Puppy love
April 17, 2011 1:54 AM   Subscribe

Will getting a dog help me be less of an introvert?

I love the idea of having a small dog. I think it would be awesome to have a cute little buddy who will love me unconditionally. I'd love to have a small being to take care of but I don't want to have a baby and I don't want the level of commitment that a baby would require.

I'm generally a lazy person. On weekends I sometimes sleep until 1pm, but I also don't really have a reason to get up, so I don't. I would welcome an excuse to get up and get out. I tend to be a bit introverted and don't even leave my place unless I have to, though I find that when I do get out I'm much happier.

I feel like having a dog would give me a great reason to get out and that I would really gain a lot by getting out more, but I'm not sure that I would be happy in the long term. I'd like to get into a daily schedule of getting up at 7 or 8 am, but I need some extra motivation to take a quick walk before work and a longer walk at night. A dog would definitely give me a reason to do this. On my own I seem completely incapable.

I hope this isn't too chat-filtery, but would welcome feedback from introverts who have dogs. How do you deal with going out when you don't want to? Does having a dog negate feelings of introversion?
posted by bendy to Pets & Animals (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think it would be wiser to try fostering a rescue dog for a couple of weeks just to see how you feel about the change in lifestyle. Look up some dog rescue groups in your area; they're often looking for volunteers to provide foster homes.
posted by ambulatorybird at 2:20 AM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, a dog will get you out of the house to walk it, and strangers will greet and fawn over a small friendly dog if you take it, e.g., to Starbucks.

A cat will reinforce your nocturnal schedule and make you more of an introvert.

Done both.
posted by orthogonality at 2:35 AM on April 17, 2011

Best answer: I second the idea of fostering a dog for a while.

I think it's important to note that having a dog will only give you more of an opportunity to get out of the house, it won't make you more extroverted. There are a lot of under-walked/exercised dogs in the world. That being said, you'd be doing the shelter a service if you can look after a dog for a while, so by all means try it out.
posted by Homo economicus at 3:07 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, I've thought about fostering a dog. Maybe that's the way to start.

Just for clarification, I'm not thinking that the dog would make more of a loud-mouth, just that he or she would motivate me to leave the house out of necessity. I only wonder about depression and anxiety and whether having a pet who needed walking would make me get out or if I'd stay in with an unhappy pup. Very curious about others' experiences with this.
posted by bendy at 3:33 AM on April 17, 2011

From one introvert to another: I had to change myself. No one else can change me.
posted by TrinsicWS at 3:36 AM on April 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You can talk to both a cat and a dog. However, only a cat will give you an intelligent response.

A dog, however, will need to be walked. And especially if you are British, you find people who would not under any circumstances come and talk to you will happily bowl over and talk to your dog. There are well documented examples of people meeting their future spouses while dog walking. It is not sufficient by itself to bring you out of your shell but it's a good start.

Also, dogs tend to think you're awesome whatever you do. This is good for self esteem. Cats definitely need to be impressed, fed or both to regard you with unconditional love. Unless you're exothermic.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:19 AM on April 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Based on my own experience it will help, both with the introversion, and the depression. I find that there are some days when you don't even know that you feel like talking to other people until you're forced to, and sometimes that helps elevate your mood.
I won't go so far as to say I'm introverted, but I do value my alone time a little too much, and there were definitely days when the only reason I left the house was because of the dog.

You do have to plan on there being days when the last thing you want to is bring the dog out, but with a smaller dog it probably won't cause you much grief (I always have large dogs, and would start my day everyday with an hour and a half in the park playing and running, whether I wanted to or not)

As long as you are prepared to take care of the dogs needs, I think that it would be a positive step. I do agree with others that fostering first is ideal, especially if you've never had a dog before.

You will get bunches of people talking to you and making brief comments to you about your dog, It may help you feel more confident about interacting with them if you have a few pat answers at the ready for them, though I guess at first you'll need to hear the same question over again a few times to see which aspect of your pooch people focus on.

If there is a dog park near you, it's a good way to have the option of being social, yet not having people in your face. You will see the same people over and over again, and initially, all conversation will be about the dogs, and then as everyone gets to know each other,it turns to more general topics, and, depending on what you're looking for, proceeds into friendships outside of the dog park. But this is all based on how much you want to participate. I went to the same dog park for years, and for the most part kept my distance from most of the people there with the exception of a few who then became good friends.

Going to the dogpark on the weekends gave my weekends some structure. It also gave me a good thing to do when I was feeling restless and wanting to get out of the house, but could think of nothing I felt like doing, or when my friends were otherwise engaged. Having a dog gives you a good excuse to go to a park, to take walks for no reason, or to sit in outdoor cafes having a coffee with pooch at your feet.

A dog will give you the opportunities of being out there more, it's up to you to decide what to do with them.
posted by newpotato at 4:43 AM on April 17, 2011

I worry, because it seems like you're mostly focused on the potential positive aspects (which I agree could be helpful in some ways) but not on all the drawbacks. If you have a hard time getting out of bed are you magically going to transform from someone who gets up at 6am to walk the dog every day for the rest of its life? Dogs are a ton of work, and it's not just a matter of walking the fellow during inconvenient times. Think about house training, grooming, trips to the vet, all the stuff you have to buy for it...your lifestyle is permanently changed. You have a being that is completely dependent and focused on you 24/7. I strongly, strongly agree that you should try foster or even just dog sit for a weekend or two before taking the plunge.
posted by the foreground at 6:04 AM on April 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Having another living being to take care of and to get my gaze off my own navel helped me get some perspective when I was in the real serious throes of my clinical depression. However, there were (and still are, to be frank) times when I was very resentful of the responsibility. Overall, it has been a good experience though.

Is there a friend you could dog-sit for a weekend? Maybe ask around your circle of friends and see if anyone will "loan" you their dog for a few days so you can get a sense of the responsibilities involved. If it feels all right, a foster might be a good next step.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:20 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

"I don't want the level of commitment that a baby would require" Then, sadly, you probably don't want a dog, they require as much (and sometimes more) attention than a baby.
posted by tomswift at 6:30 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think it can go either way, and really depends on you. Meaning, a dog can make you more OR less introverted. If I'm feeling social, then yeah, taking my dog on a walk somewhere with a lot of pedestrians, or to a dog park, is sure to get me interacting with some people. On the other hand though, when I was going through a breakup and never wanted to leave my apartment, having a dog around made that . . . easier. to be honest, it's hard to say what i would have done if i didn't have her. would i have stayed shut in anyway and just felt worse due to being all alone? or would i have tried harder to go out and connect with my friends? honestly, i'm not sure.

i like having her around. but it can definitely be a pain in the ass! trust me, if you're prone to laziness, a dog won't change that. i'm still the same lazy me: i have to drag myself out of my warm, comfy bed to walk her butt in the cold. then i come back and right back into the bed. luckily, she's a couch potato too, so she doesn't seem to have a problem lazing around with me all day. but there's no guarantee your dog will be as low maintenance as mine.

also, i think it probably depends on where you live. right now i live in a place that isn't particularly filled with young people or other dog owners, and it's cold a lot, so walking her has become an annoying drag. when it's warm out? it's like, the best part of my day. i love to make coffee in the am, then bring a mug with me while i walk her. also, i am going to be moving soon to a neighborhood that's a lot more dog-friendly and fiull of people my age, so i think walking her will become more fun. (ok, i just looked and you're in SF, so I am leaning towards you getting a dog.) by far, for me, the worst part of having a little dog is having to deal with getting her walked in the cold/snow/ice. if you won't have that problem, the rest isn't really so bad!

i didn't want to make this too long, but my last piece of advice is that if you do this, go through a breed rescue and get an adult dog. you can still get a young dog- mine was like 1 or 2- but on the application you can specify what your life is like, and what kind of personality traits you want in a dog. and since these dogs will have been fostered by people already, they can match you up with the best one for you. i ended up with a dog who was already housebroken and rarely barks. that is a huge deal and makes life with her so much easier.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 6:34 AM on April 17, 2011

Best answer: Bendy... having a pet is as close as you can get to being a parent if you don't have kids.

The little beasts, be they ferrets or felines, don't know that you're feeling bad or tired. They just need their needs met. It's really an exercise in growing up to have to subordinate your comfort for the needs of a being that is mostly interest in their own.

Personally, while I fond of thinking of myself as an introvert, I am more like Mentos in Coke, or maybe more like a firecracker in a bowl of gasoline... If I had to gauge why it is so, at least some of the credit for the transition from dipshit sulky teenager to the very pinnacle of human spiritual development that is me must go to my cats, and more recently, our dog. (I use the word 'dog' in this sense to describe what is basically an ambulatory cloud of distasteful smells, running the gamut from oyster-breath on a good day, to gym socks on an average day. Jessamyn (our esteemed moderator) will attest to this, incidentally!)

I love my dog. And my cats. Most of my joy in life comes from telling people how much I hate them all, and what I am going to do with their pelts when they mercifully die.

If you get a dog, your knives will never dull again. Your pens will stay full of ink. Your attitude will improve. You will learn to handle dog poop in a bag and talk to people about all sorts of formerly disgusting things that have suddenly turned funny.

Get a beagle. (I'll give you mine!)

Gotta go now and solve the rest of the world's problems....
posted by FauxScot at 6:38 AM on April 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

oh and i think people who say the responsibility of having a dog is comparable to a baby are exaggerating. i can leave my dog alone for reasonably long periods of time. i don't have to wipe her ass. she doesn't ask me thousands of questions. feeding her is as complicated as a scoop of food in her bowl twice a day. she doesn't cry. i don't have to dress her or wash her clothes. there's a reason i have a dog instead of a baby: they are REALLY different!
posted by GastrocNemesis at 6:38 AM on April 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Sounds to me like you would love having a dog.

Dogs are master guilt-trippers and will motivate you to get outside regularly. If you go to the same park at a regular time, you'll probably make casual acquaintance with a few people on a similar schedule. Most of the chit-chat revolves around dog ownership but it often branches out. That said, after 11 years I've reverted to the standard pleasantries. I enjoy just standing there in silence with other people who don't feel compelled to talk. We let the dogs do their thing and enjoy that moment of the day.

"Then, sadly, you probably don't want a dog, they require as much (and sometimes more) attention than a baby."

...if your dog is as much work as a baby -you're doing it wrong.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:56 AM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think that your hunch that a dog will make you less nocturnal and more likely to strike up conversations with strangers is probably correct. But you need to consider the breed of dog that you get carefully - the people you are most likely to meet as a result of dog ownership are those who have the same (or a similar) breed. Also the amount of walking you will need to do to keep the dog happy will vary a lot by breed: a large, active dog like a dalmatian will probably benefit from at least 2 solid hours of walking per day while a toy breed might just need one short walk (and you could even skip a day if you had to). Some breeds open up the door to various dog-related social activities: agility classes or hunting for example. Would you prefer a dog that can scale mountain passes or one that looks cute in a red winter coat? What I am suggesting is that you consider selecting the dog that will bring you closest to the type of people you find appealing: better for you and for it.

Consider where you live. If you have a house with a garden then you can let the dog go out there to pee if it has to. If you have an apartment then you must venture out with it. In all cases it is useful to make friends with some people who could baby sit your dog if you are going to be away for a weekend.

Do remember that, while people can get by living an introverted life with no real problems, this does not apply to dogs: dogs really must be socialised to meeting other people and animals if they are to avoid being stressed-out obnoxious prima-donnas. You really need to take a puppy to a dog training class so it can learn to establish itself in a hierarchy and learn some basic manners. Only if you are really introverted - to the point where you think this sort of contact would be a problem - would I caution you against getting a dog.
posted by rongorongo at 7:00 AM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

bonobothegreat I didn't use the word "work".. I said they "demand as much attention"...
posted by tomswift at 7:01 AM on April 17, 2011

I agree with newpotato above about the dog park.

The thing is though, you live alone right? There will be occasions you would need to turn down good social opportunities (drinks after work, someone randomly asking if you're free for a movie in half an hour, talking shop with the boss without looking at your watch) which might be good for the introvert, because you have to rush home to a little creature who needs company and to pee urgently. I love my dog and dogs generally but would probably not be up to the challenge of raising one alone.
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:03 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is how having a dog has changed/helped me, although on the other hand, I cannot second jamesonandwater enough about having to turn down social opportunities to go home and walk the dog.
posted by kate blank at 7:10 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm married to an introvert with a dog. As rongorongo alludes to, our dog was never socialized properly, ostensibly due to job schedule but I've always wondered if my husband's introversion played a role in that. Because our dog reacts poorly to strangers (dogs and humans), I'd say that it causes or allows him to be *more* introverted than he otherwise would be.

If you're going to get a dog to assist with developing more people skills, you'll need to get an outgoing, friendly, amiable dog. My experience is that many smaller dogs don't have those personalities. In any case, I second GastrocNemesis's suggestion of adult dog from a rescue. You'll have a much better sense of personality vs. a puppy.
posted by emkelley at 7:21 AM on April 17, 2011

Nthing fostering a dog for a while. I think this should be your route for a lot of reasons. For starters, it's just a good feeling knowing that you're helping an animal that really does need your help. Keep in mind dogs have personalities too, and for the experiece to be a rewarding one, the one you are looking for, you're going to need the right match between yourself and the dog. Fostering is sort of a trial run, and if you find out you don't click as much as you had hoped, when then you've already helped, and when the time is up the time is up. But if you and your foster dog end up bonding and the thought of giving him up is something you cannot fathom, when then yay! Your foster pup has just found his forever home! Everyone wins!

On the other hand, owning a dog is a big commitment. A commitment that can last well past 10 years. Are you prepared to make that commitment? Never mind the emotional side -- are you financially able to take care of a dog for over a decade? Vet bills aren't cheap. Are you going to train him? And what happens if/when you realize this dog you had such high hopes for doesn't help you, and starts to feel like a burden? Or when he pees on your couch, or barks throughout the night? Are you just going to abandon him, moving on to try something new? I'm not saying that what you will do, I just really want you to consider all these points before making a decision, and whether dealing with these situations will help or hinder your (and the dog's) well being.
posted by cgg at 7:27 AM on April 17, 2011

If you love animals, I think a dog would be a great help. I have a similar personality to what you describe and my dogs are sometimes my major reason for being.

Consider adopting an older dog. They need a little less exercise and you can get by without as many walks, if needed.
posted by Agatha at 8:54 AM on April 17, 2011

Best answer: Yes, having a dog will make you less of an introvert. You will still want to sleep in sometimes, but it won't be possible anymore. You will be out and about a few times a day, and will have to make conversation with strangers. Only it won't be scary or a pain to have to socialize, because you will be talking exclusively about this little creature you love.

You might make friends because of your dog. He might have certain other dogs in the neighborhood who he gets along with better, and you might end up hanging out with those owners and becoming friends with them. That's only if you want it. As people said above, a dog park is an excellent place to hang out and have small interactions with other people, as much or as little as you want.

One caveat: I am also super introverted, and while getting a dog did get me out and talking to people, she has also been an excuse for me to avoid socializing. I have said no to going out after work because I needed to go home and walk her. I can't go on day trips with friends unless my dog can come or I have someone to watch her. So, you know, it can be a double-edged sword.

I like this idea of you getting a foster dog to try this out, but I also think it seems like you want the dog for more reasons than just you wanting a reason to get up early. So, I think if you just look into some breeds you like, and visit some shelters, and go ahead and get yourself a dog, you'll be totally fine.
posted by violetish at 9:05 AM on April 17, 2011

bonobothegreat I didn't use the word "work".. I said they "demand as much attention"...

Sorry, about that. My snark was in no way constructive. Feel free to flag it. (I'd have apologized off thread but tomswift's me-mail is disabled)

posted by bonobothegreat at 9:16 AM on April 17, 2011

Best answer: I'm an introvert; I adopted my first-ever dog in March of 2009. I was 37 years old. obligatory photo Having a dog has changed me in many ways and nearly all of them were positive and unexpected. Having a dog has not, however, made me any less of an introvert.

I have really gotten into the bonding part; we went to obedience school, we hike, swim and backpack together, and we've just started training in dog agility. Training my dog has taught me more about myself than anything I've done as an adult. Training a dog will cause you to focus on patience and consistency, managing expectations (both yours and your dog's), body language (people read the same body language dogs do... being conscious of it has been very helpful). It's an old saying that dog training is actually owner training, but it can be more far-reaching than you expect.

Even if you don't go off the deep end with me, having a dog is a nontrivial commitment of time, energy and money. Dogs need to be walked, bathed, fed, some need to be groomed, all need to see the vet periodically, all need basic socialization training. I agree with the previous posters who suggest a trial period with a rescue organization.

I have met many awesome people because of my dog; our trainers, fellow dog owners, rescue activists, you name it. I find that conversation with dog people comes more naturally because of our shared interest. However, I do not seek out human company more than I did before I got a dog. Our long walks provide much of the me-time that I (and I think most introverts) need to keep sane. I'm out and about much more than I used to be, but I still guard my interior quiet fiercely. In fact, now I have a guard dog for it.
posted by workerant at 10:05 AM on April 17, 2011

Best answer: I'm an introvert by choice. I'm fine and very social when I am with people, but I prefer to be alone. My dog was the best thing to ever happen to me. I never felt lonely and always felt loved. She became my best friend and made me a better person. And (here's the important part) she made me like people a lot more because SHE did. I guess what I'm saying is that if you (maybe) have made the choice to be an introvert and you feel that it is maybe 'wrong' by social standards, rethink it. Maybe that's just the way you need to be. A dog is a perfect companion for an introvert. (RIP Casey)
posted by Pennyblack at 12:13 PM on April 17, 2011

Best answer: Unlike most people's dogs, my dog adapts to my sleeping schedule, not the other way around. For example, she was still snoring at noon today when I woke up, and was wide awake at four am with me when we were investigating the attic for raccoons. She's basically always been this way, except when she was a puppy and had to go outside constantly. I also don't think I have become a whit less introverted since I got her. Sometimes, having to come home or pay for a walker after work means that I miss activities I could have gone to. And if I'm feeling introverted and don't want to go out, she's the perfect company at home, so I don't get lonely. If I had been expecting those specific outcomes when I got her, I would be disappointed and resentful. I don't regret getting her in the slightest, and I think it made me a less selfish person overall, but it didn't change something as fundamental about my personality as my introvertedness.
posted by wending my way at 2:21 PM on April 17, 2011

Best answer: Dog owner and introvert late-sleeper here. Adopting a (social and friendly) dog has definitely helped me wake up earlier and get out more. No yard, so I've got to take the dog out for regular walks, whether I like it or not. And actually, I usually do like it. It's kind of fun and joyful to walk a happy, extroverted dog. I will never walk around with a smile plastered to my face, assuming everyone will love me, eager to meet new people, and thinking the world is generally fantastic. But my dog will! For this gloomy pessimist, it's actually kind of pleasant and refreshing.

I also find the dog to be a great social lubricant and icebreaker. I love bringing her to events where dogs are welcome. I normally despise small talk but will happily blather on about my dog to anyone who asks. If I'm uncomfortable, tending to her can be a good cover for a break in the conversation.

So I'm still an introvert at heart but my dog sometimes helps me behave in a less introverted manner, though I did not get her for that reason. Also, I think the dog's temperament has a lot to do with it - it would be a different experience if my dog were not friendly and social.
posted by spiny at 4:18 PM on April 17, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your thoughts and stories. I wouldn't expect a dog to solve all my problems, but I think one could be a catalyst for some positive changes. I will definitely look into fostering first though, since I know it's definitely a long-term commitment.

FauxScot: It's really an exercise in growing up to have to subordinate your comfort for the needs of a being that is mostly interest in their own.
This really resonates with me - I turned 40 last year and have been trying to figure out what it means to be an adult and I've been bothered by the fact that I don't have any real responsibility for anything beyond my own basic needs.

Spiny, Pennyblack, wending my way, newpotato, Muffin Man: These are all the things I'm hoping. Sometimes I just need a bit of a nudge to chat with other people.

Again, thanks for sharing your experiences with me and many happy walkies to you all.
posted by bendy at 4:50 PM on April 17, 2011

I'm an introvert, the owner of two cats, and just brought a sweet little girl dog home from a rescue a couple of days ago for a one week trial with the felines. It's early days still, but here are my thoughts so far:

1. Yes, the dog has gotten me out of the house when I wouldn't have otherwise gone out.
2. Once I'm out walking her, it's been a really pleasant experience, even when it's drizzling.
3. But, BEFORE I walk her, I'm still dragging my feet, wishing I could stay in my warm bed, etc. etc. For me, a good analog is the way I feel about going to the gym. Even if I know that I'll feel good once I get there, that doesn't somehow magically make the present moment where I'm home in my comfy clothes and don't have to comb my hair something that is easy to give up.
4. Having a real living, breathing creature's happiness depend on me getting up and going outside, though, DOES mean that I have to do it, no matter how much I don't want to. So, yes, it may motivate you to get out more, but it probably won't change the fact that you don't WANT to get out more, if you see what I'm saying. It'll be like having a friend whose one mission in life is to get you to go out and do things. Sometimes you'll be all, "whoa, thanks, man! I never would have met that girl if you hadn't made me go out tonight!" And sometimes you'll be all, "damn. I HATE that guy. Why won't he leave me alone? Going out tonight sucked, and I would have been so much happier staying in with a book." So... up sides and down sides, I guess.

In my own situation, the cats are going to be the deciding vote, because I love them like crazy, and it would be completely unfair to them to bring in an animal that they don't like. Having the trial period too, is helping me get through my feelings of "oh my gosh, is this a huge mistake? What ever made me think I wanted a dog?!" I think a trial period is essential before you commit, and fostering or otherwise working with a rescue organization will give you that opportunity.
posted by MsMolly at 6:44 PM on April 17, 2011

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