Am I making my dog depressed?
December 7, 2011 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Am I harming my dog by not walking it every day? And why won't she play with her ball anymore?

I've had my dog Annie for a month and I love her lots. I asked previously about mental illness and pet ownership and she's been a life saver. I'm finding though that about once a week my depression is so bad I can't walk her. She usually gets an hour walk in the morning and 45 mins in the afternoon. However, that one day a week I just can't seem to get out of bed. Is this harming her? She just sits around the house on the back of the couch on these days staring out the window and sighing. Am I making her depressed?

(I looked for dog walkers in my town but no one is listed on any local sites and I know no one who could do it).

I still take her out in the yard on these days and that's where my second question comes in. She used to love chasing tennis balls and bouncing around the yard. Now she just ignores them or if she runs after it she brings it to the door and drops it as if she is hiding them from me. Is there anything I can do to instill play in her again?

I tried one of those balls that dispenses treats when you push it around but she just tries to chew it (like the 1,000 chew toys she has).

I'm a first time dog owner and just worried that my depression is harming her.
posted by kanata to Pets & Animals (53 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
She just sits around the house on the back of the couch on these days staring out the window and sighing. Am I making her depressed?

Our dog used to do that sometimes when I was a kid, and no one in our family was depressed. Some dogs just give deep, heartfelt, soulful sighs sometimes; I know it sounds like they are having deep melancholy thoughts about the great ills of the world, but I think the only thing they probably are thinking in those moments is something like, "huh. Cheese. Cheese is cool stuff."

As for the ball, she just wants to try something different, that's all.f

Dogs do sense when we're upset, but I don't necessarily think that that translates into them also being depressed themselves; the worst thing she may be on the days when you can't walk her is "a little bored". But the fact that you take her outside to the yard on the days when you can't go for a walk does at least help. You'll be fine and so will she.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:49 PM on December 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think your dog is just picking up on your depression. Maybe by relating the walk to your mood. No walk means owner is not in a happy mood. Dogs are great at picking up on their owners emotions. Harm? I don't think taking a day off is a big deal.
posted by amazingstill at 1:49 PM on December 7, 2011

Yep, it sounds like the dog gets ample exercise most of the time, the one day a week off isn't gonna cause it undue stress.
Try some different kind of toys if the ball has lost it's charm. Some dogs just aren't fetchers. Alternatively, I have yet to meet a dog that didn't love a good game of tug of war.
posted by newpotato at 1:55 PM on December 7, 2011

Even the best intentioned dog owners don't hit the mark 100% of the time. You are not doing a sub-par job, please don't fret about that. (And in total, Annie actually gets a lot of exercise with all of those walks - you're doing way better than I am!)

I don't know why she won't play with her tennis ball. Our dog used to play with a Pokemon - the only thing she's ever played with (no tug of war here, newpotato!) and then one day she just... lost interest. Dogs are weird. Not as weird as cats, I'll grant you, but weird.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:57 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

For the toys question:

Have you tried a rope toy to play tug-of-war with her?
How about different fetch toys? One day play with a frisbee, the next with a stick, the next with a tennis ball or hard rubber ball.
posted by DisreputableDog at 1:57 PM on December 7, 2011

Our lab used to give the most heartfelt sighing whine ever, and then gaze up at us hoping we would feed or scritch her. So she might just be hoping for a belly rub or something. It sounds like you're giving her a great amount of exercise and one day off isn't anything to feel guilty about.

And yeah, sometimes they just lose interest in a toy - nothing weird there! Go ahead and try something new.
posted by brilliantine at 1:59 PM on December 7, 2011

Hey! It's great that you got a dog and that you're finding her to be helpful to you! I wouldn't worry a bit about skipping a day of walks. I can't imagine you're harming your dog at all. Dogs are usually pretty communicative about their needs. Mine goes kinda apeshit if she's not getting enough exercise - you'll learn your dog's signals as you get to know her better. Don't worry about the groans and sighs; my dog is downright melodramatic in her grunting and carrying-on, and we're both in A-OK emotional health. Dogs just sigh sometimes, often I suspect out of contentment.

About the playing... well, some dogs like to play a lot. Some dogs are epic snoozers. Some are lap fungus and try to be like velcro to you. Maybe your dog isn't much of a player, and that's okay. If you think there's hope for tennis ball fetch, try cutting a small slice into the tennis ball. Squeeze the ball so the cut gapes open and drop a small treat in (let the dog watch as you do this.) Throw the ball and when she brings it to you, praise her, get the treat out and give it to her.

If retrieving isn't her thing there are other games. Teach her the names of some toys, then start playing hide-and-seek. Put the dog in a stay and take the toy to the next room and place it on the floor in plain view. Go back to her and tell her to find her $toy. Praise like crazy when she finds it. Repeat, hiding the toy in a harder spot each time.

