Fishbein: How to Dog Dartmouth

Some tips to reduce stress I've learned from my canine companion.

by Daniel Fishbein | 1/11/18 1:15am

I’ve struggled throughout college to find an alarm clock that really works for me. Apple’s “chimes” sound is too calming, and “radar” is too harsh. Custom tones have not worked either: I had my alarm set to Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” for a while before I realized that I had the rest of the day to channel my hipster-dom and didn’t want to start that performance so early in the morning.

I have yet another alarm sound this term, and so far, this one does its job well. Sometimes a whine, more often a bark, this sound emanates at 8 a.m. not from an iPhone speaker but from the larynx of Jacoby, my lab-hound mix. He has made all the difference.

Scientists have found that dogs provide their owners with numerous health benefits, from lowered blood pressure to reduced symptoms of stress-related disorders. With his ability to trigger my brain to release serotonin, Jacoby more than makes up for the dreariness of the Hanover winter. He also has helped me address the root causes of potential stress. After going on our early morning walks, the rest of my day feels easier. When Jacoby does not feel inclined to lie down on the keyboard of my open laptop, he provides much needed companionship during the hours-long grind necessitated by a full course load and research position.

Beyond balancing out my stress levels, Jacoby has helped me take a new perspective on my own position here at the College. This winter, I have seen this school not only as a student returning from an English foreign study program in Dublin but as a canine exploring it for the first time.

Reflecting on his exploration from my vantage point as a nostalgic, weathered junior, more than halfway done with college (a shroud of dread descends upon me as I come to that realization), I have learned the following lessons:

1. Make your presence felt: To the house men and women of the Greek organizations on Webster Avenue, I, on behalf of Jacoby, humbly apologize. While most of your organizations, to my knowledge, do not have a rush term for dogs, he has nonetheless claimed a stake in your houses, through whatever territorial-marking pheromones he has deposited on your front doorsteps. In this dog’s mind, he belongs there just as much as you do.

2. Smell everything, everywhere: Jacoby never knows what he might find in previously undiscovered areas. Perhaps there’s even a forgotten peanut butter cookie from KAF in the bottom of his owner’s backpack!

3. The woods are lovely, dark and deep: The morning after Jacoby and I first got here, my Weather app indicated a -23ºF temperature with a wind chill that made this place colder than Mars. “It’s not my fault humans haven’t evolved to grow fur,” his look seemed to say to me, and, unable to disagree, I threw on three layers of long underwear. His eagerness to brave the cold proved rewarding for both of us. Watching him frolic through the snow falling on cedars beside a frozen Occom Pond, I took a moment to reflect on the natural beauty of my surroundings, a wondrousness I have not fully appreciated until this point.

4. Everyone you meet is a person who could throw you a bone: My dog does not discriminate in choosing friends. Whether you’re a ’21 who still looks lost, a jogging townie or a staff member, Jacoby will try to lick your face. Seeing his fervent attitude in getting to know people has opened my eyes up to the fact that, despite feeling as though I have been at Dartmouth for a long time, there are so many people around me I still do not know anything about.

5. Enjoy being yourself: Jacoby does not understand numbers; my GPA means nothing to him. He does not have social media accounts and cannot see how many likes my last picture of him registered. He takes the time to relax on my bed without chiding himself for laziness. He loves me because I feed him, pet him, love him — because I exist.

As the term progresses, my workload will intensify, and I don’t see the weather getting warmer anytime soon. Yet, with both the anxiety-reducing presence of Jacoby and an attempt to emulate some of these behaviors of his, I have found a new sense of confidence — that I can turn in my assignments, go to class, socialize, keep my room clean and fulfill my responsibilities while not having my cortisol levels blow through the roof. That I can, at the very least, get out of bed.