Our partnership with dogs dates back thousands of years. Dogs have protected and herded our sheep and cattle. They have defended our homesteads while protecting our children from danger. They have provided companionship on lonely journeys, comforting us in the face of adversity and loss.
Most dogs today are pets, but many provide us with precious services ranging from search and rescue to aiding the physically and mentally impaired. Some ferret out drugs and explosives while others guard our livestock from predators. Then there are those athletic dogs that engage in sports and games with their owners. Others visit hospitals bringing cheer and warmth to patients both young and old.
Our four-legged friends have a knack for winding their way deeply into our hearts. Most of us think of them as family members. Some call them ‘fur kids’. They’ve even been called man’s best friend. Recently, I heard of a little experiment you can try yourself to determine if that’s really true. The idea is to lock up your spouse and your dog in the garage for five hours. When you come back and open the door, the one that happily comes running to you with its tail waging is your best friend. Seriously, I don’t recommend you try this experiment!
Dogs were not always domesticated. It took centuries of work between humans and dogs to work things out. To do so, both species had to make compromises though I am sure that dogs made far more than we have. If they misbehaved, they were ill-treated, beaten or not fed. If they came to us seeking affection when we were in a foul mood, they were ignored or yelled at and told to go away. Despite the inconsistency of our affection and care for them, they always came back, usually wagging their tails.
Having taken the teacher’s role, we have trained them to do what we needed, but we also had to learn much about them. Yet I often wonder which species is the better student? Dogs are keenly aware of our every move. They read our body language and their amazing sense of smell enables them to detect when we are afraid, sad, sick or depressed.
We on the other hand are not so observant. We plow through our busy lives often unaware of the plights of others around us, much less our dogs. Many a dog has been sick for months unbeknownst to its owners, simply for lack of paying attention to them.
We can learn so much from these amazing creatures. Here are four lessons I have been taught, over and over again:
It doesn’t matter what kind of mood you are in, your dog will still love you. Some dogs hang right in there with you when you are upset or angry while others will give you lots of space but will come to check in on you from time to time. When you call their names, they come running, tails wagging with joy and excitement. You can read volumes in their affectionate, smiling and loving eyes. If you can’t, you’re not paying attention. They will snuggle up with you or offer you a paw, sometimes beckoning you to play. They just love you purely and simply, without conditions.
Dogs don’t judge people by color, creed or the size of their bank accounts. They do not discriminate between young and old, healthy or sick, beautiful or disfigured. What you are wearing or if you showered recently are of no importance to them. Idiosyncrasies, learning disabilities, out-of-tune singing or bad breath, none of that matters to them. They accept you just the way you are.
If you have ever stepped on a dog’s paw or tail, you may have heard a loud yelp. As you say sorry, the dog will look up at you with eyes full of love and forgiveness and tail wagging. When we yell at dogs or forget to feed them, they forgive us. They never hold a grudge. They come to us as always, their beautiful eyes telling us, “It’s ok, I forgive you and will always love you.”
Dogs live in the now. They don’t plan ahead or think back. Unlike most of us, they don’t live their lives wishing they had this or that. The disappointments of the past do not factor into their thinking. They are present in the moment. I believe this at least partially explains how they can love, accept and forgive with such apparent ease. My daughter thinks they are angels. She may be right! I think it also explains why they are full of joy and always ready for adventure.
Countless books have been written on love, acceptance, forgiveness and living in the moment. I don’t believe that any dog has ever read one of these books, yet they are living examples of each of these traits. The grace with which they lead their lives is a model for us to learn from, if we choose to pay attention.
I highly recommend a wonderful book written by Kate Solisti-Mattelon called Conversations with Dog: An Uncommon Dogalog of Canine Wisdom. I purchased it shortly before our Black Labrador Retriever Pharaoh passed away last year. I learned a great deal from Pharaoh and I still miss him. However, there is a new angel in our home: Jazz, our new Chocolate Labrador Retriever is teaching me many new lessons and nudging me right this very second for some playtime.
So off I go to have some fun! If you own a dog, I encourage you to do the same. After all, as all of our canine friends know so well, there’s no time like the present.
Cuddles © Robin Namur
All other pictures © Gil Namur
Originally posted at synaptici May 17, 2009
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