Some dogs find squeaky toys to be irresistible. Mine swiftly performs squeakerectomies and then ignores the eviscerated carcass, but I guess that's some kind of fun too. Try different toys, try challenging your dog's brain on the days you can't challenge her body. So far, though, you are doing GREAT with your dog, and I wish more dog owners were as conscientious as you are.
posted by workerant at 2:00 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Re: play, how often do you try to play with her? Do you take her to dog parks? Sometimes not playing with pets regularly can make them less likely to play. If you don't try playing with her regularly or take her to dog parks, maybe try that?

Re: walkies and mood, pets really do pick up on our emotions and mirror them back. I have been really stressed the past month or two and haven't been paying as much attention to my two cats. I realized a week or so ago that they've become less playful and affectionate as a result. I'm now making an effort to spend focused petting and play time with them, and it has really changed how they respond to me.
posted by schroedinger at 2:00 PM on December 7, 2011

My dog will happily lay on the couch all day if I'm not playing with her or taking her out and about with me. She does not play fetch. I tried to teach her and she looked at me like "I just went and got that ball for you! Why would you throw it away?" End fetch. She's just a low key dog. You're doing just fine and better than most!
posted by kamikazegopher at 2:00 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like to joke that my dog expresses his deep existential pain via mournfully squeaking his squeaker toy (I know that sounds impossible but he really does get the saddest expression in his eyes and will let out the saddest little groans). But of course he doesn't feel any existential pain!

It's part of human instinct, I think, to anthropomorphize our beloved pets, but generally a sigh is just a sigh - IME dogs will sigh when they are very calm. Your dog is getting a lot of exercise, so missing a walk or two per week is not a big deal.

I wonder if her outside activity level is related to weather? My dog is super-energetic in the winter and lazy in the summer, but I have met lots of dogs who are the opposite.
posted by muddgirl at 2:01 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with the above that a day off a week is not terrible. That said, I am sure Annie prefers days with the walks! Also, sometimes I sneak walk a dog. It's not often, but sometimes a quick 8-10 min around the block is all that I have time for and my dogs fall for it.

It has taken me so long to answer that most of my fetch points are covered, but here's a few. My dog only likes Penn tennis balls, so is it a different ball? Also some dogs chase the ball to have it, not to chase it again.

Anyway, I am sure you are doing fine. You are just getting to know each other. About a month is when a rescue dog starts letting its hair down.
posted by Duffington at 2:04 PM on December 7, 2011

She just sits around the house on the back of the couch on these days staring out the window and sighing.

Every dog I've ever had does this WAAAAY more than one day a week.
posted by magnetsphere at 2:06 PM on December 7, 2011 [10 favorites]

As a person with anxiety and depression myself, I understand the worry around first time pet ownership. I have two cats and a dog, and with each new animal, I convinced myself each time I was a terrible, negligent pet owner who didn't deserve animals.

I think part of this comes from being very empathetic to helpless creatures. So often I've been a sort-of "helpless creature" myself who had to depend on people around me to lift me up, so I think I feel extra attuned to this sort of thing. What I was doing was projecting. I'm a great pet owner. I feed and love and exercise my animals to the best of my ability, and they're happy creatures. I'm not able to walk my dog every day, but that's OK. On days I have half energy, I walk her half as much. On days I have no energy, I don't walk her at all, but I'll stand in the yard with her for a while or I'll give her extra snuggles inside. She may have less energy on the days I don't walk her, but it's not because she's depressed or sad that we didn't get a walk - she's just powered down a little because it's not an active day.

You're not harming your dog, and I promise once you get to her know her better and have spent more time with her, your anxieties about her well-being will fade. It can take several months to get into the routine with a new animal, but you'll get there, and you'll feel better about the days you can't do as much you'd like. Just keep doing what you're doing, and try not to guilt yourself too much for taking care of yourself when you need to.
posted by Laura Macbeth at 2:12 PM on December 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

It sounds to me like you are doing a fine are giving this dog a good, loving home. I know that depression makes it difficult to give yourself the credit you deserve, but you are doing a fabulous thing. Your dog is one of the lucky ones!
posted by malocchio at 2:19 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

You are not harming your dog. To be clear: you are not harming your dog.

If, in the future, you sprain an ankle and don't walk your dog for a few a while, that will also not harm your dog.

You are doing right by the dog.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:24 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah I guess the problem lies with me as I end up feeling guilty about not walking her which makes me feel more depressed and cry and then each sigh seems to say that she's being abused. I guess that I am projecting there.

As for playing I have taken her to the dog park twice. The first time she had fun. The second a little brat of a French bulldog kept trying to mount her and scared her. She is very afraid of other dogs most of the time. I play with her every day or try to.

