Good Dog: Studies & Research
Get Healthy, Get a Dog
Harvard study makes it official: dogs are good for us.

If you live with a dog, chances are you’re familiar with canine de-stressing techniques. Perhaps you’ve felt a wave of relief from burying your face in fur after a difficult day at work, or experienced a release of calming chemicals after being met with a particularly enthusiastic greeting. And maybe those daily dog walks have helped you shed a few pounds or led to some welcome social interactions with other people and their dogs. And doesn’t life seem to have more meaning because there’s a living creature depending on you?

To dog people, the emotional, physical and even spiritual benefits of canine relationships tend to be obvious. These benefits feel as real to us as the saliva-soaked tennis ball we’re holding in our hands. That’s why it can be so hard to understand why the non-dog world hasn’t caught on to all these life-altering advantages. Even worse is the fact that many people who have never lived with a dog seem to think we may be making all this up—that the only place these benefits exist is in our heads.

Science in Action

Thanks to a special report from Harvard Medical School (HMS), we now have something important to share with these nonbelievers—proof! Get Healthy, Get a Dog is the first publication to compile hundreds of research studies from around the world that document the physical and psychological benefits of dog ownership. Taken together, these studies provide the most complete picture yet of the many ways in which dogs enrich human life: from lower cholesterol and improved cardiovascular health to weight loss, companionship, defense against depression and longer lifespans.

“The most common reaction we’ve been getting from people about this report is that they are so grateful that someone has finally put into print what they’ve known intuitively all along,” said medical editor Elizabeth Pegg Frates, MD, who supervises the Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group at HMS, teaches a college course on lifestyle medicine at the Harvard Extension School, and directs the Wellness Programs at the Spaulding Stroke Research and Recovery Institute, an HMS affiliate.

The 50-page report is the result of a collaboration between HMS and Angell Animal Medical Center, a leading veterinary hospital based in Boston. Get Healthy, Get a Dog approaches the dog/human relationship as a two-way street, so half of it is devoted to the human—what the dog does for the person—and half is devoted to the dog—what the person should do for the dog. Frates tackled the former, and Lisa Moses, VMD, who heads the Pain Management Service at Angell Animal Medical Center, covered the latter, which includes sections on nutrition, exercise, training and responsible pet ownership. Moses also makes a compelling case for adopting a dog rather than going to a breeder or pet store.

“We didn’t want to create the impression that a dog is some kind of tool for achieving better health,” says Moses in explaining the dual focus. “We wanted to emphasize that it’s the relationship that provides these benefits—it’s not the pet. And for that relationship to develop and be sustained, you have to do your part.”

Physical Benefits 

Doing your part often means going for walks in the rain, sleet or snow, at all hours of the day and night. In fact, one of the primary health benefits of owning a dog is that it boosts your activity level. There have been about a dozen studies conducted on the link between dogs and human exercise, including one that compared 536 dog owners with 380 non-owners. Those with dogs were found to be fitter, thinner and less likely to have chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. A study in Missouri that paired public housing residents with certified therapy dogs for five 20-minute walks a week found that participants lost an average of 14.4 pounds without changing their diets. (The report points out that most weight-loss programs and anti-obesity drug trails can’t boast such good results.)

Of course, the fact that regular exercise helps people lose weight and get healthy isn’t exactly breaking news. The insights come from the critical role the dog plays as a fitness partner—offering everything from enthusiastic encouragement to obnoxious pestering. Unlike a human partner, a dog is not going to suggest ducking out to a movie. “The dog support was always positive, while the human support could be positive (friends, family), negative (saboteurs) or inconsistent,” wrote Frates. Another reason that people tend to adhere to an exercise program if a dog is involved is the perception that the dog needs them. In one study, 72 percent of participants cited this as the reason they stuck to the activity schedule for the full 50 weeks of the trial.

“Sometimes people find that the dog becomes the excuse for taking care of themselves,” says Moses. “It may not be acceptable to them to be so self-oriented, but if it’s about the dog, then it’s okay.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) uncovered another piece of canine magic: a dog appears to help someone who is obese overcome his or her embarrassment about being seen in public doing physical activity.

It’s likely that increased exercise plus the calming effects of dogs (which we’ll get to later) contribute to lowering blood pressure. One study actually tested dog ownership as a treatment for high blood pressure. Thirty people with borderline hypertension were randomly assigned to either adopt a dog right away or defer adoption to a later date. After five months, the segment of new dog owners experienced significant declines in systolic pressure (the top number, which measures the highest arterial blood pressure). The group that had been asked to defer adoption experienced these same declines once they had taken their new dogs home and spent time with them. In 2013, the AHA went as far as to say that pet ownership “is a reasonable strategy for reducing heart disease risk.”

