Pamela Harju discusses the importance of dogs for our mental health

May 31, 2023

Owning a dog is a life-changing experience. No matter how long you have it, what breed it is, or how many pets you’ve had before, each relationship with a dog is one-of-a-kind. Dogs make life more exciting, rewarding, and special every day. 

In fact, studies have shown that just spending time with a dog can improve your mental health. In our recent episode of the From the Dog’s Perspective podcast, we had a chat with Pamela Harju, who is a fiction author and lifelong dog lover. When she was 11 years old, she started agility training with her first dog, so it’s been a decades-long journey that she still adores to this day.

Starting her journey

Pamela knew that when she became an adult, she would have her own dogs. Her family thought that they couldn’t have pets initially because her older sister is allergic to them, but she was in love with all of the dogs owned by members of her extended family.

Her father recognized early on in her life that she was a dog lover. When she was 8, her family decided to try having a dog at home even though her sister was allergic to dogs. They were surprised that the dog they got didn’t give her sister any allergy symptoms.

Pamela laughs that it was “all downhill from there,” and she got her first Miniature Schnauzer a few years later, and she’s stuck with the breed ever since.

Training agility as a child had a profound impact on Pamela. Her dog was her best friend, and they spent all of their time together. From walks to competitions, she says that was “just a different bond.” 

Having her dog as her best friend not only helped her cope with frequent bullying but also helped her make friends outside of school.

Describing dogs, Pamela says, “They are the most honest creatures on this Earth. Nobody loves you like your dog. They are so open about their affection, and I think that’s something we could really learn from our dogs. They are honest, they are loving, and they’re not afraid to show that.”

The magic of loving a dog

As we think about life from our dog’s perspective, it becomes easier to connect with them, love them, and, of course, train them. 

Pamela began her journey with OneMind Dogs nearly 10 years ago. Initially, she loved that the company was Finnish, just like her. She also recognized some of the names of coaches because she used to do agility in Finland, too.

But for Pamela, who mostly trains alone, having the support of the OneMind Dogs coaches online has been invaluable. “It’s just amazing having someone else’s opinion,” she says. “It’s life-changing, actually.”

Our goal in creating OneMind Dogs was to help owners around the world connect with one another. The internet makes it easier than ever for us to build a global community that helps handlers of all skill levels connect with expert coaches that help them reach their goals.

What was your biggest “Aha!” moment?

For Pamela, the greatest realization about dog training from a dog’s perspective came from learning about the connection on the agility course. Even reflecting on past failures, Pamela says that looking back, when things go wrong, it’s due to a dropped connection.

“It’s not really something that I was aware of,” she says, “but now, it does make perfect sense.”

Even beyond agility, Pamela reveals that learning more about the dog’s perspective alternatively shapes how you interact with them. 

“Whatever you do with your dog, you need to remember this is a dog; it moves like a dog, sounds like a dog, looks like a dog, and most importantly, thinks like a dog.”

For many handlers, training is a challenge because they try to resolve issues from their own point of view, but in reality, they need to learn why their dog acts a certain way and what it needs to change its behavior. 

Usually, this comes down to motivation. By learning to think like a dog, people become much more patient and understanding with their pets. They realize that their dog doesn’t want to ignore them or defy them. It just wants to be a dog and live happily, whatever that looks like to them.

And isn’t that something we all want? 

According to Pamela, you need to understand your dog if you want to reach any training goal with them. “Say if you have a behavioural problem with your dog, you can’t start solving it as a human being. You need to think about how you’re going to solve it from the dog’s point of view.”

Appreciating the Individual’s Journey

Every dog and handler is unique, and each bond is special. Challenges teach us the most about ourselves, and they can be the greatest learning opportunities to understand our dogs.

“There’s always challenges with dogs,” Pamela says. “There’s always going to be something about the dog’s behavior that’s annoying.” 

She reveals that she’s currently dealing with her dog’s obsession with their two outdoor cats. Fixations such as that can be hard to cope with as an owner. Rather than try to train out the obsession, she says the best thing to do is focus on diverting their attention and helping them resolve their stress. 

By recognizing what a dog needs, owners can provide the best structure, resources, and guidance. Each dog teaches you something new, and you’ll learn just as much from your mistakes as you will from your successes. 

Pamela reveals that each of her dogs teaches her something different, not just about training but also about life. She reveals that her youngest dog, Hector, loves life. “He’s just so full of energy, and everything is so exciting.” His zeal for simply being alive is a reminder to be more grateful and live in the moment. 

Dogs show us that every day is actually extraordinary. It’s all about perspective.

Pamela reveals that she thinks dogs train us as much as we train them. The everlasting impact our pets have on us as people is one of the greatest gifts they give us.

The real success comes from loving and being loved

Pamela says that her biggest agility highlight in recent times has been reaching the highest level in Ireland with her older dog, but she says that the real achievement comes from that magical moment when you just “click” with your dog. 

They suddenly understand something, and they know what you want from them. They are elated to communicate with you and be able to share something with the person they love so much. 

Hector is the seventh dog Pamela has trained in agility, and she says she feels very privileged to have had so many dogs in her life. “I think they just make life worth living, really,” she muses. 

Pamela’s top tips for first-time dog owners

Pamela has two major points for anyone thinking of getting a dog: 

  • Do your research. So many people got dogs during the pandemic, and it’s important for people to understand what it takes to have a dog. Pets are expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally demanding. Pamela encourages everyone to research breeds and consider their space and lifestyle, too, so they can get the best match for them.
  • Take the time to train the dog. We all start somewhere, and Pamela suggests signing up for classes, hiring a trainer, or joining the puppy class at OneMind Dogs to help people avoid behavioural problems. “Give the dog a chance to succeed at being a good pet and family dog,” she says. Just like we go to school to be educated, dogs need that opportunity, too.

Looking for training help? Explore our online puppy training program to start teaching your dog obedience basics from home!  

Listen to the full podcast episode and sign up for OneMind Dogs – From the Dog’s Perspective podcast newsletter

OneMind Dogs’ podcast, “From the Dog’s Perspective,” shares amazing stories of journeys undertaken by dogs and their owners, from all around the world.

The core focus is on how we can be the best possible dog owners – from the dog’s perspective, of course! to find out more join our Magical Connection Week!

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