My whole life, I’ve always had a dog. When I was a little kid, there was Toby the mutt, adopted from the North Shore Animal League. Then in high school, Trixie the golden retriever was welcomed into the family, followed a few years later by her sister Scout. And now my wife and I have Steve, a semi-feral street dog who found his way into our home when he was only three or four weeks old.
I take it for granted that dogs have always been a part of my life, and I forget that not everybody has that same experience. Every once in a while I’ll be out for a walk with Steve, and someone will deliberately cross the street to avoid us. Or if I ever have to let someone in the house, a plumber or an electrician, they might ask me cautiously, “Does he bite?” No, he doesn’t bite, he’s lying upside down on his doggie bed wagging his tail with a tennis ball lodged in his mouth, I think you’ll be safe. Here are six things only dog owners will understand.
1. Dogs add so much joy to your household
Every now and then I’ll find myself in a rut. It’s hard not to get a little bored with the routines of everyday adult life. But even though my dog’s life is exponentially more monotonous than mine, he’s just super excited, all the time. I wake up in the morning and he’s at the bottom of the stairs, as if he’s been waiting his whole life to see me. I ask him, “Hey buddy, you want to go for a walk?” and he actually starts dancing around in a little circle. Just the way he drools, sits, and rolls over for a tiny dog biscuit makes me wonder how much satisfaction this dumb animal can get from just a small morsel of dried food.
My dog is happy and excited non-stop, and that type of joy is infectious. Even when I’m having a horrible day, my dog is there to greet me when I walk through the door like I’m the only person he’s ever wanted to see in his life. It’s really hard to not smile just a little bit knowing that my mere existence is enough to make another living creature that happy.
2. The house feels empty when they’re gone
It’s not often that my dog is out of the house without me, but every once in a while I’ll find myself all alone. Sometimes I have to drop him off for a bath at the groomers, or maybe I’m going on vacation early in the morning and so I had to leave him overnight with a boarder. And so occasionally I’ll get these weird moments where I turn the key into my front door and my buddy isn’t wagging his tail to greet me.
When you’re always expecting your dog to be right there waiting for you, it’s an unsettling feeling to walk into an empty home. Dog owners know exactly what I’m talking about. The place just seems dead. There’s a feeling of lifelessness, like all of the air has been sucked out. It’s at moments like these where I can’t imagine how people live without dogs.
3. The house never really smells like dog
I’m not a messy guy, but the house is always covered in dog hair. It’s just the nature of being a dog owner. Steve is a shorthaired dog, so it’s definitely not as bad as it was growing up with two golden retrievers. But just because my dog’s hair is shorter doesn’t mean that he doesn’t shed. I’m looking at my couch right now and there’s a thin layer of hair over everything. I pull out my black coat for the winter and people at work ask me, “Do you have a dog?”
And yet, the house doesn’t smell like dog. Or, if it does smell, I can’t smell it. I wonder what it smells like to guests when they come over. I hope it’s not as bad as when I used to have to visit my crazy aunt who had something like fifty pet birds. Man, that place stunk. My mom would try to say something, “Jeez, you really need to let this place air out,” and my aunt would just be like, “Why? What are you talking about?”
4. You never have to pick any food off the floor
When I’m cooking, I’m never really super careful in the kitchen. And why should I be? If I’m moving too fast, if something spills on the floor, all I have to do is whistle, and Steve knows what to do. It’s a total win-win. I don’t have to find the cleaning supplies, grab the paper towels, or try to figure out how to get those wet pads on the Swiffer Sweeper. It’s just, “Hey Steve! Come here buddy!” and it’s already gone.
Which makes for the occasionally awkward moment if I ever make a mess at someone else’s house. I was out to dinner at my friend’s last week and I loaded up this tortilla chip with way too much guacamole. It was a careless move, but one that, living with a dog, I’d conditioned myself to make. When the chip broke in half under the weight of the dip, I barely made an attempt to catch it before it hit the floor. And when it did, everyone just kind of stared at me while I absentmindedly waited for some nonexistent pooch to come lick up my mess.
5. You’ll never be afraid of the dark
Well, not in your own house anyway. When I was a little kid, I’d hate having to go down to the basement by myself. And so I’d always make the dog come downstairs with me and suddenly the creepy basement wasn’t so creepy anymore. Because what are we really afraid of, the dark? Or are we afraid of what it’s like to be alone? I don’t know what the connection is, but whenever I’ve got a dog with me, I never feel alone, and it’s really hard to get myself freaked out.
Well, except on those rare occasions when the dog starts staring intently at the wall. I’m like, hey, Steve, come here. But he won’t budge. And then the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, and I start to remember all of those ghost stories from when I was a little kid, about how dogs can see things that humans can’t. And then he starts barking at that wall and I’m like, yeah, you know what? I’m going to just go to bed now.
6. You don’t need a doorbell
My doorbell ran out of batteries something like a year and a half ago. But I honestly couldn’t be bothered to figure out how to replace them. And why would I? My dog jumps up and runs to the door well before whoever it is outside has a chance to even figure out where the buzzer would be.
The dog is a motion detector, security system, and doorbell all in one. And he’s an alarm clock if I ever decide to sleep in. Yeah, I hear you, hold on. And a reminder that we need to go outside right now. Yes, OK, I hear you Steve, I know, I know, you want to go out, all right, just let me finish typing this sentence and I’ll take you for a walk. All right fine, let’s go.