10 Essential Life Lessons from Dogs
As dog owners, we spend a lot of time teaching our pups. From crate training to leash etiquette, from basic commands to proper socialization, we teach our dogs to behave and adhere to our expectations. It’s easy to think of dogs as our students, but our canine companions are also our teachers.
Dogs have an endearing, honest way of reminding us what really matters in life. They help us lighten up and remember what our priorities should be. As a dog owner, I have witnessed firsthand how dogs can help people be happier and healthier. My dog continues to remind me of these important lessons on a daily basis:
Find joy in the little things.
I wish I had a tenth of the level of enthusiasm for anything as my dog shows for seeing a butterfly, getting a new toy, or going for a walk. He physically cannot contain his excitement for even the simplest of experiences – and it’s truly refreshing. Whenever I am preoccupied, my dog has a way of showing me all the small joys in life that I sometimes fail to appreciate.
A dog’s love is unconditional. As much as I try to spoil my dog and go above and beyond as a pet owner, there are times when I feel like I let him down. Sometimes I travel and can’t take him with me, sometimes I get stuck in traffic and can’t get home as soon as I would like, and sometimes I can’t play with him immediately because I have other “human” obligations in that moment. He never holds a grudge, and he always greets me with a wagging tail when I come home.
Begin each day with excitement.
My morning typically doesn’t begin with an alarm clock, but rather with a scratch on my bedroom door. If I listen closely, I can hear my dog’s tail brushing against the floor in anticipation of the door opening. As I open the door, my dog’s tail wagging has already escalated to full-body wriggling and jumping to greet me. As easy as it is to get caught up in a routine, my dog reminds me that each day is full of exciting possibilities. With that kind of introduction, it’s hard to have a bad day.
Be patient, even when it’s difficult.
My dog is about a year-and-a-half now, so he is progressing out of the puppy phase. Although he has matured a great deal since I brought him home, he can still be mischievous at times. I’ve learned to laugh at my chewed-up coffee table, even though I was pretty upset when I first discovered it! Raising a puppy is a rewarding experience because of its joys and its challenges. My dog has helped me become more patient with progress and more understanding of mistakes.
Spend more time outside.
With the typical workday structure and dependence on technology, it’s easy to fall into a sedentary, indoor lifestyle. Having a dog causes me to spend more time outdoors, and I’m a healthier person because of it. I get more exercise than I would otherwise, and I spend more of my time appreciating nature. A walk in the woods can do wonders for your mental health and general well-being. Dogs really are onto something there.
Get to know your neighbors.
My dog has never met a stranger, and he usually takes it upon himself to introduce us to whoever crosses our path! I’ve met so many new people because of my dog, and I’ve felt more at home in my community as a result.
Consider what you can do for others.
It’s truly humbling to care for a companion who relies on you for everything. My dog depends on me to feed him the right food, to let him outside, to make sure he gets exercise, to take him to the vet when he’s sick, and to provide a comfortable place for him to live. He will always need me, and this need has made me more mindful of what I can do to serve others. Every day, I am reminded that it’s not all about me.
Cherish your friendships.
Dogs are called man’s best friend for a reason. They will remain by your side no matter what life brings. Even if they do not quite understand what’s bothering you, they can sense your disposition and will always be there to comfort you. Having a dog has helped me become a better friend to my loved ones, as I’ve realized how much can go unsaid between two friends. Just being there for one another is what matters.
Be present in the moment.
Whenever I’m looking at my phone for too long, my dog will bark at me! I used to discourage this behavior, but I’ve realized that he’s right. We all are guilty of spending too much time dwelling on the past or planning the future when we should be enjoying the present. My dog reminds me to unplug and enjoy the moment with him.
Remember that life is short.
All of these lessons ultimately stem from one overarching lesson from dogs – the most important and poignant one of all. Dogs remind us that life is short. They are on this earth for less time than us, but they arguably do more living than us. They encourage us to be empathetic and compassionate, to appreciate what we have and where we are, and to pursue joy whenever possible. Isn’t that what life is really all about?