And there’s more good news on the cardiac front. A study of nearly 6,000 men and women in Australia found that dog owners of both sexes had lower triglyceride levels than non-owners, and male dog owners also had lower total cholesterol levels.

Emotional Benefits 

Beyond these formidable physical benefits are the psychological ones, which according to Frates “are hard to overstate.” Dogs make us feel less isolated. They pull us into a social world inhabited by other people walking other dogs. (Seventy percent of dog walks lead to at least one spoken interaction with a stranger.) And they help us meet the basic human need for companionship. Two large, long-term studies that followed people from childhood to old age found that those who were more engaged with others—whether those others were people or animals—lived longer. Those longer lives may also be more purposeful. A dog’s total dependency can make that person feel wanted and give life a sense of meaning.

Moses knows this phenomenon first hand. Her grandfather spent more than a decade as primary caretaker for his wife, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease. During all those years, he had a succession of dogs to care for—or was it the other way around? After his wife died, his beloved Terrier mix Lady succumbed to kidney failure. “At age 92, unbeknownst to us, he went out and adopted another dog,” Moses says. “Having a dog was the reason he got up in the morning. It was his entire life. He was a living testament to the power of the human/canine bond.”

There are other indicators that dogs are particularly helpful to older people. The HMS report cites a year-long study from Canada that found elderly dog owners to be more capable of performing daily activities, such as dressing and feeding themselves. This is likely because in attending to their animal companions, seniors are reminded to take care of themselves. They also have a structure in place, thanks to the need for regular pet meal times and walks, which reinforces their own self-care habits.

At the other end of the age spectrum, children learn important life skills from early bonding with the family dog. That bonding can lead to stronger human connections later in life, according to a Tufts University study, which also found that kids who’ve forged emotional connections to dogs have more empathy, feel more self assured and do better in social settings.

“How else would you get your kids to touch and love something?” asks Frates, the mother of two teenage sons. “For boys especially in this culture, there are very few acceptable ways of encouraging this type of bonding and intimacy.”

There is even evidence that exposure to a dog from infancy onward reduces the likelihood that even the most allergy-prone kids will develop problems. Only 19 percent of babies living with dogs developed pet allergies, compared to 33 percent of babies who grew up in dog-free homes, according to one study.  

As those babies grow up and become college students, the dog benefits continue. Several psychological studies have found that college-age adults tend to find more stress relief in turning to their dogs than in seeking comfort from parents or siblings. Still other adults were found to shake off the blues just by thinking about their dogs … which brings us to the magic of oxytocin.

Canine Rx

Having a dog can be like having your own a prescription for oxytocin with unlimited refills—except that rather than dispensing this drug, your dog incites you to release it. Also known as the “love,” “bliss,” and “bonding” hormone, oxytocin inspires positive feelings. It helps stave off depression and limit the release of the stress hormone cortisol. You can get an oxytocin infusion by petting your dog, by laughing at the silly things she does, and even by looking into her loving eyes, a conclusion confirmed by recent study

Dogs also offer an alternative to meditation sessions and yoga classes when it comes to learning the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. Every dog walk is typically an exercise in experiencing the present moment: savoring an especially aromatic fire hydrant, having a satisfying roll in the grass or interacting with a new neighbor. Dogs put us more in touch with nature and help us put aside our worries about the future and regrets about the past to focus on the here and now.

While all the information contained in Get Healthy, Get a Dog has been meticulously reviewed and objectively compiled, Moses and Frates are hardly dispassionate observers. Both say their lives have been greatly enriched by their relationships with their dogs. They do, however, come from very different ends of the dog spectrum. Moses, who shares her home with a rescue named Rudy, describes her love of canines as developing “in utero.” This was due largely to the influence of her grandfather and the fact that he treated his Beagle mix, Friday, like one of the grandchildren.

Frates, on the other hand, was terrified of dogs after being bitten on the shoulder by a Doberman. The experience, which happened when she was eight years old, was so traumatizing that she spent the next three decades crossing the street to avoid close contact with a dog, even a little one. Finally, though, it wasn’t any particular dog who changed her mind, it was her commitment to health. As a physician specializing in lifestyle medicine, Frates thought she had all the bases covered—diet, exercise, meditation. But when she took a health and longevity quiz to determine her “real” age (as opposed to her chronological one), she was surprised that one of the questions concerned dog ownership.

Intrigued by the implications, she began to review the existing literature, much of which has been summarized in this special report. She also purchased a Goldendoodle she named Reesee, from a breeder in West Virginia. “Everything has been different for me since then,” Frates says, adding that she and Reesee are regular running buddies. “When we go running, she is so happy and I’m happy because she’s happy. You just appreciate the world in a much different way.”

Frates believes that if something like the Harvard Health Report had been available years ago, she would have explored the joys of dog ownership much sooner. Now, she hopes that the report will encourage other non-dog people to reconsider their position. “We’re hoping to encourage people to take the leap of getting to know a dog,” she says. “And perhaps we’ll also be able to encourage more dog adoptions—that’s a focus that Lisa brought to the project.”

