Life Lessons From the Dog

Annabelle at 4 months. Photo by Suzanne Whitfield Vince.
Annabelle at 4 months. Photo by Suzanne Whitfield Vince.

Five years ago our lives changed forever when my husband and I brought home Annabelle Hope, a sweet and shy three pound Maltese puppy.

Max at 3 months. Photo by Suzanne Whitfield Vince.
Max at 3 months. Photo by Suzanne Whitfield Vince.

And even more so when, a year later, we brought home Maximillian James, a spunky little Maltese puppy who seems to have no choice but to live his life out loud.

In these past five years we’ve lost a lot of sleep, a few pairs of shoes, a few couch cushions and our patience more than a few times. But what we have gained is a life filled with more love than we ever could’ve imagined.

We have taught them many things, as good pet parents do, and in turn they have taught us a few lessons about how to live our lives. I wanted to share a few with you:

Live in the moment

Have you ever noticed how, 4 seconds after you’ve yelled at your dog for chewing up your brand new pair of sneakers, he is wagging his tail, ready to play? Or how there is no recognition in his eyes when you come home from work and find the poop he left on the carpet that morning? That’s because dogs live in the moment. They don’t remember what they did five minutes ago, much less twelve hours earlier.

This is a rather convenient excuse if you ask me, but then again, don’t you wish that when your boss chews you out for something you did yesterday you could just wag your tail and feign innocence?

Have patience

I thought I was a patient person before I got dogs. I was wrong. I’ve learned that punishing them, or even raising my voice to them, only instills fear and anxiety in them and it does not correct their behavior. Only positive reinforcement of good behavior seems to do that.

Mom's first day back to work. Photo by Suzanne Whitfield Vince.
Mom’s first day back to work. Photo by Suzanne Whitfield Vince.

And so when I came home to find that Annabelle had discovered toilet paper, or when Max discovered newspapers and magazines, or the time when I left the gate to their pen open and he destroyed an expensive pair of sun glasses, all I could do was laugh (after I silently absorbed the shock and went thru the rage in my mind).

It’s not that hard to do (laughing I mean) when you have a dog like Max who, while I’m taking deep breaths and coming to grips with what happened, is standing nearby (just out of reach) wagging his entire body, showing you how proud he is of his own handywork (while his sister is across the room giving him her best “oh brother, you are in BIG trouble now!” look).

And so when Max stands with all fours on top of the potty pad and pees off the pad, or poops in a 360 degree circle and most of his poop hits the floor, all I can do is laugh. And then clean it up. Yes, they have definitely taught me about patience.

Dogs really can talk if you are just willing to listen

The other day we went for our morning walk and there was an old Asian man standing on the corner resting while on his own morning walk. As we approached the man, my little boy Max turned and looked at me, then turned to the man and gave him his best grrrr and then a ferocious, supersonic bark (which, in reality, sounded like a screeching monkey) which, when translated into English meant “one false move, buddy, and I’ll take you out.”

There is beauty in the simple things in life

Max removing mommy's running sock. Photo by Suzanne Whitfield Vince.
Max removing mommy’s running sock. Photo by Suzanne Whitfield Vince.

Dog’s worlds are so simplistic, and yet they manage to find joy in the smallest of things. Take Max, for example. He has toys all over the house, but his very favorite thing in the world is a sock. He doesn’t chew them (although he will chew anything else in the house, including the furniture, if left to his own devices).  The fun is in the acquisition of them. He’ll even pull them right off my feet.

One of my favorite things in the world to do is to watch my dogs when they are just being dogs. When they are chewing their favorite bones, rolling in the grass, even sleeping. Unlike the service dog I had in Oregon, for which you can learn how to get an emotional support animal registration in Oregon by clicking the link, who was always on high alert. The joy I feel when I am in the moment just watching them is beyond compare. They have made me realize that the simplest things make up the greatest joy in life.

Man did not invent email

Dogs did, only they call it pee mail. We just stole the idea and shorted the name of it. My dogs get beyond excited when it’s time to go for a walk because they get to send and receive their daily pee mail. They have about 11 places they stop at routinely to first sniff (receive) and then pee (send) their pee mails. And every day they seem to make new pee mail friends, sniffing out new spots and leaving messages for their new friends.

We really can learn a lot about ourselves from our canine friends. They love us so unconditionally, and they deserve that from us in return. If you’ve never known the love of a dog, you’re missing out on one of God’s greatest gifts. I just wish I hadn’t waited 47 years to find that out, but as they say, better late than never.

What about you? What lessons has your dog taught you? I want to know!

