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“All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For after all, he was only human. He wasn’t a dog.” ~ Charles M. Schulz
I love dogs, I really do, but it has been nine years since I had one.
I was not looking to add a dog to my life any time soon. But instead when an abandoned one-year-old French bulldog needed a home, I rose to the challenge.
A friend of mine found him while on vacation. She decided he needed me and I needed him. She called to tell me she was bringing him home to me. The tasks ahead for me were clear: there were immediate changes to make, lessons to learn, and my heart to heal.
My last dog—the yin to my yang—died nine years ago, and not long after a drawn-out breakup with my partner. My dog and I bonded deeper than most people, let alone pet and owner. Having been rescued from an abusive home and then a neglectful one, he was understandably cautious at first. Over time, he learned to trust me. He taught me to trust at the same time. We were two peas in a pod.
Even with our strong connection, he missed my ex-partner. He was bonded to our family and I am sure that he felt the breakup just as hard as I did. I left the country for a week. While I was away he went back to stay with my ex and our other pets. When I returned, I took him away again to our new home.
He died three days later.
I was filled with guilt for splitting up our family and causing him such grief. My guilt deepened when I felt life was simpler without him, as he was an older dog with some health issues. That guilt, coupled with the immense sense of grief, still lingers in me today, but I will always miss him.
With my new little one, I found that puppy play and the constant shenanigans eased the pockets of hurt that remained in my heart from grieving for my last dog. He has taught me that “simpler does not always mean better,” and that “learning is a continual process.”
Here are five life lessons my rescue puppy taught me about how to be a better human:
1. Fights happen, but we can still be friends.
This dog loves dogs. It is fair to say he is obsessed with them. Like many humans, myself included, I don’t think he was socialized properly; he tends to match whatever energy the other dog brings. This is fine, until he takes that energy to the next dog. When he has just been playing with a rowdy dog, a fight will usually breakout with the mellow dog he is now trying to befriend.
Every time, and without fail, all that is needed is a little space. A quick loop around the dog park and everyone can be friends again.
As humans, we don’t always have, or want, someone to put a leash on us and force us to take space, but we do have free will. Through watching and disciplining my dog, I can transfer this lesson into my own behavior.
Too often I am in the heat of a disagreement and want to keep going by forcing my point to be heard, but that is never effective. It’s in the space that I can see ways I am not communicating clearly, I’ve learnt to allow my listener space to understand me, and work out where we have missed each other, or to simply ask some questions.
We can clash with people in our lives, but there is no reason a dispute, no matter how great, should be the end of a friendship.
2. Let go of fear.
I get attached to things. But I’ve learned that practicing nonattachment with my dog is a must. He breaks things, disrupts plans, and gets fur all over my outfits.
And the toughest lesson my dog is teaching me is that he gets hurt. I am learning that I must let go of my attachment to the belief that I can keep him safe. He shines a light on all the things in my life that are uncertain—which is almost everything. It is by far the most difficult lesson, but each day I am trying to let go of this fear—a little bit at a time.
3. It’s always a good time to play.
I’ve heard French bulldogs are loungers; I, usually, am not. I feared this would be a problem, but my little dog is about as playful and spunky as they come. After hiking a mountain and swimming in a river, he may fall asleep in the car, but if I present him with a ball, he is ready and awake.
He reminds me of my younger self. I was always up for something fun. As I’ve gotten older, it’s hard to say whether my energy has dwindled, or my desire to use my energy has decreased. With a dog in the house who constantly wants to play—especially play with me—I realize my energy is still alive and well, just neglected.
4. Get more sleep.
Many of us do not get enough sleep and I am no exception. But my dog wants to take naps and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Even if he seems to be asleep, if I stay up he will be groggy the next day. More than once, his tiredness has thankfully sent me to bed earlier than I would have gone.
5. Being afraid of your reflection is silly, and incredibly funny.
I may not actually be afraid of my reflection, but watching my dog act tough, while also being afraid of his shadow and reflection is hilarious. It reminds me of all the times I act tough when I’m afraid.
When I put down my guard, and look at what I am afraid of, mostly I will see it’s nothing. It’s me. I am afraid of my own judgment or expectations and not my own shadow.
These lessons haven’t come easy and I am a long way from mastering them. But I’ve only had this little guy a few months and I’ve already learnt so much about being a better human. I am looking out for more lessons as we grow and play together. We have a long journey together ahead of us.