How looking after a dog improved my mental health at university…

It’s now June and I’ve been living pretty much the same routine since last September but still haven’t blogged about it! If you’ve seen my BorrowMyDoggy  posts you’ll know that I’ve been looking after other people’s dogs for the past couple of years at university. I also try to talk openly about my mental health and in particular how it affected me during my degree and I realised that having time with a dog was a great way to improve my mental health.

So here are a few things I’ve taken from borrowing a dog:

1. Taking care of something other than yourself has so many benefits

When I have my really down days it can be a struggle to look after myself properly and meet all my expectations of the day. Some days you really don’t achieve anything. But on the days I’ve had Teemo to look forward to, I feel happier. Focusing on his needs forces me to think more about my own. If you didn’t know, but we’ve looked after Teemo since he was 16 weeks old. We watched his needs change from a young puppy who still needed house training, to teaching him commands, changes in his feeding schedule to longer walks. By having to focus on his needs first, I would sort my timetable out.

2. Walkies- rain or shine.

Looking after a puppy means they have so much excess energy to burn. Everything is interesting and everything is fun. What isn’t so fun is waking up early to rain and an exuberant puppy sitting on your head because he’s so desperate to go for a walk. Luckily there are plenty of decent parks and walks throughout Newcastle and Gateshead.

I felt quite responsible with taking Teemo for walks, as for owners without children, he is the most loved thing in their world! So, I only let him off in large fenced areas like parks and after we had done plenty of recall training. In general, he’s a good little fluff and only walks off a few metres in front but when other dogs appear he’s so excited to play – away he zooms!!

I was quite glad that the last Wednesday walkies we had was on a gloriously sunny day. We decided to walk from my flat all the way back and along the Quayside to Teemo’s house. A long enough walk for Teemo to cross in front and behind me again and pretty much tangling Rob and I up 101 Dalmations style for the 100th time. We got a selfie by the Millenium Bridge and waved him away as he walked home with his Dad, and I’ll be honest, I was quite upset to see him go. Other people may think it’s weird or mad to get attached to a dog you don’t own, but when you’ve looked after them for so long and see them grow so much, it’s hard when your relationship changes.

3. Cuddles from a dog are the best

When you’re feeling sad, there is almost nothing better than having a dog try and make you feel better. Teemo especially is incredibly affectionate and loving and you won’t go a visit without being jumped allover or licked. As he arrives super early in the morning, I take to letting him (and myself really, it’s truly just so I can get an extra hour in bed) jump into my bed. Once he’s had his fill of running around between the rooms and turning round and round, he usually cuddles up and we watch some Netflix. I’ve had a couple of stressful times when I’ve been looking after him (university deadlines etc) and he immediately reacts to any sort of sadness with the urge to cuddle you. Honestly, dogs are just the best aren’t they?

4. Creating a bond and preparing myself for the future

Rob and I are such dog people. We talk so much about getting a dog and what breed we would like and trying to decide when we are going to be able to get our own. That’s what prompted me to reactivated my Borrowmydoggy membership, and get looking to borrow specific breeds. when I saw 16 week old Teemo’s little face, it was love at first sight. We both knew we wanted a westie but had no experience of the breed, so it was perfect to find such a young pup in need of puppysitting.  We’ve looked after him since he was first allowed out for walks, gotten through looking after him during the potty training stage and the stress peeing and pooping whenever you have to leave the room for more than 5 minutes and his constant terrier need to rip things to shreds. (Terrier owners how do you get round this by the way?)

It’s been a fun, stressful, exciting and lovely experience looking after a puppy and made me so sure that I would love to own a westie one day. I love their nature! I’m hoping it’ll be sooner rather than later that we get our own dog, but I know for a fact, Teemo will always be very special to me.

5. It gave me time to relax and recharge

My university timetable gave me wednesdays free which made it the perfect day to get any freelance work done and to have a quiet day in the middle of the week. By having a day “at home” where I could focus on life outside of university, it really gave me time to find balance. Wednesdays became the day that Teemo would sit and watch me do my laundry, do some writing, do some cleaning and generally get things in order. It was also the one guaranteed day a week that I would exceed my fitness tracker goal of burning 500 calories a day- Teemo is a fan of the long walk! By popping out the door with him every couple of hours for a quick walk around the block and then a nice long walk, I got plenty of fresh air and always went to bed on a Wednesday night content with my day’s exercise. Compared to all the rushing around and constant thinking and listening at university, my wednesdays were super chill and it’s something i’m going to miss as it really was my one day a week where I had a day completely devoted to myself and getting things done but also spending time with Teemo gave me an insight into how working from home might be.

6. Something to look forward to

With all the stressful coursework and job hunting I’ve got going on, I can’t really plan too far ahead with big exciting things like holidays. So having shorter term things to look forward to is important. For instance, Teemo Wednesdays! This really gets me through bad days as I know that it won’t be long to the next time I get to see him or go on a little adventure.

Honestly, borrowing dogs has really improved my health. In particular, borrowing Teemo as he is the one I’ve borrowed the longest. Borrowing him from a puppy and seeing him through to his first birthday at the end of this month, has been a wonderful journey and I can’t wait to take him out on more adventures!

Overall in the past year I’ve felt better, more positive and more relaxed.

Shay x

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