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Coming Friday: But Daddy, I NEED a Kitty!


19 comments on… “Life Lessons From the Dog”

  1. Mattie has taught me to meditate! When we to agility, or anything for that matter, she is highly acute about picking up my signals. I have to meditate to learn to truly let go of my anxiety, my fear, my competitiveness… Any left in in me..she will pick it up.
    I have to quite meditate often, she knows when I’m faking!

    Shasta? Shasta has taught me true loyalty. He’s laid down his life literally (protecting us from the pit bulls) and hurt himself in the process. When I was sick, he would be beside me every minute. He would lie so close, it was like he was trying to be inside me, trying to take away all the pain.
    If Mattie made a “puppy” mistake, Shasta would get between her and I As if to say “come on mom, shes little, I will be the bad guy”
    Jeff and I in an argument? Shasta’s right in between, head on my lap, gazing up as if to message, “mom this is no fun I don’t like you being sad, pet me and you can feel better!”
    Lastly, They have taught me to get off the computer. This, often by force! As I write now, Mattie is standing next to me, pawing at my arm. “Mom lets go outside and have some fun”. If I don’t go, soon she will be on my lap, straddling iPad. So I’d better go now.

    • Aren’t they just the best? It’ll be interesting to see how Max (my sensitive one) responds when mommy comes home from the hospital.

  2. Melissa Lewicki

    We were blessed with two amazing dogs. Chewie was smart, smart, smart and understood English perfectly. Schnookums did not have the brains God gave a rock. He just followed and did whatever Chewie did. One afternoon they had been in the front yard with my husband. I called them in, but only Chewie came. He was the one who could understand English. I told him to go back out there and get Schnookums and both of them had to come in. So, he did.

  3. Oh goodness, the patience I’ve learned from having more than one puppy. I think that’s why human babies teethe (sp?) before they can move around too much. If they were able to crawl and run they’d undoubtedly chew the furniture, books, shoes, too.

    And I’m with you on just getting enjoyment from watching them be dogs. My dog does some silly things that must bring him all kinds of happiness because he does them all the time. Like laying spread eagle with his tongue lolling out. That’s his favorite position and it always makes me laugh because he looks so ridiculous.

    Thanks for the fun post and good life lesson.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  4. Great post 🙂 I think more than anything I’ve learned about unconditional love. There has only been 3 years in my life when I didn’t have a dog, and that was when we lost our Labrador to a stroke and my husband just couldn’t cope with the thought of replacing her, or losing another dog. Of course we outlive them, nothing will change that. It took me a while to persuade him that the pain of loss is more than made up for by that love.

    • You’re so right, Kim. Nobody, no human being anyway, loves us more unconditionally than our dogs. Mothers (at least mine) may be the exception.

  5. I love my dog Dolce and what she taught me is how little you need to be happy If at the end of the day you have a warm bed, a full stomach and someone to love you, you done good.

  6. We don’t have a dog and it is just about killing me. When we moved from Dallas, Texas and high powered jobs that required near constant travel to this gorgeous land in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, we were intent on getting a dog — for companionship and to herd the deer away from our shrubbery. Then we learned how wonderful it is to have the wildlife up close and personal sharing our space and decided not to introduce a dog or a cat into the picture. The deer are the bane of our existence, but with tall fences we protect the things that are most important. Still…I want a dog!

    • I feel your pain, CC. You’d have to have a very well trained dog (or leash them when they’re outside). Nice to see you back at it. Hope the shoulder is better than new!

  7. I’m so going to try wagging my tail and feigning innocence at my boss….

    And you trained TWO maltese? Oh, honey. You deserve an award. LOL

    • Ha ha ha! My dogs are the WORST trained dogs in the world! They’ve been do the doggy obedience classes but they obviously didn’t learn a thing! Let me know how wagging the tail at the boss works out for you. 🙂

  8. My cats have taught me that the best thing to do for a bad mood is to take a nap in the sun. Although I wear sunscreen and they just bake until their brains melt!

  9. We have two five month old labs. I can relate with all of this. Our two adorable puppies test my patience every day but I look forward to coming home from work and giving them a hug. After a stressful day, they are great at cheering me up. Although they drive me nuts at times, I wouldn’t give them up for anything. Now remind me of that last statement when they destroy something in the house or pee on the floor again.

    • Puppies are a true test to our patience, indeed! But they’re worth it. Eventually (like when they’re 4 or 5) they’ll mellow out. Labs, not so sure, might be more like 7 or 11 years 🙂

  10. Linda Harrel

    Hmm, wagging the tail, and looking innocent, I am taking notes Suzanne! LOL!!

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