August 17, 2023

3 Lessons in Being Human from the Dogs Next Door.

Our next-door neighbors let themselves into our house about two weeks after we moved in.

My husband was reaching for broccoli to make with dinner in our French door style refrigerator.

The large gray door had swung wide open completely blocking his peripheral vision. While he was distracted, they quietly walked across the back deck and into our kitchen through the open sliding door.

During this home invasion, I was upstairs changing out of my work clothes. I wanted to get comfortable, so I pulled on my black, long-sleeve City and Colour concert T-shirt and a pair of white sweatpants.

“Erika!” My husband shouted, his voice echoing loudly against the high ceilings in the entry way.

I found myself half jogging down the wooden stair case leading to the first floor, a sense of worry rising in my belly that something was wrong.

As if out of thin air, a big, shiny coated black lab appeared from around the corner. His smile was wide and enthusiastic with his pink tongue falling to one side of his mouth. Wagging his sable tail so fast it was a blur behind him, he trotted over to me. He acted like I had always lived there, and he was simply here for a regular Friday visit.

“There’s another one!” My husband said in disbelief before breaking out in laughter.

As I took steps over oak floor boards toward the kitchen, my new canine friend stayed by my side.

Ahead of me stood a beefy, white lab soaking up attention from my husband. Fluffy white fur clouds filled the air around them as he ran his hands across the dog’s back.

They didn’t overstay their welcome, but before heading back to their house, they pressed their warm dogs body in a c-curve around each of us in a hug, leaving us excitedly awaiting their next visit.

This is the story of how we met our next-door neighbors.

As we’ve come to know them over the past year, Demon, the young, energetic black lab, and Chappy, the older, refined white lab have taught us quite a bit.

Three lessons in being a good human have stood out the most:

1. Any skill can be mastered if you practice (even if you lack opposable thumbs).

Demon demonstrated a new skill for me just last week.

Through the small kitchen window, I spied his familiar black shadow waiting on the back deck as I rinsed a dish in the sink. I still had the gray kitchen towel in my semi-wet hands when I arrived at the glass slider.

Demon’s tank head was pressed up against the handle on the opposite side. Using his nose, he gave the handle a nudge. The door slid to the open position about a half inch. He then picked up his heavy, raven colored paw to swipe at the long, silver part of the door handle. The glass separating us beginning to disappear was all the motivation he needed to continue. Demon proceeded to alternate paw, nose, paw, nose until he fit his head through, then with one fell swoop he entered the kitchen.

I would imagine it has taken time and ingenuity on his behalf to master this technique of door opening.

When we start to learn something new it can be frustrating. Maybe we just need to do it our own way? Or perhaps it’s all about the amount of time we spend understanding the task at hand? Either way, this lesson is clear: if at first you don’t succeed try, try, try again.

2. Being a good friend can be as simple as saying hello in the middle of the day.

I’ve never needed to have long conversations with Demon and Chappy to know that they care about me.

When they make their way across the green grass of our adjoining backyards to say “hello” it warms my heart. As busy dogs with a family to look after, they could have spent those five minutes of freedom chasing a rabbit, or playing with their favorite basketball (yes, that is Demon’s preferred ball of choice). Instead, they elected to come over and spend time with me.

Work obligations, parenting children, or caring for an older relative can make our calendars a messy juggling act. Though we may not always have time to meet our friends to catch up over a leisurely cup of coffee, asking “How is your day?” in a text, or a quick phone call to let them know you’re thinking about them goes a long way in showing you care.

3. Patience is the key to achieving any goal.

Chappy with his warm, milk-chocolate-colored eyes and laid back style has learned in his dog years the importance of this trait.

One warm summer night, my husband finished grilling salmon. He left it on a black plate atop the metal surround to the grill. The plate barely touched the counter before Demon hopped up with both paws. We quickly shooed Demon away, and he conceded, putting all four paws on the gray deck.

Chappy appeared completely disinterested in the fish. He waited until we were distracted in conversation with their dog dad and my son. Slowly, Chappy inched his way closer to the grill. He put one snow colored paw, then the other on the silver counter, tilting his head to the side so he had maximum jaw width; he successfully scored a small corner of salmon.

Sometimes we must wait for the proper opportunity to present itself to achieve our goal; this requires patience. If we act impulsively, we run the risk of being deterred, much like Demon in his gallant attempt, but if we keep our composure like Chappy, success is surely ours!

Whether it’s learning a new skill, taking steps to achieve a goal, or being a better friend to others, there’s a lot we can learn from dogs. Being a bit more dog-like in our approach to the world can give us a fresh, and surprisingly, human perspective.

“In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.” ~ Edward Hoagland

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