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Dog as my Teacher

Dog as my Teacher

My heart hurts when I read about violence, natural disasters, and strife affecting too many people worldwide. I feel frivolous. I want to do more, give more, and be more to this world than what I’m doing now. I’m sad for so many people who abruptly and brutally lose their lives. And I’m sorry for those mourning their loved ones and those attempting to recover from destruction and deprivation.

I’m not a news or political expert. I’m just a dog trainer turned treat maker. But, when I close my laptop for the umpteenth time in a day because the hatred overwhelms me, I think about dogs and why we love them—their presence, loyalty, and unconditional love. I can’t help but wonder if dogs might be able to teach us to be better humans.

Approach every moment with zeal

When Gavin plays fetch, he’s not thinking about what he’s eating for dinner, worrying about his next veterinary check-up, or wondering what time we’re leaving the park so he can wiggle and jiggle for my brother. Not much interrupts Gavin’s beauty rest, except when he hears the click of UNCLE CHRIS’s key in the door. No matter how deep he’s sleeping or loud he’s snore-humming, under the covers, Lil’ Big Head jumps into the air like a rocket and races down the stairs as his tail whip-whaps the walls before he grabs a shoe and dances a circle around one of his most favorite humans.

Our dogs approach everything they love with all their heart, energy, and attention. Gavin exudes joy as he eagerly waits for me to throw his ball and sprints towards it with laser focus, then clumsily tries to grab the ball as it bounces off the swingset and catapults in the opposite direction. He’s incapable of reminiscing about a park we visited when he was a puppy and planning for his future. Gavin’s smiling, running, and totally into his fetch game—that’s it.

If I watch the sunset without checking my phone, it won’t change the world. However, mentally oohing and ahhing about the beautiful horizon as it shifts from bursts of peach and turquoise to a watercolor masterpiece of deep lavender and magenta will bring me more peace if I spent the same time scanning volatile debates on social media.

Be a shoulder

Dogs are always there—like a good friend who doesn’t just say “let me know if you need anything” but shows up on your doorstep, with a knowing look and a box of tissues. If I’m happy, confused, tired, or overwhelmed, Gavin, is ready to lean on or be the leaner. Lil’ Big Head will soothe the world’s worries by lean-laying all 60 pounds of himself against any willing snuggler.

Gavin listens, without agenda, comment, opinion, answers, or judgment. As a dog, he can’t tell me I’m ludicrous when I’m babbling about who knows what. However, maybe I’m meant to learn a lesson from his silence—to be a better listener—without chiming in, without waiting my turn to speak, and without fixing (oh, we retired trainers love fixing stuff.)

Lil’ Big Head inspires me to be the person who exudes Oprah Winfrey‘s famous phrase, “I see you. I hear you. And what you say matters to me.”

Practice kindness

When dogs scuffle, they’re quickly (usually) over their strife and onto more important matters like napping, eating, or playing. It’s easy to become preoccupied with the troubles of the world. However, if worry and stress consume us, we miss real opportunities to connect with our fellow humans in real-life.

Holding the door open at the drugstore for a stranger or waving another driver in front of me while I wait in traffic certainly doesn’t undo catastrophic events or horrible tragedy but reminds me that we’re all in this together. When I have to decide whether to run to the grocery or put it off another day and donate blood—I hope I make the right choice (however small).