What My Dogs Have Taught Me About Living

A View From the Watchroom

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Barry K. Wyrick, MS, MBA

Chief Operating Officer

What My Dogs Have Taught Me About Living (3/28/14)

I have had the distinct pleasure of having been adopted by many dogs in my life.  We may think that we adopt them, but for those of you who truly understand dogs, you know that they own us far more than we own them.  I know that there are many cute lists on the internet about what dogs teach us.  I even have a t-shirt that has many of those witty sayings on it.  But I want to share my own experience about what my dogs have taught me about living.

The first lesson that I have learned from my dogs about living is humility.  I have very few memories about my first dog.  Suzie was a little mixed breed terrier that was our family’s dog when I was very young.  She lived a very humble life—her bed under the workbench in the garage, wandering the neighborhood to find what interested her, and following us kids wherever we went.  She was a little heavy (who am I to throw stones!), but she always kept up.  My favorite story about Suzie was one that my father liked to tell.  He enjoyed hunting, and especially pheasant hunting in the state game lands in Ohio where we lived.  He would tell of taking Suzie with him hunting.  And when all of the hunters were in the parking lot of the game lands getting ready for the hunt, they would be getting their registered pointers and setters out of their cars or trucks, and my father would reach in his car and take Suzie out.  When the other hunters would ask my father about what Suzie was, he would tell them that she was his hunting dog.  And then with pride my father would tell that Suzie would go on to hunt circles around all of the “hunting” dogs.  Many of us struggle with the idea of humility because we believe that in some way it lessens us.  We see so many people around us that are prideful and boastful of their abilities or accomplishments that we begin to believe that in order to have self-confidence, we must act in this way.  What Suzie taught me is that humility in no way lessens our abilities or the pride that we can take in ourselves.  I can just see her hunting, with her little fat butt wiggling as fast as it can go, and her head held high.  What I have learned is that humility is accepting our place and circumstances in the world, and then excelling in that place.  Humility contains an element of self-satisfaction and self-pride, but the personal value gained by humble achievement does not need to be broadcast to everyone who is near us.

The second lesson that I have learned from my dogs about living is showing appreciation.  I have learned this lesson from every dog that has been a member of my family.  Just think about what your dog does when you come home from being away, for whatever reason, and usually for any amount of time.  Our dogs rush to the door to greet us, they act like our coming home is the most wonderful thing in the world that has ever happened to them, and they care barely hold in their joy.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our loved ones were only half as excited when we came home?  So when your loved ones come home from being away, for whatever reason, and for any amount of time, show them how happy that you are that they have returned.  When I reach down to stroke any of my dogs’ heads, their entire body and expression changes to obvious pleasure.  While they cannot tell me how much they appreciate my affection, they show me in every way that they can.  Does our entire expression change when someone does something nice for us?  And since we are able to speak, do we tell the other how much we appreciate what they have done?  I’m not talking about when people do big things for us, I am talking about remembering to show appreciation for the simple things, like a loving touch.

The third lesson that I have learned from my dogs about living is that sometimes just being there is enough.  When I am sad or hurt, my dogs have a way of knowing that, and they just want to be near me.  When I had my knee replaced, and spent about three weeks on the couch just trying to make the pain go away, I had a constant companion.  They couldn’t make the pain go away, and they couldn’t say anything to me to try to cheer me up, but what they could do is just be there.  Sometimes our loved ones are sad or hurt, and there are no words that we can say that will make the situation better.  We are frightened in these situations because we want to be able to do something (dear God, anything!) to make it better—we want the pain or the sadness to go away.  And what we forget is that sometimes just being there is enough.

The fourth lesson that I have learned from my dogs about living is the power of pure acceptance.  My dogs love me and accept me no matter what I do.  When I am tired or grumpy, they love me.  When I am busy and don’t have time for them, they love me.  When I am upset, they love me.  No matter what I do, their love and acceptance is always pure.  I believe that the reason that most of us have dogs is that it is the only relationship that we will have in our life where there is that level of acceptance.  Sadly, most of our human relationships don’t have that level of acceptance.  Instead, we show that we love others when they do what we want them to do, and we withhold our love and acceptance when they don’t do what we want them to do.  Those conditions of acceptance at best mean that we will always be negotiating with the other for love and affection, and at worst the conditions become the terms of emotional blackmail.  Pure acceptance means that I love you, and show that I love you, even when you don’t do what I want.  I never have any doubts about my dogs’ love, appreciation, and acceptance.  Imagine what our lives would be like if we could begin to move our human relationships in that direction.

The fifth and final lesson that I have learned from my dogs about living is to experience joy.  I have an English Springer Spaniel (if you have ever owned a Springer, I don’t have to say anything else about joy).  Everything that he does, he does with joy.  He loves to chase squirrels and birds.  When he goes out the back door, he leaps and bounds across the back yard to see if there is a squirrel in the side yard.  I said he loves to chase birds, but being a Springer, he is not all too bright—so he chases their shadows on the ground.  He will stand in the shade, staring out onto the sunny ground, shaking all over and stomping his feet, waiting for a bird shadow to come by so that he can race across the yard after it (one would think that he would figure out that he never catches anything!).  He loves being sprayed with the hose, and he will leap into the air, yelping with glee, biting at the water stream.  Watching him reminds me to include the experience of pure joy in my life.  We all too often get caught up in our routines or in our difficulties, and we forget to truly experience the joys in our lives.  The best that most of us do is to experience some small level of pleasure or amusement.  We smile instead of laugh.  When was the last time that you wiggled all over about something, or yelped with glee?  All of us have things in our lives to be joyful about, but we don’t want to look childish or foolish, and we deprive ourselves of joy.  Celebrate, shout, giggle, take your happiness to an entirely new level.  Learn to experience your life through the eyes of a Springer Spaniel.

Humans have had a special relationship with dogs for our recorded history.  They have worked for us, they have protected us, and they have loved us.  They will freely give their lives to us, and give up their lives for us.  And they have much to teach us if we are willing to watch and learn.  I have been blessed with many dogs, and while the pain of losing them when they die is intense, the gifts that they bring into my life far exceed the loss.  I aspire to being able to love in the way that my dogs have loved me.  And I yearn for being able to live life as simply and fully as they do.  So my thanks go out to Suzie, Travis, BJ, Sita, Adam, Dozer, Lucas, Noah, Brandy, and Winston.  My life has been fuller because I have shared it with you.

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