She has a rope toy but if I try to play tug with her she just drops it and gives you a look like " why did you give me the toy if you want it?"

If I throw a stick she takes it off in a corner and tries to chew it until I take it away as I am afraid of splinters. She doesn't even dig in her holes anymore. Anything else that gets thrown is taken to the door.

I am afraid I am too boring for her.
posted by kanata at 2:27 PM on December 7, 2011

I agree with everyone else, you are doing a fantastic job. Dogs do read emotions and might be reacting to yours, but my dog also melodramatically sighs when I'm not 100% giving attention to him, but I just call him mopey and ignore him at those times and he gets over it. Hasn't seemed to have mentally damaged him in his 8 years with us. My dog is also a poor fetch-er, he loves chasing after the ball 85% of the time, but never brings it back to me. If he comes within 10 ft of me, I consider it a win. He thinks the game is throw the ball and he gets it then I chase him. He also seems to like the balls on ropes more than the tennis ball, and loves the squeaky tennis balls, so you can keep trying other toys, or just not worry about it too much, lack of ball playing and 1 day a week without walks is still fantastic for dog ownership : )
posted by katers890 at 2:30 PM on December 7, 2011

Oh and with your additional update, don't worry about being too boring. My dog thinks I'm boring, but he'd think I was boring if I wasn't playing/loving him 24 hours a day. Sometimes a dog just settles in and acts less playful/running around, or sometimes they just get in moods and don't want to play that day. Unless it's systematic not liking of everything/lethargy, I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by katers890 at 2:33 PM on December 7, 2011

My dog does the same thing: the deep sighing, the soulful, wounded looking eyes. My partner is convinced the dog does this in part because it gets a sympathetic reaction from me, like, for example, when I say, "Poor Puppy!" and then scritch him on the chin. So, there's that possibility.

But Annie probably is missing out on the walks too. And that's something you can help her out with. We met our dogwalker at the off-leash dog park. She was the woman with about 5 dogs under voice command (seriously, she's like Snow White or something), and we got to know her over time and now she's got a key to our place and picks the dog up, takes him for a romp, then brings him back home while we're at work. Pet-co groomers are often good sources of dog-walking knowledge.

And, another thing that you might consider -- yes, I'm serious -- is a treadmill. I know some dog trainers who swear by teaching a dog to use the treadmill (here's a one example, but there are a ton of training videos online: This is great for bad weather / when you just can't get to it.

Lastly, don't worry about the toy thing. My dog is 6 now and has gone through a ton of phases: he used to love to wrestle with other dogs when he was a puppy, then he only wanted to play fetch with one of those ball-flinger things, then he carried his duck around everywhere (still does that), and these days, he just wants to walk in the woods with us and occasionally take off after a squirrel. Dogs are just like that.

But do know that they quickly figure YOU out and will do what it takes to get a reaction / attention. For some reason, every night during dinner, my dog goes around nosing the doorknobs in the whole house, trying to make us think he's desperate for a pee even though he's not. He must have gotten a reaction at some point that encouraged that behavior. Also, he pretends one of us forgot to feed him and acts like he's STARVING TO DEATH so he'll get fed twice. Soulful sighing, heartfelt looks of longing, the whole she-bang. Don't play into it -- it's emotional blackmail, for sure ; )
posted by mmmcmmm at 2:33 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Your dog is fine. Actually you sound perfect for each other. Some dogs sigh a lot, my MIL's dog does the most heart rending sighs and it usually just means, hey I'm sitting here and no ones patting me, or fed me treats recently. If you are having a bad day and aren't up for walking, sit on the couch with the dog and just give her a pat or a hug. In a dogs world attention from owners is a bazillion times better than walks and just might help you feel a bit better too. BTW dogs so use sighs to get attention, it's like a little kid doing the same thing.

I own two dogs, one loves toys, one only likes things that squeak. If I throw a ball for the second one, he'll run to get it and then just run past it. The other dog will play fetch for hours. It's just not some dogs thing.

One dog likes toys almost as big as he is and the other one loves cat toys. One loves fluffy toys to try and defluff, one prefers cow toes and driving us crazy squeaking a duck. Point being, hey dogs like different things, so don't stress too much that's why there are so many damn dog toys to choose from at the pet store. Kongs with peanut butter in seem to be universally loved though.

If you are up for it you can get a book or look online and try and do some trick training, clickers are great for this. You only need to do a few minutes a day and if you are not up for a walk you can teach your dog all sorts and dogs love doing things with their humans, specially if it means they get treats and told their good.
posted by wwax at 2:45 PM on December 7, 2011

my dog is 100% uninterested in toys of any type. if it's not tasty, he won't even sniff it. just as with humans, dogs have all kinds of personalities and interests -- some love rope toys, some love stuffed animals, some prefer shoes, and some (like my dog) couldn't care less about any of the above. no matter how awesome I think a stuffed hedgehog is, he's like, what is the use of this inanimate object?

as for your dog's exercise level, walking her six days a week isn't only fine, but FANTASTIC. she's probably getting more exercise than 90% of pet dogs, promise. you're doing great! and as others have said, don't worry about being boring. I work from home, so my dog probably thinks I'm the most boring person alive most of the time. because of this, I make sure to take doggie breaks: just sitting with her, cuddling her, talking to her as you're doing other things, & simply engaging with her from time to time throughout the day is providing her with tons of happy-dog love.
posted by changeling at 3:04 PM on December 7, 2011

oh and I want to second the emotional blackmail factor of the sigh. my mother-in-law's dog will sit at your feet any time you're eating, head on her paws, eyes skyward, and every once in a while, emit the saddest, most world-weary sigh you've ever heard. I KNOW YOUR TRICKS, DOG
posted by changeling at 3:07 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

First, you sound wonderful and caring to me and I bet Annie -- um, PICTURE please? -- feels very lucky to have you.

A couple of thoughts to add here: 1) Yes, she is likely bored when she sighs. NOT wishing she had another owner. Think of it as saying . . . I wish mom felt like a walk with me. I love walking with her! That might help you go instead of feeling bad about yourself. Just go get the leash and your coat and see if that will help you get out the door. If not, at least you are standing up and can pet your pup, usually a good mood lifter. Also, you can exchange sighs with her. This can turn into a game as sighs sound a bit like happy panting if you speed them up. 2) Re the ball thing, I can tell you my dog's FAVORITE game is when we chase him. He has tried often to fake us into doing that by running to get a ball/stick/toy, then dropping it near us. The idea is, get us really interested in the thing, so we'll chase him when he has it. What could be well be going on here is an effort to train you to play her game -- which I recommend not doing as it is only fun for the dog. 3) Re tug of war, best to train that gradually. Use a toy that is fun to tug like a squeaky one, toss it inside, and when your dog returns it, gently tug while making fun playful growly sounds. Let your dog tug the toy away and praise her. You can gradually up the tugging and growling when she starts realizing hey!, this is a game! It can be a fun game without being terribly aggressive, particularly if punctuated by throwing the toy in between tug sessions.

Most of all, tell that voice that is telling you your dog doesn't love you to shut up. If your dog could talk, that's the opposite of what she'd say!
posted by bearwife at 4:15 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

How old is she? Older dogs play less, nap more. I think she's fine. However, taking her out for even a 5 minute walk would get you outdoors, which would be good, so try. I think this dog is just right for you, and really happy to have found you.
posted by theora55 at 4:36 PM on December 7, 2011

Most of the (intelligent) dogs I've known get a little bit bored now and then. And they can be complete drama queens about it. One of my family's dogs mastered Third World Dog. His eyes would triple in size and grow lustrous with tears. His cheeks would become hollow, his chest and sides sunken (you'd swear you saw ribs) and somehow he managed to made his tail appear scraggly and motheaten. Mind you, this was a plump, healthy, cheery and very bossy long-haired dachshund. Did I mention he was plump? He was plump. And yet, tell him no treat, tell him you don't know where he lost his latest favorite toy, tell him no you will not take him for walkies in a gale-force wind, and: Third World Dog.

You are not a bad or boring dog owner. She is not a bad or boring dog. You are life companions and friends - and life companions and friends don't expect to be Very! Entertained! all the time. Hon, please try to relax and cut yourself some slack? Keep trying different toys now and again if you want to (only just this past year discovered Pusslikeso's favorite toy evar, and she's TEN), but don't feel pressured, you might just have a couch potato on your hands - it happens, and they're usually very snuggly. :) You'll both be fine.
posted by likeso at 4:59 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

You are not too boring for her! She is picking up on your mood and laying low when you're low. Let her cuddle with you and you'll both feel better!

You might also get her a Kong, and fill it with treats she has to work to get out (people generally suggest peanut butter) - this will entertain and fascinate her on those days when you're feeling less entertaining and fascinating.
posted by judith at 5:06 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is Annie. She's 11-12 months old so she should still be playing a lot. She does like to run and chase birds and chew.

I got her a Kong as her first toy and tend to give it to her when I'm stuck inside and depressed. She goes through the peanut butter and treats in about ten seconds flat. I think I may be filling them up wrong.

Thanks everyone for your support. I hate depression with a passion. It is such an awful evil illness. I gave her the Kong today and then lapsed into sadness because I was probably making her fat and she'll get physical problems and then die early because I fed her some cheese and peanut butter. I know, logically, that a few treats won't hurt her but my head spins out of control.

