Although not everyone enjoys the company of dogs, those that do reap many rewards from their relationship with canine companions. This article will look at three different ways that dogs can help with recovery from addiction.
Read on to find out about some low-commitment ways to pack some Fido time in your routine if dog ownership is unrealistic at this stage in your recovery program.
Dogs can Disrupt Self-Centered Thinking
Many of us that are working a 12-step program have sponsors that encourage us to find opportunities to do service. In early recovery we may balk, but as we start to gain some clarity on the benefits of sober living, we come to see that our addiction fostered unhealthy levels of self-centered thinking and actions.
Helping other people through service gives us perspective on our own problems. It also brings a sense of purpose beyond drugs and alcohol. We learn we have something of value to offer those around us, and we start to get better at “getting out of ourselves.”
The responsibilities and rewards of caring for a canine dependent are similar. They offer an additional advantage: Dogs never react with anger, disappointment or blame when we give them attention, praise and love. They don’t expect a better car, a more expensive toy, or fancy food.
Simply put, the effort we put into focusing on the needs of the dogs in our lives comes back ten-fold as gratitude, joy and adoration. By putting some intention on this exchange, we have a chance to grow some confidence that contributing to the lives of others has big spiritual pay offs.
Dogs Give Us Unconditional Love
Taking an inventory of the things we have done during our addiction that caused harm, or even doing the work of being accountable to the mistakes we make in our daily sober life, can be emotionally exhausting. Confronting feelings of guilt, shame and depression are all a part of learning to live with integrity.
Dogs give us a break from worrying about the judgements of others. They offer unconditional love as long as their basic needs are met. They have low expectations – toss a ball and you have a happy dog on your hands.
Dogs offer us a reliable feel-good generator that is easy to access. You don’t need to pay high membership fees, max out your credit cards, or travel to an exotic destination in order to appreciate the pleasure that a single dog can give with just a few minutes of companionship.
Dogs Help Us Build New Social Networks
Most of us developed relationships with other addicts and alcoholics that were unhealthy and often fed our addictive patterns. For most of us, recovery involves building new relationships with those living sober as well as folks that have never struggled with addiction.
Dogs are great conversation starters. They break the ice with strangers and open the door for new connections. In addition, canines offer a great opportunity to enjoy new activities so we can make new friends around common interests.
Flyball, Agility, Dock-Diving and Herding Trials are all examples of organized dog sports that require us to make regular time to focus on building our relationship with our companion, as well as meeting people that can turn into life long friends.
If organized activities are not your style, dog parks, hiking trails and other dog friendly public spaces are great places to be casually social. You never know who you might meet!
Take it Easy
Early recovery is usually a pretty bad time to run off to the shelter and adopt a dog. Until you have achieved some financial security, housing stability and some clean time, expecting too much from yourself can jeopardize your progress. Worse, if things do not work out with your new dog, it can end up being an all around terrible experience for you and the pooch.
Luckily, there are lots of chances to get some pup time in without taking on much commitment. Consider volunteering to spend time with the dogs at your local shelter, offering to walk a friend’s dog, or hosting your neighbor’s dog while they go on vacation.
Once you are ready to adopt a dog, try fostering first. Many rescue organizations rely on foster homes to provide a temporary home for dogs that were rescued from euthanasia. If things do not work out, they will be able to place the canine with another foster parent while they wait to find their forever home.
Mathew has worked with dogs for just under a decade and is the founder of wileypup.com, a dog lover’s website that provides great tips and advice for paw parents everywhere.