That’s because the nonprofit Angell Animal Medical Center, where Moses works, is part  MSPCA, the nation’s second oldest humane society, and has a very active adoption component. (Now that she realizes the situation for homeless dogs, Frates says she would adopt in the future.) Get Healthy, Get a Dog includes a section on “Adopting a Dog,” which provides information on determining the right breed for your home and suggestions on finding breed rescue groups and shelters. It also urges people to stay away from pet stores, where the dogs typically come from puppy mills.

Moses hopes readers will follow the report’s suggestions and reap the amazing benefits of dog ownership.

“Dogs are more important now than ever before,” she says. “Because people are living longer and so many live alone and don’t have kids. This is the moment for the human-animal bond.”

The report is available as a printed document, a PDF or both and can be purchased online at health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/get-healthy-get-a-dog.

News: Guest Posts
Can Your Home be Beautiful and Dog-Friendly?
Sponsored by Hardwoof Flooring

We love talking about our dogs, showing off what they can do and introducing them to all of our friends. But that doesn't mean we want traces of them all over our homes. From slipping and scratching to chewing and slobbering, our furry friends can wreak havoc on our furniture, walls, throw pillows and accent pieces. So, many dog owners sacrifice form for function when it comes to design and decor. And the biggest sacrifice? Gorgeous floors.

Hardwoods are ruling design trends in residential, corporate, retail and restaurant settings. From the reclaimed craftsman look to clean and classic, hardwood flooring lays a foundation that any design can build on. When decorating a house that’s full of four-legged friends, you no longer have to choose between the design-driven look you want and letting your pets run wild and free.

Here are four things to look for when selecting a hardwood floor that is both beautiful and fido-friendly.

A design to fit your style.

Hardwood flooring comes in most any color, stain and plank variety a homeowner can dream of designing around these days. Distressed, wide planks can offer a rustic feel or traditional oak provides a subdued touch for a modern, traditional or formal setting. Selecting a stain and style that matches the look you are going for is easiest when you can choose from a variety of woods and stains. Hardwoof Flooring, a new pet-friendly hardwood flooring line, offers that variety with the natural warmth, beauty and sound of real wood in 12 styles on Maple, Hickory or Ash.

Wood that meets your durability needs.

Different types of wood have varying degrees of hardness but the beauty of engineered hardwood flooring, especially one that is engineered with acrylic infusion, is that no matter which wood is used, it is guaranteed to be stronger than natural wood. Hardwoof’s signature acrylic-infusion technology makes it 300 percent more durable. Because the stain is infused into the wear layer, the color will sustain high-traffic — whether it’s two- or four-legged.

A finish that stands up to paws, claws, skids and bone chewing.

The most important factor when it comes to a quality hardwood flooring lasting beneath your dogs’ gymnastics, sliding, eating and clomping is scratch resistance. Traditional hardwood floors need refinishing every five years, and that’s expedited with the wear and tear from dogs. Hardwoof’s new dog-friendly finish features unsurpassed dent and scratch resistance, and it guarantees a 50-year finish and lifetime structural warranty.

Certifications that Ensure Health

Words like sustainability and green are thrown around casually by organizations in every industry. When it comes to the health of your family, don’t settle for anything less than flooring that has third-party certifications of its safety and compliance with health codes. Hardwoof is a low-emitting material that is FloorScore certified. The marine-grade, Baltic birch plywood platform is CARB phase 2 compliant, and the laminating glue contains no added formaldehyde.

You can get rid of the paws-off policy on your beautiful hardwoods. Learn more about Hardwoof Flooring and how you can earn a percentage from referral sales through its affiliate program at hardwoof.com.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Childhood Relationships with Pets
Study finds that some kids confide in their dogs more than their human siblings.

Anyone who grew up with animals knows that you develop a special relationship with your pets. For me, my cat was a willing (although sometimes not so willing!) playmate in all my games of make believe. But the child-animal bond may be even more significant than we realized. A new study out of the University of Cambridge found that, not only do these relationships have an impact on positive interpersonal behaviors, but for some kids, they are stronger than the bond they have with their siblings.

These findings are a result of PhD student Matt Cassels' analysis of data from the Toddlers Up Project, a ten year longitudinal study of children's social and emotional development, led by Professor Claire Hughes. The original research included a section on children's relationships with their pets, as well as a broad range of other data from the children, their parents, teachers, and siblings. 

This made the data set unique because, while there are many studies on our relationship with pets, few used the same tool to compare children's relationships with pets with other human relationships, let alone over such a long period of time.

Matt hypothesized that strong pet relationships would make for happier children, but he found that animals create more than just smiles. The kids with solid animal bonds had a higher level of prosocial behavior, such as helping and sharing, than their peers. A subsection of the group, particularly girls and those whose pet was a dog, were even often more likely to confide in their pet than in their sibling.

