For those of us who are conscious of wanting to improve, to grow and work on our personal development, finding a good mentor in life can sometimes be a challenge. Have you ever considered that you already have an excellent life coach and mentor, one who has been silently accompanying you through good times and bad? We often overlook it, but our dogs can teach us some of the most important things in life. There are lots of valuable life lessons that can be learned from a dog.
Can you imagine going through life without a single friend? Of course not. The companionship, and friendship, of a dog is easy because they are loyal, great listeners, affectionate when we need a hug, and they accept us as we are. They don’t bring us down with their complaining, or boasting, or criticism. Our dogs show absolute trust in us.
These are qualities that we sometimes struggle to demonstrate in our friendships with people, but at the same time value very much in the good friends we do have. Our dogs can teach us how easy it can be to show these qualities, and how much it means to experience them.
Dogs are non-judgemental
I’ll put my hand up and admit that this is one attribute of my personality that I’m still very much working on. I watch my dogs enjoy the company of particular people that I personally would avoid because perhaps of a certain opinion that the person holds, or because of how that person chooses to live their life.
The extent to which a dog accepts people as they are is incredible. Dogs give anyone and everyone a chance. Dogs don’t try to change us. They don’t criticise and nag at us. Whilst I know I will never reach the zen-like heights of my dogs’ ability to never judge others, they raise my bar and keep me striving towards it.
Dogs appreciate the value of touch
What pet parent hasn’t had their dog push its muzzle into their hand for some petting? This often happens when we humans are busy doing something and don’t have time to stroke our dogs. But the action of stroking our dogs is physically beneficial for us, as well as for them. Read here about how you can give your dog a simple massage.
Our dogs remind us of the value of touch and they’re not afraid to ask for it. A hug when we’re feeling down, or a pat on the back to congratulate us, a squeeze of someone’s shoulder when they’re needing a bit of reassurance… in today’s uptight world we often forget the value of these small displays of affection with our friends, family and even our partner.
Dogs don’t bear grudges
Dogs aren’t bogged down by bitterness. Their anger towards others doesn’t create an obstacle for them in achieving happiness. We might come home really grumpy from a bad day at work and allow our negativity to flow over into our other relationships. This affects those around us who had nothing to do with the reason for our bad mood. We start infecting everything in our vicinity with our negativity.
Dogs, on the other hand, always greet us with love and pleasure. They never scold us for being late, or for not having prepared dinner on time. They don’t remind us that they’re still p!ssed at us for not having done something we should have. They forgive us any amount of cross words we’ve said, and days we didn’t take them out because it was too cold or too hot, too windy or too sunny, or even, because we just didn’t want to.
Dogs don’t over-complicate things
We humans overthink, we over analyse, we complicate. Dogs don’t do any of that. They aren’t burdened by negative thoughts that occupy their minds all day and night. They take each day as it comes. Whilst they may feel anxious at times, it is a reaction to what is happening in the present moment, not because they’re freaking out about the forthcoming dinner with the in-laws or a pending business meeting.
We humans on the other hand routinely allow our thoughts – often negative – to guide our feelings, and therefore our actions.
Dogs are active
Walkies! The very word is heaven to most dogs. Dogs will naturally want to run around, play, get out. Many of us on the other hand, find the TV remote far more interesting than keeping active and fit (oops, there’s that judgemental inner-voice coming out again…)
On days when the weather’s too unpleasant even for my dogs, I’ll be pestered by them with toys until I stop work and throw squeaky balls, play chase around the lounge, or have a quick game of hide and seek. The break from my work and the physical activity will have done me the world of good and is essential for me and them.
Dogs are great communicators
Dogs are direct. When your dog wants something, you know it. A toy in your lap, “I want to play”; a bark at the door ,”I want to go out’; a cold, wet nose shoved under your hand, “I want some affection”. Ironically, despite all the words we humans have to express our needs and desires, we frequently don’t express them. Inevitably, that leads to resentment, expectation and disappointment.
We expect others to somehow telepathically know what we want, and when they don’t give it to us, we sulk. We perceive the fault as lying with the ‘other’, the giver, rather than with us, the receiver. If we learned to be more direct, as our dogs are, and just say what it is we need, we could avoid many misunderstandings and arguments.
Our dogs are so patient with us. We make mistakes and get things wrong all the time, yet we constantly chide them for their unwanted behaviour. Our dogs accept all of this, without pointing out our errors, without telling us off for our shortcomings. They always have time for us.
My beautiful dober-son is 12 now. For a dog, and a large breed dog, 12 is quite old. Gone are his days of sprinting across a field. He’ll trot, yes, but most of our walks are taken at a slow pace, allowing him to take pleasure in sniffing every post, investigating every patch of grass.
He’s taught me to be more patient, and how this kindness is so fundamentally important in our treatment of others. Life is short, and I need to savour each moment with him, not rush through it, too busy thinking about what’s next. Without patience, we are in danger of missing what’s happening right now.
The phrase “like a dog with a bone” encapsulates perfectly the persistence of a dog. Ever watched a dog try to get its own way? How many rainy days have you spent with your dog continuously dropping its toy in your lap to persuade you to play? Eventually persistence wins the day. You stop working and throw the toy.
We humans give up much easier than that. At the first sight of an obstacle or complication, we throw in the towel. Our dogs show us that with persistence, anything is possible.
Personal development: how your dog makes you better
Improving any of these aspects of human nature in ourselves makes us better people. I love how this final point was made in the delightful poem, below.
From time to time, people tell me, “lighten up, it’s just a dog,”
or “that’s a lot of money for just a dog.”
They don’t understand the distance travelled, the time spent,
or the costs involved for “just a dog.”
Some of my proudest moments have come about with “just a dog.”
Many hours have passed and my only company was “just a dog,”
but I did not once feel slighted.
Some of my saddest moments have been brought about by
“just a dog,” and in those days of darkness, the gentle touch
of “just a dog” gave me comfort and reason to overcome the day.
If you, too, think it’s “just a dog,” then you probably understand
phrases like “just a friend,” “just a sunrise,” or “just a promise.”
“Just a dog” brings into my life the very essence of friendship,
trust, and pure unbridled joy.
“Just a dog” brings out the compassion and patience
that make me a better person.
Because of “just a dog” I will rise early, take long walks and look
longingly to the future.
So for me and folks like me, it’s not “just a dog”
but an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future,
the fond memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment.
“Just a dog” brings out what’s good in me and diverts my thoughts
away from myself and the worries of the day.
I hope that someday they can understand that its’ not “just a dog”
but the thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being
“just a man” or “just a woman.”
So the next time you hear the phrase “just a dog,”
just smile, because they “just don’t understand.”
The above poem was read by the charming vet, Noel Fitzpatrick, you can watch him read it on the video below: