Dogs are the most amazing creatures. They always give more than they take and are imbued with a wisdom so beyond the obvious as to be almost mystical.
Dogs save our lives both literally and figuratively (Jake has done both for me) and ask in return only to be with us. The impact a dog can have on your life can not be overstated.
Although these are not new ideas, I have been thinking a lot about what Jake has taught me in our almost ten years together (October 20, 2020, marks ten years to the day that we met and moved in together). I could probably write an entire book about this – and, who knows, maybe I will – but for now I’ve narrowed the lessons down to five overarching ideas.
5 Important Life Lessons I Learned from my Dog
Lesson One is Patience
You may think this is a funny one because dogs aren’t known for their patience and it’s true that Jake isn’t a particularly patient individual. It’s not that my dog spent any time modelling patience for me, rather he did things that allowed me to practice being patient. Jake hadn’t had any training before we met and he exploded into my life like a wrecking ball. He destroyed my possessions, ignored my directives and generally created near constant mayhem.
None of it was done to aggravate me, although it did. Everything Jake did was just him being a dog who didn’t know better. I focused on knowing that his intentions were pure and adopted the Zen belief that everything I own is already lost or broken in order to find peace in the chaos. Over time, I learned patience. I also learned that patience is an important part of training your dog and an important part of living a peaceful life. Patience also gives you an appreciation of time passing that reduces stress and increases happiness. This lesson, taught to me inadvertently by my dog, has benefited me in my personal life as well as in my professional life as a positive dog trainer.
Lesson Two is to Live in the Moment
Dogs live in the moment better than any other creature. I’ve always been a bit of a worrier and living side by side with a creature that focuses exclusively on this very moment has helped me let go of worries of the past and future and enjoy the day I am actually living in. People often struggle to live mindfully. We have busy lives full of deadlines and obligations. One look at a dog who is always ready and willing to take a few moments out for a quick walk around the block or belly rub without throwing their whole schedule off (because they certainly aren’t going to miss dinner) is the perfect reminder to pause and breathe.
I can easily let hours go by on the computer writing articles, reviewing client files, deepening my knowledge of dog behavior and doing all of the million other things necessary to run my dog training business. Every so often, Jake will come up and remind me that it’s a beautiful day and we should definitely go outside. These unscheduled breaks to sit in the yard watching the birds and chatting with Jake are the best sort of refresher and keep me energized when I get back to work. These moments are also precious because it’s another chance for Jake and I to bond. Even though we have been together almost ten years now, it’s still important that we take time to connect and enjoy each other’s company.
Lesson Three is to Have Balance Between Rest, Play and Work
Between having patience and living in the moment we also have responsibilities. In life, it’s vital to strike a balance between time to rest, play and work. Dogs are natural experts at finding this balance. They will sleep when tired, play when the mood strikes them and work whenever you ask them to. For most family dogs, “work” is all the behaviors their humans ask them to perform. You might have your dog sit before crossing a street or eating dinner or go lie down while you are on the phone.
Incidentally, if you don’t assign this “work” to your dog, they will give themselves a job which, more often than not, will be something you’d rather they not do such as sit in the window barking at everything that passes by. What makes dogs especially good at distinguishing between the proper time to rest, play and work is that they base their decisions on how they feel in their bodies and minds versus how humans do it which is to base our activities on the clock. Imagine how amazing it would feel to rest when tired, play when feeling playful and work when inspiration strikes. Give it a try even for a little while and see what happens.
Lesson Four is to Always Practice Forgiveness
I’m very fortunate that Jake never holds a grudge and has forgiven me all the wrong I have done to him. When I first adopted Jake, I knew nothing about dogs and he was a feral dog who knew nothing of living with people. I made more mistakes than I can count and even did him harm when I followed some training advice that I have since learned is inappropriate (you can read our story here if you want to learn more about what happened). Eventually, I learned how to train Jake positively and treat him compassionately but I could not erase the bad things I had done to him and I still feel guilt about it today, all these years later.
Jake, however, has forgiven me everything. He trusts me with his life and happily does what I ask of him. Had I transgressed in the same way against a person, I doubt we would be on speaking terms today. I’m in awe of this capacity in dogs and do my best to emulate it in my relationships with other humans.
Lesson Five is to Offer Love Unconditionally
Love. Unconditional Love. It can be a challenge for people. Dogs just do it naturally. They love their people no matter what (as my own story demonstrates) and accept them wholeheartedly, flaws and all. This ability speaks to that mystical wisdom that dogs have. For as much as they may like to dine on bunny poop, dogs’ ability to simply accept their people and love their people without ever trying to alter or “fix” their people is something that most humans have yet to master. Where we get caught up in expectations and perceptions, dogs see what is and are fine with that. It is perhaps the most amazing phenomenon that exists.
Even one by one, the above abilities that dogs have, have the potential to make their human’s life infinitely better. Taken all together, dogs become small miracles of enlightenment that everyone should be in awe of. As a culture, it’s easy to take dogs for granted. They can’t use a lot of technology or a toilet. We would be wise ourselves not to judge dogs by our own physical standards but by an emotional intelligence yardstick by which they generally outpace us. It’s helpful to remember the old adage about not judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree.
Humans may never reach the levels of love and forgiveness that dogs are capable of. Something we can do is commit to treating them with the highest levels of care and compassion that we are capable of. Despite their tremendous capacities, dogs often find themselves alone and uncared for in the world. If we can end that, we will approach the level of wisdom these amazing animals already have.
The main reason dogs find themselves abandoned and homeless is that they have not been taught how to behave in a family home environment. See the statistics around this problem in this article. Commit to teaching your dog the rules of family life and reap the rewards of living with a loving dog.