It even takes me down the whole I should give her back to the rescue group as she'd be better off without me route. That one hits hard.

I've taught her sit and come and we work on that when I go in the yard to get her to run and find me (though on a city lot there are only so many places you can hide). I feel bad that I haven't taken her to obedience classes but then again she's very well behaved. If I tell her "no" in a soft firm voice she stops whatever she is doing wrong immediately. Doesn't bark or jump up really (unless it is me coming home then she gets all EXCITED!).
posted by kanata at 5:22 PM on December 7, 2011

I think walking, and a sense of ritual framing the day, is probably good for you both and worth steady effort to do. My dog can run on a beach all day and still wants a walk. It's the ritual. It's okay to miss it as long as she has the chance to excrete.

Also, training is good mental engagement for the dog and is as good as exercise, in a way. Sit/stay. And petting is good for you both, too.
posted by Riverine at 5:29 PM on December 7, 2011

I've had my first dog for about a year now. I feel twinges of guilt when I have to leave her alone for a few hours, or when we don't get out for a walk, or when we don't make it to the dog park for our usual weekly trip.

The thing is, dogs' default is HAPPY! and they always want MORE HAPPY. More food, walks, pets, etc. But the baseline is still HAPPY!. I really don't think they get sad the way humans do, unless they are completely neglected. My guilt is mostly induced by what I think I should be doing more of, and then I look at her wagging and realize she is still HAPPY!

(Also, our dog loves bananas and carrots.. you can feed them "treats" that are good for them, if it makes you guilty). We also take empty 2-liter bottles and put treats down inside them, so she has to bat it around to get them out. This lasts a bit longer than a Kong.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:29 PM on December 7, 2011

not taking her out for a walk once a week is totally not a big deal at all and not cause for concern.

as an alternative to stuffing peanut butter in the kong, you can freeze yogurt into it. my dog loves this. it takes him awhile to lick the frozen yogurt out.

I feel bad that I haven't taken her to obedience classes but then again she's very well behaved.

reconsider taking her to classes. it will help socialize her to being around other dogs, as well as give her something to focus on for about 45 minutes. my dog (pup at the time) was always exhausted when class was over. it's another "thing" for you and your dog to do together.
posted by violetk at 5:49 PM on December 7, 2011

Peanut butter in a Kong doesn't tend to last that long - if your dog is food-motivated, try mixing kibble with something that will freeze, like cottage cheese or pumpkin. Leave it in the fridge overnight and the next day it is a Kong popsicle that takes a long time to chew/lick/chew/lick.

(Also, I note that you said "I may be filling them up wrong" - may I suggest that this is the depression talking again? There's no right or wrong when it comes to Kongs.)
posted by muddgirl at 6:06 PM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Are there any doggy day cares in your area? That way, she could get out of the house even if you're not up to it, it would help her socialise with other dogs, and you could find out what other toys/treats might appeal to her.
posted by sm1tten at 6:14 PM on December 7, 2011

I think it sounds like you're doing an excellent job of being a loving and responsive pet owner. Others with more dog experience have addressed the question of whether you're hurting Annie (and I agree, the answer is "no, not in the slightest"), so I just wanted to chime in on the depression front since I have loads of experience there. My feeling is that a dog or cat's experience is not one of "This human is inadequate, I wish I belonged to someone else" — it's one of "Monkey! Monkey? Hey, Monkey, pay attention to me! Snuggles, Monkey? (hmm, that's not working — get the toy!) Monkey! Got a toy, Monkey! Play, Monkey! (no play? Monkey sick? Monkey not happy. boo, not good.)"

If you can, setting a routine where you walk her at the same time every day (except when the depression has you by the throat) would probably be good. And setting a routine and getting into it might even help on the bad days; if you can put your coat on and at least walk her around the yard, that's getting you up and out on your own two feet, which is always a good thing (and, to my mind, is a way of flipping depression the bird).

The wonderful thing about animal companions is that they're not judging us, I think. If we're giving them food and love, that's what they care about.

(And this photo of Annie made me literally laugh aloud. What a great shot. And what a sweet-looking dog.)
posted by Lexica at 6:32 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dogs love being with their pack. Just by being there with her you are fulfilling her. When a dog is upset about something she will be more likely to let you know in a more direct manner. If she's not bugging you or acting out it's unlikely that she's actively unhappy.

Because it's bothering you, look up some tricks on youtube so that you can run her through the paces if you feel up to it during your yard time. That will give her some mental stimulation. Big hits in my house are: Give me five, high five, jump, where's the ball and where's the cat. When I get the idea in my head that my dog might be bored I run him through a few tricks and I can see him swell with pride when he gets it right.

