I worry a lot about stuff that’s not that important. For example, how does one continually come up with material for columns about dogs?

This past year, that particular worry evaporated because there seems to be an endless supply of material. (See “Emotional Comfort Dogs” below.)

I’m excited to start a new year of researching topics such as: A day at the shelters, the Zen of the dog walk and exploring how to sleep as much as our dogs do. This last one will require me to actually follow their same schedule, nap when they nap, play when they play. It’s a sacrifice, I know, but it’s for science!

Today however, I want to sum up my top five lessons from 2014 concerning Canis lupis familiaris. (woof!)

1. The “emotional comfort” animal

A growing trend! I flew home after Christmas on a packed flight. As I got on the airplane, the first thing I noticed was there were dogs on both sides of me. There was a yellow Lab on the floor under the window seat and a collie across the aisle under the legs of a couple. The woman next to me with the Lab whispered, “My dog is an emotional comfort dog. I have papers.”

“Huh,” I replied.

Personally, I was fine. Actually, I’d much rather sit between a Great Dane and a German shepherd than I would humans. That said, there is a bit of gaming the system with “emotional support” animals. Because of a loophole in the law, anyone can get an emotional support certificate online for their pet allowing said pet to fly for free. Infamously, a woman successfully brought her emotional support pig on an airplane. It did not end well, because pigs can be pigs.

My prediction is the loopholes will be closed, or flying coach will be like taking a bus in Peru. Dogs, cats, chickens and pigs are wandering everywhere, and people and luggage are sitting on top of the plane.

Tip: Please think about it before signing your dog up. Remember there are people who are allergic to dogs and who fear dogs. They have rights, too!

2. Dog fitness

My next big takeaway from 2014 was the importance of keeping dogs fit. The problem is, more than half of the dogs in the country are obese. It isn’t cute. It’s life-threatening. There are three causes. First, we overfeed dogs. Second, we don’t allow them enough exercise. Third, our perception of a dog’s ideal weight is often wrong. A healthy dog is lean and looks more like a coyote than the sleeping-on-our-couch chubby Bernese Mountain dog.

Some tips:

u Make sure that you are feeding your dog the right kind of food for their breed, age and health. Ask your veterinarian.

uTry giving them apples or carrots for treats. Our dogs have learned if not to love them, at least to accept them without too much grumbling.

uExercise, exercise, exercise! At the Santa Fe animal shelter this past week, we watched two mixes, Honey-bee and Jamonsillo, chase each other around one of the fenced fields for 10 minutes and then flop to the ground panting. This is what dogs need daily to stay healthy, both physically and psychologically.

3. Dogs love dog parks

Dog parks are great for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a chance for more exercise, off leash! Second, dogs get to socialize with dogs and people. Third, you can just stand there, drink coffee from Starbucks and your dog will still love you for taking him to the dog park.

Tips: Bring water and poop bags. And please, pick up after your dog.

4. The greatest invention

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the dog door. For those of you whose daily agenda is to let the dogs out, let the dogs in, let the dogs out, let them in and repeat, the dog door (and a fenced yard) will restore your sanity.

We finally installed one, and it changed our lives. They cost anywhere from $200 to $400, depending on size. We chose to have someone install it because I’m no longer allowed to do home-improvement projects after I mistakenly flooded our laundry room. Long story, not important.

Now our dogs go in and out as they please. No more letting them out, letting them in. We can actually have a life at home.

5. The gentle leader

Final lesson: I was putting my life in jeopardy walking our two “enthusiastic”

120-pound dogs on leashes attached to chest harnesses.

It often added up to 240 pounds of straining dogs lunging after a rabbit. Honestly, the only way they could actually catch a rabbit was if the rabbit was lounging on the road, smoking a cigarette and watching TV. But they definitely would go for it, taking me with them. Afraid for my life, we tried The gentle leader. It has a webbing strap that fits loosely around their snout. It takes only light pressure to turn their head and stop them from leaping into the bushes along the road. I am living and uninjured proof that they work.

Tip: Gentle leaders need to be fitted appropriately and only used for a short walks (less than an hour or so). I also make sure to check their muzzle when we’re done to make sure it hasn’t rubbed them wrong.

There you have it, my lessons learned from 2014. Now it’s time to start on 2015 and the napping dogs project. I figure it will take at least a month of sleeping to truly understand.

Hersch Wilson is a Santa Fe author who yearns to understand all things canine. His column appears monthly. Contact him at wilsonhersch@mac.com.

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