Everything I Need to Know I Learned from My Dogs

My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am. ~Author Unknown

Life lessons often come from … well, life. Experience is a great teacher, but wisdom usually comes with … well, experience and observation.

Those observations and bits of wisdom often come from unexpected sources, like my dogs. My first pet was a Boxer named Bonnie. She was a gentle dog for a toddler and I loved her. Since Bonnie, I’ve had almost a dozen dogs of all sizes. They have brought great joy into my life – plus a few frustrations and, certainly, sadness when they’re gone. My pups (currently two Japanese Chins) are a constant source of inspiration and laughter. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from dogs over the years.

Love unconditionally. Dogs love people. Period. No matter how many times they get yelled at or mistreated, they’re ready with tail wags and sloppy kisses. Shouldn’t we also give unconditional love and affection to the people in our lives, especially family? Be quick with a hug and a smile. Say ‘I love you’ often. It’s almost as good as a tail wag and a sloppy kiss!

Walk, prance, jump, dance. Dogs get great joy from moving! Our two play tag, chasing each other around the yard or house. They bounce up and down stairs. Bojo (aka Bojangles) dances, prances and leaps for the joy of it. Rascal wiggles and runs. Exercise is fun for a dog. Follow their example. Find something you enjoy doing and m-o-v-e. You’ll feel better and stay healthier.

Drink plenty of water. It amazes me how often we have to fill their water dish. Dogs instinctively know that staying hydrated keeps them healthy. Drinking more water is the cheapest and easiest health insurance you can get. Fill your bowl often!

Breathe. Dogs pant to regulate temperature, or calm their bodies after a run. Deep breathing is an easy de-stressor. It will help regulate your emotional temperature and calm over-heated feelings. In … out. In … out. Consciously breathe. You can even stick your tongue out if it makes you feel better!

Speak up. Both dogs let me know when they want out or treats, dinner or attention. They’re not shy about making themselves heard, either. We often think our loved ones should be mind-readers and just ‘know’ what we want. Not true. The pups remind me every day, every day, every day (like I’d forget?). Relationships will run more smoothly if you’ll just let people know what you want or need.

Be grateful. Rascal was a rescue pup and is a bit skittish. We delight when he wags his tail. Bojo, on the other hand, always has enthusiastic tail wags and puppy kisses. We like it so much, we pay extra attention and sneak extra treats just to get their reaction. People react to gratitude, also. The more you say thank you, the more you’ll receive – love, attention, favors, smiles, and maybe even extra treats!

Be yourself. I’ve seen dogs dressed in cute little outfits, like dolls. Some get pampered with cushy beds, puppy carriages and special dog seats for car rides. And I’ve seen those same dogs running through mud puddles, digging in the dirt and just being what they are, dogs. No pretensions. Just be yourself. You are already special, so you don’t need to fake anything. We love you anyway! No matter what.

Play. Puppies play. They run, gambol, chase, fetch, chew, bark and chase the cat. People work. They neglect playtime in favor of “To Do” lists – that never get done anyway. In today’s fast-paced environment, you need time to just have fun – not vegged in front of the TV, but doing something you enjoy, preferably with other people. Play is good and it’s good for you, spirit, soul and body. Grown-ups need play dates, too.

Take a break. All that puppy play tires them out, so the dogs plop down on a comfy cushion and nap. No excuses, just sleepy eyes and gentle breathing. You shouldn’t need an excuse to rest when you need to. Take a break. Close your eyes for a few minutes and listen to your inner self. Wisdom comes in quiet moments, not in the clutter and clatter of activity. Naps and quiet time are good things. Shhhh.

Check it out. When dogs get together, they circle and sniff until they’re certain the new situation is OK. Take a lesson. Often, we jump into things without really confirming the details. Take time to check it out. Is it really something you want to be involved in? Do you have all the information you need to make a wise decision? If it’s not right or the right timing, walk away.

Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Rascal hates baths. But as soon as he’s clean and dry, he will head for the creek to explore. The two of them come in with brambles in their coats and mud on their feet. And they enjoyed every minute! Some things just require you to get dirty. Life is often messy. Accept it and get on with it.

Shake it off. When dogs get wet, they shake, spraying water everywhere! As soon as they’re done, they go do whatever their puppy minds conjure. When you feel like you’re drowning in problems, shake them off. Focus on something else. Sidetrack your mind and emotions until you get some perspective and understanding.

Be cute! Even ugly dogs are cute in their own way. Lopsided grins, lolling tongues, floppy ears and all. It doesn’t matter to them how they look. They know they’re loveable. You may not be beautiful, but you can be cute and loveable, too. Do the best you can with what you have. And smile. Smiles make you look wonderful! Really.

Be excited! Dogs aren’t shy about showing their emotions. When they’re excited you can tell it in their whole bodies! And they get excited about simple things – a new toy, a treat, a walk. Bojo and Rascal meet us at the door when we’ve been away with yelps, dances and wagging tails. Get excited about the simple joys in your life – and show it. Excitement is contagious, like love and gratitude. Use liberally.

Stick together. Out two hang together all the time. If one is missing (vet appointment, for example) the other waits by the door until his buddy comes back. Then they rejoice together, running and wrestling and wriggling with puppy emotion. People need people. Get involved. Stick together. Support each other. Share your life and your love.

Try anyway. Bojo loves to escape from the yard. It’s fenced, of course. But he hunts until he finds a way out. Every time we block an exit, he finds another. It’s a game to him, and when he succeeds, he dances outside the gate and grins at us in celebration. What fences are keeping you in, stopping you from a dream or goal? Keep trying until you can celebrate your victory with a puppy dance!

Show emotion. What is cuter than a dog that wags its tail so hard its whole body wriggles? Pups always let you know how they feel. There’s a song that says, “if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” Let your happiness show. Be honest about your emotions whenever possible. Your joy can alter or alleviate someone else’s pain. Empathy (not sympathy) is powerful.

Forgive. Have you ever known a dog to hold a grudge? No, they forget you yelled at them within seconds and, tail wagging, are ready to kiss (messy!) and make up. From a dog’s perspective, life should be filled with lots of love and fun. They don’t waste their time on negative emotions. Why shouldn’t we be the same? Let it go. The only one who gets hurt by unforgiveness or anger is you.

Size doesn’t matter. My 10-pound Chins think they’re Great Danes (Bojo decided one day to take on three Burmese Mountain Dogs whose paws were bigger than his whole body!). I’ve had Boxers, Shepherds and Labs who thought they were lap-dogs. There’s no such thing as too small or tall, too old or young, lack of education, no money or any other excuse. You can be, do or have whatever you choose. Go for it!

Enjoy the moment. Dogs don’t worry or fret. They simply enjoy the moment they’re in. Whatever they are doing has their whole focus. Don’t let tomorrow steal your today. Stay in the moment. Focus on the blessings you have right now.

If you’re a dog lover, you immediately understood every one of these life lessons. If you’re a Christian, there are Bible verses to match every point. Condensed, they’re simple to follow: Love everyone. Be a blessing … and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Life is precious. Savor every moment. And don’t forget to pet the dog.

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