Something I heard on (I think) Radiolab that I like to think about when I start to drift down the path of thinking I could do more for my (very very spoiled) animals: There was a study on monkeys, I believe, where three separate groups were studied. One had little to no stimulation, one a medium level of stimulation, a toy or two and interaction with another monkey and one with absolutely maximum stimulation, tons of toys and constant interaction with other monkeys. The monkeys' brains were then studied and rated for the richness of brain connections. The under stimulated monkey had way below normal as expected. But the medium and maximum stimulation monkeys were nearly identical.

It's clear that you really really love your dog and you're already going above and beyond. I'd keep your eye out for dog walkers just to set your mind at ease but one day a week without a walk in the big picture is going to cause little immediate let alone any lasting effect.
posted by tinamonster at 6:59 PM on December 7, 2011

Annie is adorable, and your story about the failed tug-of-war made me laugh out loud -- but not at you. You're doing great -- Annie's just a dog. And dogs, bless them, can be kind of dim. So don't fret about the toys; she's still sort of figuring out what playing IS, maybe.

You may want to read the blog Hyperbole and a Half -- for a few reasons -- but one of them is that she has an adorable, if dim, dog that may sound familiar and has won fans.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:21 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a dog and I have depression. Don't worry too much! She's getting a great amount of exercise on days you're up for it.

In terms of dog walkers, I couldn't afford the professionals, so
I put an ad on craigslist. Found two nice university students who I trusted enough to leave a key on the mailbox for. Paid them minimum wage with the odd bonus. It is such a relief sometimes to know you can just call someone up and have them walk the dog.

In terms of kongs, my dog goes through the peanut butter like lightening. Now I have two on rotation. They get filled with his supper, lil yogurt, the bottom hole stopped up with peanut butter, then I pour chicken broth in the mix and stick it in te freezer. This way he is getting just his supper, not extra treats, and it takes him forever to get through it!!

Another thing I did was teach him to cuddle like a human. I only taught this through repeatedly maneuvering his 70 pound body into the spooning position. Now he loves the spoon under the covers, and let me tell you, on depressy days, when yr pal is cuddled into you with your head buried in his scruff and his head on the pillow, it's hard for anyone to feel sorry for anyone. Much better than dog-sighing-on-couch while you lay in your bed scenario. Also, he is much more likely to lay still and cuddle if he's been tired out with a walk, so the prospect of the blissful cuddle gives me that little extra push I need sometimes to walk him.

Feel free to memail me about being sad with a dog - I've gone through a lot of the same emotions you have!
posted by whalebreath at 7:32 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

FYI Annie -- who is ADORABLE -- has those deceptively deep eyes and eyebrows that make you think "soulful / sad" but it's really just her markings and eye color. Also, remind yourself repeatedly that sighing = deep abiding contentment. There's no reason to think otherwise.
posted by mmmcmmm at 7:36 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree, you are being a great dog parent. When that voice is telling you that you suck, tell it we said no. Your dog gets walked than most dogs--I bet she's actually really happy.

Maybe it's time to mix up your game a little bit--bounce the ball against the side of the house, or see if you can teach her to catch it. Try a frisbee instead of a ball. You might also start teaching her more tricks. This is a great confidence-builder. Basically, she wants to please you more than anything in the world, so the more opportunities you give her to succeed, the happier she'll be. (Please note: sitting quietly and snuggling when you're sad is also a skill she can be good at, so when you're feeling down, just try to pet her and praise her for being such an excellent snuggler. She might sigh and look sad, but she's just trying to charm you, not guilt you.)

Take her back to the dog park. Go when it's not too crowded so she can get used to it. Socializing is good for dogs and their people, too. She might get scared, but if she does, just take her away for a bit and then take her back in. This will build her confidence. (Of course if she gets really scared--cowering/whining--or aggressive, give her lots of praise for being a brave doggie and call it a day.) Try to leave before she gets freaked out to reinforce the positive associations with the park.

You might also try taking her to the regular park or a field with a long leash so she can sniff and explore under your supervision. This will also build her confidence.

As for chew toy ideas: Go to your local pet store and buy a bag of cow hooves (yep). Smear some peanut butter inside them, and freeze them. (You can do this with Kongs, too.) This will last a lot longer and keep the smell down (hooves can be stinky, alas).

You're being a super dog parent. Annie is very lucky to have found you.
posted by elizeh at 7:39 PM on December 7, 2011

Yeah, you're not going to do Annie any harm by skipping the odd day. She is getting twice the average walk-time of most dogs - she'll be fine.
With the Kong, I get a T-bone dog treat to stuff in the top (pointy end first, on top of a few smaller treats), then squish in some peanut butter or Kong paste around its sides. This blocks the top of the Kong opening, so my dog has to spend a while wangling it out, to get to the other treats. She does spend a lot of time nibbling, licking, squeezing the Kong toy, and bouncing it around (to see if the T-bone treat will fall out), before she is successful.

