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    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


What I’ve Learned From Owning a Dog During Grad School

The advantages of caring for a critter during the Ph.D.

May 9, 2016

Danielle Marias is a PhD candidate in Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University. You can find her on Twitter @danielleemarias or at her website.


happy dog.jpg


I was a dog lover from an early age. I spent my childhood running around with at least two golden retrievers or yellow labs. Since moving out of my parents’ house, I had always wanted a dog of my own, especially in grad school.


Julie Platt wrote an excellent post on things to keep in mind when deciding if you should get a dog during grad school. I had similar thoughts and considerations, decided my partner and I were well-prepared to be dog owners, and ended up adopting Opie, a 3-year old border collie/terrier mix.


Like grad school, owning a dog “is a major commitment, which will affect your life profoundly and should not be undertaken lightly.” Opie has brought an incredible amount of joy and happiness to my life, as well as many lessons that I never could have foreseen.


Here are some of the lessons that I’ve learned from owning a dog in grad school:


1. Stress reduction. Dogs are great supporters of grad students. Opie is always happy to see me and makes me smile, which is comforting when I am stressed or overwhelmed with grad school. In fact, research suggests that dogs promote the mental and physical health of their owners, including reducing depression and stress, and encouraging physical activity.

2. Motivation. Dogs are great motivators to get outside and exercise. This is an essential way that I maintain daily work-life balance, in order to do my best work and feel my best through the ups and downs of grad school. Opie loves trail running and mountain biking with me. He can inspire me to get outside even when I feel lazy on a rainy day or feel confined to the computer to finish a manuscript. 100% of the time, taking a break benefits my work when I come back to it refreshed.

3. Being in the moment. Dogs are great role models for living in the moment. Many GradHacker posts focus on the importance of mindfulness and being present to reduce grad school-related stress, anxiety, and worries. Opie always lives in the moment, is thankful and happy for every day, and enjoys every moment we are together, whether it’s chasing me on a mountain bike or napping while I analyze data.

4. Responsibility. As grad students, we are relatively responsible and reliable human beings. However, Opie depends on me in a unique way where I always have to be there for him, account for him in my travel plans, and prioritize his well-being with my time, energy, and resources.

5. Gratitude for grad school. I am so fortunate that grad school allows for a flexible schedule. I can take a break and I am lucky that I can work from home to be there for Opie.

6. Social support. Just as developing good support networks helps us to survive grad school, having a supportive group of dog-owning friends has been great for socializing Opie. We also exchange dog sitting, which eases the burden on our grad student wallets as well as the stress of being away, knowing that Opie is in the care of good friends.

7. Patience and perseverance. Opie was housetrained when we adopted him, but his social skills and recall left something to be desired. We took Opie to obedience classes, although these were probably more useful for me and my partner than for Opie because we learned how to reinforce Opie’s behaviors and how our behaviors impact him. This is an ongoing process that has taught me persistence, focus, and patience. This is much like completing a PhD, where Opie’s perfect recall does not happen overnight, there are no quick fixes or shortcuts, and some days it doesn’t feel like we’re making any progress. Instead, it requires a little bit of training every day that leads to good results over a longer timeframe than I had expected, which makes us better for it.

Do you have a dog in grad school? What else have you learned?


[Image by digital_image_fan and used under Creative Commons Licensing.]


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