Matt also found that children who had suffered adversity in their lives, such as bereavement, divorce, illness, or were from disadvantaged backgrounds, were more likely to have a stronger relationships with their pets than their peers, though they did less well academically and suffered more mental health problems.

Thanks to Professor Hughes' decision to include data points on pets in her study, there's a lot of interesting areas of research that can be done from the Toddlers Up Project. One area that Matt is interested in looking at next is the impact of pet deaths on children. I hope to see a lot more insights into the childhood side of the human-canine bond come out of this research!

News: Editors
Andy Warhol’s Best in Show Auction at Christie’s

Bark welcomes the news of an entertaining auction at Christie’s titled Best in Show which features an array of animal-inspired works by the master of Pop Art, Andy Warhol. The upcoming online only sale includes over 100 lots of silver gelatin prints, Polaroids, screenprints and drawings by Warhol. It’s a rare glimpse of the art and ephemera that inspired Andy’s life, and reflects his love of animals—cats, horses, cows, birds, and, of course, dogs. Enjoy the online catalog, bidding continues until May 5, 2015.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bark’s Best Places to Work: 2015 Edition

In some workplaces, lucky employees are offered a range of enticing benefits—juice bars, daycare, climbing gyms—but for us, those that top the charts open their doors and cubes to dogs. And for the firms who submitted entries to the second annual Bark’s Best Places to Work contest, having dogs on-site is also a matter of pride.

Across the country, companies large and small are proudly flying the dog flag, and that’s a good thing. Dogs in the workplace mean reduced employee stress, increased employee satisfaction and a positive work environment. Not to mention an option to lighten up with a little puppy love when things get harried.

Our sponsoring partner, Zuke’s, is pretty darned dog friendly itself. As Chris Meiering, director of innovation, says, “Our canine companions have an immeasurable impact on the culture of our company and the quality of our workplace. Without dogs under our desks, Zuke’s wouldn’t be the same.” The fine folks at Zuke’s will be sending each of the three winning firms a year’s supply of its wholesome treats. We can already hear the dogs cheering!


Trupanion, Seattle, Wash.
400 employees, 227 cats and dogs

No surprise here: Trupanion, a pet-insurance company, is owned and operated by people who love animals. Of the 227 dogs and cats who are approved to spend time on-site, about 150 show up each day—most of them of the canine persuasion. (When Darryl Rawlings founded Trupanion in 1999, he was the only employee, and his dog, Charlie, kept him company.)

The firm provides its employees with a plethora of pet-related benefits, including one free pet insurance policy with an enhancement that covers alternative therapies, a dog-walking service, baby gates and tethers at every cubicle, and a dedicated Pet Team made up of employees with veterinary, training and behavior expertise who provide guidance and review pet incidents. From intern to executive, everyone is expected to know and observe in-house protocols involving pet health and safety (and the prohibition on squeaky toys!).

And you know those emergency drills that require everyone to get out of the building and assemble in, say, the parking lot in an orderly way? Now, imagine that with the addition of dogs, cats, leashes and carriers. Trupanion took its commitment to its on-site companion animals into account when designing its fire safety plan, which was developed with the help of the local fire warden and experts in pet space.

On a business-review site, a Trupanion employee volunteered, “Never in my life have I ever loved a job as much.” It’s easy to understand why.

Etsy, Brooklyn, N.Y.
600 employees, 50 dogs

Connecting the crafty with their customers, Etsy prides itself on its casual and creative work environment. Some of that good vibe can be traced to the company’s canine operations team, manned—umm, dogged—by Sadie, Pierre, Hoover, Milo, Teddy, Starbuck, Tyson and Fish, to name just a few. (Employee experience manager Sarah Starpoli says even email looks rosy when Hoover comes over to say “hey.”)

Etsy’s dog-friendly policy, which has been in place from the e-commerce site’s beginning in 2005, allows employees’ dogs to wander at will through the company’s headquarters in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood, and their fans get email updates—“poop911s.”

Etsy gives employees time off to volunteer, which many use to lend a hand to humane and rescue groups; it also supports local adoption events. In fact, a number of the Etsy dogs are rescues—for example, Fish, whose full name is “Fish Dogg Hunt,” got his second chance from Etsy creative designer Randy Hunt.

Having dogs at work reinforces the company’s mission, which includes being a “mindful, transparent and humane business,” and making fun part of everything they do. (The “fun” was on display last Halloween, when the office swarmed with costumed kids and dogs enjoying a family-friendly party.)