And N-thing that dogs sigh. A lot. Especially if they think it gets a rise out of you. Dogs have evolved to be excellent manipulators, to get what they want (attention, food, etc.). My old dog used to have a number of tricks that he used to get attention - sighing, staring at me, refusing to play or to eat a treat. Your dog is learning what works with you just now. Don't let her realize that she is pushing any buttons, or she'll never stop ... :-)

As for not wanting to chase the ball, the change in the weather may be affecting how she feels about playing ball. Neither of my dogs want to set foot in the yard when it is cold or wet underfoot. The girl dog was a stray, so chewing sticks takes precedence over any ball (sticks are good eatin'). If I try to play pull with her rope, she gives in straight away (because she thinks I want the toy). But she'll chew it if I give it to her. Annie may be trying to hide the ball because she is playing games (to see what you do if she doesn't give it back) or because she thinks you might take it off her. My old dog also used to try to hide his ball, as it was put away when we came inside (before he chewed it to bits). With my current dogs, I leave their toys in a little basket near their bed so they can play with them any time. They often bring one over that they haven't played with in a while, as if they have just discovered it. Dogs go off one game for a while and then magically remember it again!

Finally, remember that dogs typically spend most of their day sleeping. I used to take it personally that my dogs would ignore me when I came downstairs after the first time that day. Now I realize that they have times of the day when they are active and times when they want to snooze. I just try to play with them when they're buzzing!
posted by Susurration at 8:30 PM on December 7, 2011

I'm envious of places with doggy day care and more pet orientated lifestyles. Here we just got our first fenced in dog park this year. Everyone else seems to just let their dogs roam around (which is irritating when you have a scaredy cat dog) and not pick up after them.

The weather thing may indeed be a key to her not playing as it is her first winter in Canada (tho it never gets that cold on Vancouver Island it can get hella rainy) as she's a rescue dog from a kill shelter in California. Her owners kept her outside 24/7 which I guess can be done in California weather. I have had a hard time getting her to go to the bathroom when its raining as she just doesn't want to go outside. Nor do I blame her.

I'm going to try to take her looks and sighs less personally. I realize I am projecting on her a lot and her face is quite expressive.

She is already a good cuddler as she will lean into me and put her head on my belly and flop against me when she wants to be petted. She lets me give her bear hugs and tummy rubs and kisses and tries to lick my face back. But man when she looks sad she looks sad.

I do have a routine w/ her. Breakfast at 7:30. We walk for an hour at 8:30, come home and we used to run around after the ball and then go in the house and she'd nap. In and out of the house for pee breaks at 12. Another walk at 3 before it gets dark. Half her dinner at 4. Bathroom break at 8. Rest of her dinner at 8 and then both of us in bed at 9. I sleep until 5 and she gets up around 7. I try to keep her to this schedule as much as I can.

I'm going to bookmark this thread to reassure myself when I'm down the hole again. Thanks for all your support.
posted by kanata at 8:42 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Again, you're doing great. MeMail me if you ever get down the hole - happy to support you.

The thing I came back to add is that dogs will totally play you. Humans have bred dogs for thousands of years to cue in to our every emotion, and that includes guilt. Also, they are sponges for attention - however much you give them, they will always want more. The schedule you describe is an amazingly sweet life for Annie, and you're going to be great together. These doubts are your fear, anxiety and depression speaking, not the core of who you are as a person.
posted by judith at 9:02 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a vet. If all my clients were as good to their pets as you are to Annie, my life would be a whole lot easier. Perhaps she plays less because she is finally happy, content and calm.

You can try some thick pureed veggies in the kong, they are good for her, so less guilt for you.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 9:02 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nickel Pickle is right - Annie is getting WAY more exercise than the vast majority of pet dogs, you are doing a great job! One day a week without a walk is no big deal. Relax. You are doing fine.
posted by biscotti at 9:20 PM on December 7, 2011

Her owners kept her outside 24/7 which I guess can be done in California weather

I'm in California. it can be done, technically -- but talk about sad dogs. Annie's so fortunate, not only to have been rescued from a kill shelter (thank you for choosing a rescue dog!), but also for having a warm, cozy house to sleep in and an owner who keeps her close. it sounds like Annie has a wonderful life.
posted by changeling at 9:33 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I feel bad that I haven't taken her to obedience classes but then again she's very well behaved.

I realize the evil critical voice which is your depression speaking has not allowed you to see what I read here -- you are a great dog owner! Annie's manners are a direct reflection of you and that she is clearly happy to please you. Also, she is adorable an
D reminds me of my own gorgeous smart rescue -- see my profile pic, which is him, and you'll see the resemblance.

You are doing great. To the frozen Kong suggestions above I'd add the idea of freezing baby food and afew dog treats. Tough to eat fast, not high calorie, very engaging.

Keep playing -- she looks smart and full of fun to me so you will find game patterns you both like. You may also want to start working your way through this book with, rewarding with treats and play -- my dog lights up when I take it out.

You and she are mutually very lucky to have found each other. Makes me want to give a big dod sigh of happiness to think of it.
posted by bearwife at 10:17 PM on December 7, 2011

For your own mental health, you need to really guard against projecting / anthropomorphising the dog. This is my dog. Trust me, you have never seen a sadder, more terrified looking creature. And you know what? She's fine. She's happy. The sighs are normal dog respirations. The inactivity is also normal; dogs sleep 16 hours a day. You are not over feeding the dog; she gets a LOT of exercise. One day a week off is not a failure; it's your schedule. It's a fine schedule. My dog gets a 1.45 hour walk about once a year.

If you want to give her a longer term project, freeze the Kong. Also see if she's interested in ice cubes. I wish my dog was; it's a great source of entertainment for dogs who like them. (Unfortunately, mine just likes tissues.)
posted by DarlingBri at 11:05 PM on December 7, 2011

Oh sweet Mary, that is the cutest, sweetest faced puppy on the planet. Like everyone else on board, I'll tell you that you are doing a good job. I have fibromyalgia and some days it's just too much to take our Rosie out for a walk. She understands and is usually really good about it, other days she does the sit and sigh maneuver at the door or window. It's just how dogs roll.

As to the Kong and worrying about her getting too many snacks, we got Rosie a Nylabone and she thinks it's the best thing ever. Some dogs don't care for them, but she loves it and will sit and chew it with the most blissed out look on her face that you've ever seen.

Take care of yourself and that sweet girl.
posted by teleri025 at 12:11 AM on December 8, 2011

Piling on to add another virtual hug and underscore that you are doing a fantastic job raising that beautiful furbaby.

Dogs love being with their pack. Just by being there with her you are fulfilling her.

Quoted for emphasis... this is so, so true. You are her pack, and she just wants to be With You. Honestly. Truly. I promise. For her, everything else is yummy, beef-flavored gravy.

Depression lies. Please don't let it tell you that you're harming her. You are doing great.
posted by somanyamys at 6:07 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

She's 11-12 months old so she should still be playing a lot.

Maybe, maybe not. You mention how calm she is on the picture of her in the sweater (so cute, btw!)--she just may be a mellow little dog, even at that age. My parents' last two dogs have been like that--they'd play a little but it was much more social play (light tug-of-war, squeaking squeaky toys), rather than really active run-and-chase play. They were happy to get walks and run around but they were also perfectly happy to be couch potatoes, and they were like that even at about a year old.

I think you're taking wonderful care of Annie. She'll be fine.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:28 AM on December 8, 2011

I would bet that if you talked about this with your therapist you would learn a lot about what might be at the root of your depression (taking biochemistry aside). For example, perhaps you think everyone thinks you are boring, selfish, not taking care of them/paying attention to them and you internalize and entirely fantastical view of yourself and continue to repeat it. Seems like that's what you're doing with your dog.
posted by spicynuts at 8:39 AM on December 8, 2011

You are doing just fine. It's easy for us to fall into guilt/thinking we should do more, especially when you combine depression and those sighs/sad faces. It's a trigger for guilt which can make the depression worse. But it is mostly us projecting onto them. It's just not true. Your dog is fine, adorable, and gets much longer walks than many dogs do. Let her give you the happiness she can. You are doing great with her.
posted by Vaike at 10:25 AM on December 9, 2011

I love all the positive replies here, I hope it has you feeling more confident about your relationship with your dog. I would like to agree with everyone that this dog has really lucked out finding you and it sounds like you are doing great.

One point I would like to add is that if the dog was unhappy I think you would see more bad behavior like getting it's frustration out by destroying things or other obsessions like barking at things out of the window etc. A lazy dog is a content and happy dog. I have a crazy Vizsa puppy and I am the most proud when she lays on the couch and lets out a sigh. She will only do that after a very long day of lots and lots of stimulation.
posted by JayNolan at 1:12 PM on December 9, 2011

I just wanted to tell you that I am one of the people who pull/foster those southern cali dogs before they make the big trip to Canada and to say thank you! for adopting her. Some of these shelters are horrifying and being able to save so many of these guys by sending them up north is just awesome. So good job and she's adorable and you are a fine dog parent.
posted by yodelingisfun at 12:23 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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