run without any stress. Did I finish writing a report before it was due? I’ll use the extra time to treat myself a home-cooked meal.
Tidbit: Treats, which aren’t just confined to food, can give you the energy you need to finish a task. After a job well done, make sure to treat yourself as well!
3. Learn to say “no”
Some of the dogs I walk are stubborn – I’m thinking specifically of a brother and sister Australian shepherd team. Randomly, they’ll both decide to not walk down a certain street, leaving me to either tug forcefully on them (a lost battle) or just follow them to their pre-planned destination. They’re certain and they’re resolute, they just say “no.”
I have had a problem of saying “yes” to every opportunity that comes my way out of fear that I’ll miss out if I don’t. You can see how things quickly pile up and leads to a vicious cycle of no sleep, trying to finish everything, and eventually not performing my best at any one thing. Only recently, I’ve realized that I need to pick 2-3 things that I REALLY want to do and do those things well. I am significantly happier because I enjoy working on the few projects I have, rather than being stressed out about everything.
Tidbit: Saying “no” doesn’t mean that you’ll miss out on potential prospects, rather, it gives you the chance to perform exceptionally well in the opportunities you do choose.
4. Acknowledge how you feel in the moment
I cared for a dog who spent the first hour of each visit sitting by the door whining for his owner. I tried everything – I mean everything – to distract him: treats, petting, baby talk, turning the TV on, a walk (which only temporarily worked, because he started whining as soon as we got back). The only thing that eventually worked was leaving him alone and giving him time to be ok.
It might seem like a stretch, but dog emotions are a real thing. They live completely moment to moment, which is one part of what makes dogs great. From them, I’ve learned to recognize what I feel; whether it be positive or negative. For example, when I moved to Baltimore, I felt incredibly out of my element. I did go out to explore the city and make friends, but the first few weeks, I gave myself extra time to adjust to a new situation. Keeping my feelings in the open instead of burying them has helped me work through them.
Tidbit: Your emotions are important and valid. Recognize them and I hope you don’t dwell on negative feelings, and hang onto positives longer.
Treating yourself is an important part of self-care – take the time you need for yourself to perform, feel, and be your best.
By: Aanika Balaji
I enjoy life as a medical student, an amateur artist, a dog walker, and casual global traveller. Either going solo, with friends, at homestays, or volunteering abroad, travelling has taught me a new way to view and perceive the world. My goal is to be an oncologist who is lucky enough to spend part of her career working abroad.