My current life coach takes seven naps a day, likes to sniff people’s butts, and, if you put a blue coat on her, looks eerily similar to Paddington Bear. Her name is Penny, and she is a dog. When I first decided to get a puppy last year, it was for the usual reasons: I wanted a companion, a daily dose of cuteness, and someone in my life who wouldn’t judge me if I decided to work in my pajamas and not brush my hair that day. I never expected when I brought home my wriggling ball of fluff and teeth that this goofy canine, who likes to roll on top of dead bugs and eat rabbit poop, would end up being such a great teacher about LIFE ITSELF.
In all seriousness, though, when you get a dog, you’re making a decision to share your life with another living creature — a creature with its own personality, needs, and quirks. It’s no surprise that having this animal in your life can make a major difference in how you see the world and how you think about day to day living. Dogs are loving, silly cuddle-beasts who live in the moment and don’t care about human conceptions of guilt or embarrassment, and it turns out that, in some instances, they make pretty good role models. Keep reading for just a few of the life lessons I’ve learned from my pup.
1. Every day really is a brand new day.
My dog wakes up every morning with her tail wagging so hard that it makes her whole body bow back and forth. She seems thrilled to be alive and ecstatic that the sun has risen once again. Whatever happened yesterday or the day before doesn’t matter — in fact she’s probably forgotten it — and today is new and shiny and full of possibilities. Her enthusiasm makes me feel a bit like that, too — it reminds me that we don’t always have to be constrained by our pasts.
2. Happiness is simpler than you think.
We humans have a tendency to make everything very complicated. I know that I tend to obsess about little things and stress out endlessly about how everything is going to work out, how everything is going to get done, and how I can please everyone. Life is simpler when you’re a dog: Water + Food + Shelter + Ratty Tennis Ball + Snuggles = Total Happiness. Of course human responsibilities are more complex, but dogs can remind us that maybe we don’t need so much craziness or so much stuff to be happy. If we can get our bases covered — food, water, shelter, love — we’re already doing pretty well.
3. Live in the moment.
Dogs don’t care about what happened last week, or yesterday, or this morning. They don’t care about what’s going to happen tomorrow, and they certainly don’t waste time obsessing about what’s going to happen next year. Is it any wonder that they spend so much time just being happy? I think we could all be a lot more content if we took some time everyday to appreciate the present we’re in — to think about how nice it feels to lay in bed in the morning, how delicious our food is, how nice it is to come home to a happy pup.
4. We have more in common with each other than we think.
I live in a big city, where people usually tend to ignore others on the street, but having a dog has meant that I interact with a lot more strangers than I used to. Everyone wants to snuggle a cute puppy, and the experience has taught me that we all have a lot more in common with each other than we might think at first glance. I’ve had people from all walks of life stop on the sidewalk to give Penny a pet and to chat with me about her, and I’ve learned that, whatever our backgrounds may be, we can still relate to each other over our mutual love of dogs. Dogs set an important example, too, in that it would never occur to them to discriminate. They don’t make snap judgments about what people must be like based on their appearances — they make friends with anyone who seems at all likely to rub their bellies.
5. Grudges aren’t useful.
My dog and I have had our bad moments — when I am mad at her, and she is mad at me, and we both have to go mope in a corner for a few minutes. But dogs don’t hold grudges. After ten minutes of hiding under the bed, my dog will come back out with her tail wagging, having mostly forgotten whatever I got mad at her about. As a dog owner, you quickly learn that there’s no point in holding a grudge against a dog, because a dog simply won’t understand it and it won’t help anything. That’s a lesson that we can apply to human relationships, too — grudges may feel good in the moment, but they’re not going to help you move forward.
6. Hugs are important.
Dogs go to a lot of effort to get humans to pet them (My pup’s general strategy is to insistently put one paw on my arm until I stop what I’m going to scratch her ears). Humans may not be as enthusiastic about having their bellies rubbed at dogs are (although maybe you’re really into belly rubs. I don’t know your life), but dogs can remind us that touch is important and that a simple hug can do a lot to make the world seem like a brighter place.
7. The best way to get to know your neighborhood is by walking through it.
It’s amazing how much better you get to know your neighborhood (and your neighbors) when you’re walking a dog through it multiple times a day. All sorts of cool things (like amazing street art in my neighborhood) reveal themselves when you take the time to get to know your area on foot.
8. It’s OK to be lazy sometimes.
We tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get things done and be productive, but watching my dog happily loll around on her back in the middle of the day, without a care in the world, is a good reminder that sometimes it’s OK — and necessary even — to just sit back and enjoy life.
9. Make your boundaries clear.
When Penny was still a little puppy, we took her to visit my parents, who also had a puppy at the time — a Golden Retriever mix who weighed about 60 pounds. Penny, who was much smaller, was at first totally freaked out by this friendly monster’s enthusiastic demands to play, but she soon became very good at defending her space and making clear to him that he couldn’t just pounce all over her. It was a good lesson for me, a reminder that I don’t have to put up with people impinging on my space or time, and that I can make my boundaries clear (both physically and socially). Dogs don't worry about awkwardness or hurting someone's feelings when they defend their personal boundaries, and neither should we.
10. Let yourself be unabashedly enthusiastic about life.
Dogs do not care about maintaining an aura of ironic coolness, and they have no conception of “detachment.” When they like something, they really like it, and when they are happy, they let the world know. And why shouldn’t we do the same?