The 7 Lessons We Can Learn From Our Dogs
All throughout my childhood, the one thing I ever really wanted was a dog. Ok, maybe as I got into my adolescent years, that desire was similarly accompanied by a strong hankering to have a girlfriend, a yearning that likewise went unrequited well into early adulthood. You see, most of my school-aged years were spent living with my single mom in a two-bedroom apartment that didn’t allow pets other than the two guinea pigs that had to suffice for the canine accompaniment I truly longed for.
Needless to say, once I moved out on my own and started paying the bills, I immediately got myself a dog. The girlfriend would have to wait for later. Since then, I have had anywhere up to three lovable canine companions sharing my abode, all named after some sort of literary character or musical genius (Strider, Noah, Coltrane, etc.) The current incarnation is our affable 110-pound Newfoundland named Finnegan. Now 11, Finnegan has been with us since since soon after my divorce and has been the quintessential family dog during my own kids’ formative childhood years. Though Newfoundlands are bred specifically for the purpose of water rescues, Finnegan won’t swim, refusing to tread into water deeper than he can’t comfortably stand in. He has, however, obligingly permitted my children to ride him like a horse until both he and the kids outgrew the tradition. As he has grown older, the poor dog has developed a series of dental issues with a pungent reek emanating from his mouth that hits one’s olfactory senses with the overwhelming rank of death. And although he still jumps up and runs around the house at the meer mention of the word “hike”, I remind my kids regularly that he is already exceeded the life expectancy for his breed by a two full years. My kids and I simply adore him, but all life has an expiration date, and with each passing day, we all become more keenly aware that we know his time is coming.
Which itself serves as a good lesson to all of us: appreciate the time you have with the ones you love. Make the most of the opportunities you have with them, so that when that time does come, instead of mourning their loss, you can relish the blessing of having had them in the first place. But that is far from the only lesson Finnegan and the other dogs in my life have taught me. Here are just some of the things we might learn from our dogs if we simply pay close enough attention:
1. Stop and smell the flowers. Sure, dogs are usually doing so to pick up the scent of another dog’s urine, but hey, Carpe Pee ‘em.
2. Take naps. Do you know the average dogs sleeps nearly 16 hours a day? They’re incredibly well-rested for when the important stuff happens, you know, like walks and humping pillows.
3. Devote yourself to the ones you love and give them everything you have. Worry less about what you are doing and more about whom you are doing it with. Have you ever seen the excitement a dog has when their owner walks through the door? I could have been gone all day or for only 5 minutes to get the mail at the end of my road, but my dog’s reaction is the same regardless: unmitigated bliss. When we ask him if he wants to go for a car ride, he doesn’t ask where we are going; he just gets in the car because all that is important to him is that he gets to go with us. Wherever I go in the house, he follows along, plopping himself down beside me when I write this column or, somewhat more intrusively, when I do sit-ups in the gym. He makes it clear that he cares less about what we are doing and more that he gets to do it with us.
4. Enjoy going for walks. The world is a great, big, beautiful place. Get outside and immerse yourself in it every once in awhile.
5. Minimize your possessions and reserve your energy for a few material items that are truly important to you. Sure, every dog has their favorite stick or woobie. They might even bury a bone in the back yard. But dogs don’t get embroiled in the realm of material possession. Detachment leads us away from suffering and loss, allowing us to accept the transient nature of things.
6. Live in the present moment. Have you ever stared deeply into a dog’s eyes and wondered what they were thinking about? Well, I am pretty sure that whatever it was, it had nothing to do with what they were going to be doing with their lives six years from now or how they could transcend the mistakes of the past. Dogs move on past that shit. For them, time is but an illusion, which also explains why they have absolutely no clue how long you’ve been away from the house.
7. Lick your wounds and move on. Now in fairness, dogs do an awful lot of licking, and let’s just say that it’s not always wounds, but you also don’t see dogs spending hours at a psychiatrist’s office, unless its Snoopy, in which case the nickel hourly rate seems pretty reasonable. Don’t get mired in the self-absorption of your own victimization. You may have seven times the life span of a dog, but even that is far too short to fritter away your life thinking about how the past has wronged you. Stick your head out of the car window of life and let those troubles go breezing on past you.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com