As the company notes, “Through our dog-friendly policies, we’re living our values by crafting a happy, healthy workplace for our employees. … helping them better integrate their personal and professional lives, reduce stress and generally have more fun at work.”

archer>malmo, Memphis, Tenn.
160 employees, 25 dogs

Headquartered in Memphis’s historic Cotton Exchange Building, this advertising and marketing agency has been welcoming dogs to the office for the last 15 of its 60-plus years. The firm’s open (dog) door policy began in the late 1990s as part of “Bring Your Dog to Work” day; before long, dogs at work were the rule rather than the exception.

As CEO Russ Williams says, “Dogs bring joy to our hearts and lives at home, so why wouldn’t they do the same thing for us at work? There is no question in my mind that dogs in the office are accretive to the value of our work.” (Williams’ two dogs occasionally join him at the office.)

The company does pro bono projects for local humane and health charities, and individual employees do their bit for the rescue community as well. For example, one of the account managers is a long-time volunteer with Tails of Hope, assisting with adoption days and fundraisers, and fostering as needed.

Archer>malmo also makes pet insurance available to its employees, underwriting 10 percent of the premium. Until about a year ago, when a formal pet policy was put in place, company dogs roamed at will; there were, of course, occasional etiquette faux pas (who can forget the case of the purloined Pop Tarts?).

The firm counts companion-animal health businesses among its client base, so—in addition to adding to its feel-good quotient—archer>malmo’s dogs have been known to provide creative inspiration as well.

But Wait! There’s More!

Judging from the entries to this year’s Bark’s Best Places to Work contest, there’s no end to the ways dogs are incorporated into and provided for in the modern dog-friendly workplace. For example . . .

SUP ATX in Austin welcomes dogs to its company outings and socials, and office dogs take part in the company’s stand-up paddleboard classes.

Seattle-based Paula’s Choice considered canine requirements when choosing new office space, and in those offices, doggie gates and tethers are provided (plus, an unlimited supply of pickup bags); the company also offers subsidized pet insurance.

Ad agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners in Sausalito, Calif., includes office dogs in its emergency-response planning, and mid-morning group dog walks are a regular thing.

At Average Joes Entertainment, a Nashville alt-country record label, employees’ dogs are greeted with open arms and pockets full of dog biscuits.

NYC ad firm McGarryBowen offers comprehensive pet insurance as part of their benefit package.

Employees’ dogs at Eddie’s Wheels in Shelburne, Mass., help out with the company’s mobility-product R&D, and at Bomber Online in Silverthorne, Colo., they meet and greet visitors to the snowboard-binding operation.

In Seattle, online pet-sitter service Rover.com employees have a truly splendid pet-related benefit package, which includes a new-dog bonus, foster-home bonus, pet-bereavement time off, and sitter coverage when they take a well-earned vacation.

Portland, Ore., ad agency North, a small company with a big charitable footprint, supports its local dog-related organizations, including Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital and the Oregon Humane Society. Dogs are everywhere in the agency offices: “on laps, under desks, in meetings.” And how sweet is this? They describe themselves as patient with all types of workplace dogs: “old dogs, rescue dogs, nervous dogs, dogs who have to wear gym shorts and cones after surgery …”

In addition to clean floors, Bissell Homecare, Inc., of Grand Rapids, Mich., is also seriously devoted to animal welfare. The Bissell Pet Foundation, founded by Cathy Bissell, focuses on adoption, spay/neuter, microchipping and foster care to reduce the number of animals in shelters.

Employees of Now What, a Brooklyn-based strategy and research firm, volunteer time and donate money to Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue. And when they adopt a dog, they get a day of paid time off to help the newcomer settle in.

At distiller Tito’s Handmade Vodka in Austin, rescue dogs live on the premises, and the company actively supports several animal charities.

Pet retailer Kriser’s of Santa Monica, Calif., gives employees time off to volunteer with local humane groups.

Watering Bowl, a St. Louis, Mo., dog daycare and boarding business, reimburses its employees up to $125 for annual vet checks and covers new-dog adoption fees.

In Portland, Maine, web developer Page One Web Solutions gives employees who’ve lost a pet time off to grieve.

A small community of dogs (35, actually) lightens the 60-hour workweeks at security software firm Palantir, headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif.

At tech giant Google’s Mountain View, Calif., offices, freedom to bring their dogs to work is one of many enviable employee perks. The company provides a fenced play area and strategically placed treat stations.

In the Malibu, Calif., office of the Sam Simon Foundation, there are more dogs than people. The foundation, which trains assistance dogs, has a roster of 12 dogs and 8 employees.

Among other things, the 40 or so dogs who come to work with their people at the Radio Systems Corporation (DBA PetSafe), a pet product manufacturer based in Knoxville, Tenn., have their own dedicated dog park to frolic in, complete with agility equipment (lucky local dogs are also welcome to join the fun).

Bitly, a NYC-based digital marketing firm, has a casual but enthusiastic policy: “We love dogs!”

On the big-picture front, in Sri Lanka, Odel PLC, a clothing manufacturer, commits resources to programs that support rescue and adoption of its country’s street dogs.

And let us not forget the pioneers. The dogs-at-work protocol developed by San Francisco Bay Area design software firm Autodesk is quite possibly the granddaddy of them all. Dogs have been coming to work with their people here since 1982.

And in Greensboro, N.C., crystal, china, and silver retailer Replacements, Ltd., was chosen as the site of the first quantitative study on the benefits of dogs in the workplace, which was conducted in 2012 by researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University. It was a perfect match-up: Replacements has been dog friendly for 18 years (and counting).

Truth is, every company that entered makes winners of its employees and their dogs every single day. We congratulate and celebrate all of them.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Running Off Leash
Does your dog have the opportunity to do this?

It makes me happy to see a dog running through the woods, in a field or on the beach. Few thing make dogs happier than the chance to run free, to make choices, and to move at their own pace. Many dogs would likely choose this as their treat of choice if only they knew that it existed and was a possibility.

Safety concerns as well as leash laws severely limit many dogs’ opportunities to run off leash. It would be wonderful if everyone had acres and acres of fenced land for their dogs to enjoy, but in most communities, there is a shortage of places that dogs are legally allowed to be off leash. Dog parks are a mixed bag, and while they allow off leash opportunities, they are certainly not right for every dog. It’s a big challenge for most guardians to find a way to let their dogs run unencumbered and unrestrained. It’s a shame, too, because it’s so good for dogs to be able to run without being physically attached to a person.

I’m not opposed to leashes, by the way. In fact, I’m a huge fan of them. They protect dogs from cars, from running away and becoming lost and from misbehaving in ways that get them into real trouble. As much as I believe that dogs can benefit from running off leash, it often makes me nervous to see dogs enjoying their freedom near roads or at parks full of children.

Dogs should only have as much freedom as they can handle, and that varies from dog to dog. A dog that won’t run away, always comes when called, is polite and social with people and other dogs, and would never chase cars or bikes can obviously safely be off leash in a lot more situations than dogs who don’t share these qualities. Some dogs can be off leash anywhere that it’s allowed without a problem. Other dogs are more limited, but an off leash romp in the right situation is still a ticket to happiness.

How often does your dog have the chance to run off leash, and where can you go to do this safely?

Dog's Life: Travel
Dog Friendly Travel: Palm Coast Florida

Florida attracts visitors year round, but the winter and spring seasons are especially inviting. On the northeastern shoreline—known as the “quiet side”—Palm Coast and Flagler County deserve special mention for their dog-friendliness. This stretch of oceanfront has a laid-back, smalltown flavor; unlike other coastal areas, the beaches are uncluttered by cars or buildings—no high-rise hotels here! Hiking opportunities abound, with more than 100 miles of trails. Plus, the longest designated scenic highway on the East Coast—the A1A Scenic Coastal Highway—passes through, so there’s always a reason to take a ride and see the sights. The tourism folks offer other tips on planning your “dog-cation,” with a list of activities that includes paddle boarding; hikes along the eight-mile-long Lehigh Trail (part of an abandoned 195-acre railroad corridor); and visits to the popular Wadsworth Park, where you can meet up with the locals at its fenced dog park, which has separate areas for large and small dogs. A must-stop for nature enthusiasts is the 1,500-acre Princess Place Preserve in the northern part of the county. Its many scenic viewpoints provide lots of places to catch a sunset. (Wild hogs and alligators also call it home, so best to keep your pup on leash.) Among the affordable accommodations with dog-welcoming policies are Whale Watch Motel and Fairfield Inn and Suites. Or, if you’re interested in private rentals, try vacationrental pros.com; for camping recommendations, check floridastateparks.org. For good eats, there’s Johnny D’s Beach Bar & Grill, Flagler Fish Company or the High Tides at Snack Jacks. Finally, make it a point to stop by the Bark Spot, the local dog boutique. Palmcoastandtheflaglerbeaches.com

Dog's Life: Travel
Postcard From Germany: Rottweil Revels
A magical late-winter carnival in Rottweil, Germany.

Cradling mugs of ale and sporting goofy grins, the citizenry of Rottweil in southwestern Germany weave through the streets, planting kisses on one another’s cold cheeks and hooting in a cartoon falsetto, like crazed owls: “Hu-hu-hu! Hu-hu-hu!” I clutch a cup of steamy, sweet glüwein (mulled wine) and join the tradition, hu-hu-ing until I’m hoarse, relieved that, for the moment, my lousy German doesn’t matter.

I’m here for Narrensprung, or Fools’ Jump. In this storybook town at the edge of the Black Forest, Swabian rituals of Carnival have changed little over the centuries—handily holding their own against the commercial spectacles of big cities.

Founded by the Romans in 73 A.D. as a military outpost and trading center, Rottweil’s heritage shows in its tidy prosperity; ruins of temples and baths; and famous export and namesake, the Rottweiler, a sturdy canine descended from herding dogs bred by Roman cattle farmers. As the settlement evolved, so too did the role of Rottweilers, who became draft animals and butchers’ shop companions.

“Ich bin ein Rottweiler” is the bumpersticker of choice. Garlands of yellow and black, the official town colors, are draped across storefronts and lamposts. Lifesize plastic Rottweilers guard doors, plush toy Rotties stare from windows.

Narrensprung’s pagan roots are augmented by Catholic pre-Lenten fervor. Winter and its cold spirits must be expelled, and so after a formal declaration, the icy cobbled streets fill with celebrants eager to witness a grand procession of narren, or “fools,” in kaleidoscopically colored costumes and hand-carved masks, most of which have been handed down through generations of families.

Each narren does his part: the Benner Rössle prance astride hobbyhorses; the Gschell toss candy and clank their bocce-ball-sized metal bells in a thumping rhythm. The Guller, a lone strutting rooster, represents fertility.

I’m temporarily blinded by a mass of stinky-sweet horsehair dangled across my face. Grunting lecherously, a Federahannes dusts my winter away with a long tufted pole. Just as suddenly, he balances on the pole and vaults above us all, feathered cape flying: a jumping fool.

There are Boxers, Beagles, Labs and Bernese Mountain Dogs among the spectators, but curiously, no Rottweilers. Outside the Konditorei (pastry shop), a clutch of revelers disguised as rabbits and frogs chat with a woman swathed in fox who’s tethered to a giant Standard Poodle.

“Where are the Rottweilers?” I chance asking this stranger.

We discover that we share the name Erika, and are immediately comfortable. Her English makes my German unnecessary, allowing us—encircled by a frenzy of hu-hu-ing—to talk. “Shouldn’t Rottweilers be part of Narrensprung? Can I meet one not made of plastic?” I ask.

Erika pauses, then leans toward me and whispers, “There are puppies.” Soon, I’m a passenger in her car, circling Rottweil’s outer reaches on a quest.

We find the house, festooned in yellow and black and with an etched profile of a Rottweiler on the door. Eminent breeder and trainer Bernhard Schwabe’s place is chockablock with Rottie statues and Carnival regalia, not to mention dogs. Two stately canines snooze by the fireplace; their eight fuzzy offspring, squirming under heat lamps, are already promised to families. One of the Rotties approaches and rests his blocky head in my lap.

Over coffee, Erika translates as Bernhard expounds about the history of Narrensprung, and his beloved dogs. He shows us his Federahannes mask, but seems most proud of a faded photo that captures him parading in a butcher’s costume, flanked by a Rottweiler pulling an antique cart of yellow flowers.

For this moment, issues of breed discrimination, overpopulation and rescue societies are a world away.

Back in town, Benner Rössle prance and crack their whips into the night as the ritual winds down. Masks are lowered and folks retreat to the warmth of the gasthaus (inn). The old magic must have worked, because spring arrived in the Black Forest soon afterward. 

News: Guest Posts
Dogs Are The Best On A Snowy Day

I don’t know about you, but this is the time of year when the short days and dreary weather begin get a little old, so this video couldn’t have hit my e-mail inbox at a better time—it is the perfect wintertime attitude adjustment. Leave it to the dogs to remind us that life is always fun, even with a bite in the air and snow on the ground!

Dog's Life: Travel
The Arctic Circle, with Dogs
Volunteering at Hetta Huskies in Finnish Lapland

It’s hard to believe that this time a year ago, I was fumbling in the pre-dawn darkness, pulling on multiple thermal layers to face the Arctic weather and more than 100 spirited, vocal sled dogs. I never knew what each day would hold–breaking up fearsome fights, marking trails, checking stock, giving medication or butchering fresh meat for evening meals. I’ve held demanding jobs in my life, including time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Central Africa, but tackling a three-month volunteer stint at Hetta Huskies high in Finnish Lapland pushed me to my limits. However, despite the daily mélange of euphoria, anxiety, pride and anger, I emerged victorious. And I brought home a Husky to prove it!

My time with Hetta Huskies was part of what turned out to be an almost two-year-long backpacking trip around the world with my husband, Steve Aguirre. Our bold decision to undertake a shared epic journey was precipitated by a year of loss. In 2011, my best friend was viciously murdered, and our beloved dog was hit and killed by a car. Every two months, it seemed, there was a new trauma. We finally realized that life really is too short; if we didn’t leave soon, we may not have the chance later.

Before we knew it, we had walked away from our jobs and said goodbye to friends, family and favorite San Diegan locales. We started in Guatemala and wove our way overland through Central and South America, flew to New Zealand, then up to Thailand, Dubai, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and the Ukraine before zigzagging through Eastern Europe, up to Finland and over to the Netherlands. We rounded out our trip by wending through the UK. In total, over the course of 20 months, we visited 27 countries and five continents. We also relied heavily on Workaway opportunities, in which hosts provide full room and board in exchange for daily volunteer work. As the Workaway site describes it, the swap was simple: “a few hours honest help per day in exchange for food and accommodation and an opportunity to learn about the local lifestyle and community, with friendly hosts in varying situations and surroundings.”

All 19 of our Workaway experiences were transformational in their own ways, but the one that had the most impact also happened to be the most grueling and beautiful. While still in San Diego, I clicked through possible Workaway experiences and happened upon a sled dog farm in remote Finnish Lapland. One of the pictures accompanying the lengthy list of volunteer expectations and requirements was a close up of a blue-eyed puffball of a Husky puppy, which I promptly emailed to Steve with the subject line “This is what you could be looking at instead of spreadsheets…” We’re both wild about dogs, and we knew that a stint with Hetta Huskies was definitely in the cards.

Thus, in September 2013, we found ourselves in the tiny reindeer herding village of Hetta, 130 miles above the Arctic Circle, after 17 hours of travel via train and bus. Hetta Huskies is owned by two former professional athletes and explorers, Finn Pasi Ikonen and Brit Anna McCormack. Our bosses expected a consistently high level of professionalism and perfection.

At 32, Steve and I were among the oldest in the group, which consisted of as many as 16 volunteers living dorm style, sleeping in bunk beds and sharing a toilet, shower, living area and kitchen. Cooking and cleaning duties were unofficially rotated, and every night, four to five dogs from the farm would spend the night with us for either medical or socialization purposes.

We were in charge of 116 howling, furry, excitable powerhouse work dogs (and 86 at Valimaa, a second farm) who needed daily care. Our work days were at least 12 hours with a half-hour lunch, and we worked between six and nine days in a row before we had a day off. Daily tasks included administering medication, prepping, delivering and cleaning up the dogs’ food, groundwork maintenance (refilling holes, raking running circles near the kennels, making sure there were no tree roots to tangle the chains), heat checks for the females, cage repair, taking sled teams on practice runs, giving tours to tourists, data entry and a litany of other tasks that seemed to spring up daily. Because this work is so serious, Hetta Huskies has systems and trainings that rival those in any corporate setting.

As mentioned, we also spent time at Valimaa, which Hetta Huskies had been contracted to oversee for another company. The setup there was a bit more primitive and remote, and the dogs themselves needed a little extra love and attention, since they were a bit wilder and more likely to be afraid of humans than the Hetta dogs.

At Valimaa on one memorable evening in February, I spotted a pulsating green aura and my heart jumped into my throat—it was the aurora borealis, the northern lights, live and in otherworldly greens! As Steve and I lay on the frozen ground, inhaling the frigid night air and looking up at the amazing sight, a sonorous canine chorus rose up and enveloped us in the moment. It was pure magic. For more than a half hour, we were transfixed by the celestial show.

The night before we left Hetta, Steve and I took out the first sleds of the season. We flew across the frozen tundra under a fiery sorbet sunset behind exuberant teams of canine dynamos—dogs who love nothing more than the feel of snow under their feet. That single moment made the aching bones, stress, lack of sleep and paltry food all worth it. In fact, our time in Hetta so defined our world trip that we decided to go for the ultimate keepsake in the form of a three-year-old female named Theta. Her Dalmatian-spotted ears and black mask had charmed me at first sight. When we learned she was available for adoption, we did the research and discovered that it would be neither expensive nor complicated to bring her home.

After departing Hetta Huskies and making our way through the UK for a few more months, we finished our adventures back in Helsinki, where we collected Theta and boarded the first of three planes that would take all three of us back to Colorado. Theta adapted quickly to her new situation, which included everything from a name change (after seeing her run and pounce in the snow, we re-christened her Naali, which means “Arctic fox” in Finnish) to playing with toys for the first time. And during a road trip to San Diego, she took her first dip in the Pacific Ocean—a big step for a dog who had never seen open water in her life.

Nowadays, our little family indulges in a group howl before work in honor of the pack mentality, and we delight in taking Naali to the dog park (where she gravitates toward other Huskies) and giving her lots of belly rubs after long runs on a skijoring line to simulate her sled-pulling days. Though Naali has decided that laughter and the television aren’t threats, the jury’s still out on parked cars and the sound of compressed air. She’s also learned that cute behavior leads to more cuddles and treats. As we work on our own re-acclimatization to post-trip life, she’s proven to be a welcome distraction.

We’ve never had a moment’s regret about our decision to throw caution to the wind and embark upon the most epic adventure we’ve shared to date. I’m also reminded of our adventures by the best trip memento we could have asked for: Naali, our very own living slice of Arctic Scandinavia.