Dogs don’t hold grudges and neither should we. Like small children, dogs may “fight” over a toy, or even a treat, but mere moments later all will be forgotten. They make up quickly. A lesson in forgiveness.
Listen to your gut. Through years of evolution, and decades of learned experiences which are somehow passed on through a shared consciousness, dogs seem to innately know what is good for them and what is not. This is not without exception – some dogs will swallow a bunch of pacifiers and require surgery (I count a client of mine on this list), others will chase cars and get hit. But the majority of dogs I see exercise caution when appropriate, and trust their intuition to guide them in interactions with their conspecifics, humans, and inanimate objects. Dogs don’t have access to libraries (and even if they did – they can’t read), or the Internet, so how do they know how to keep themselves safe and happy? They trust what we seem to have lost in today’s digital age – their guts!
Dogs live in the moment. They are almost always present. They do not rue over the past or fret about the future because they live in the now. A lesson in mindfulness.
Dogs’ emotions are pure, genuine, and unadulterated. Always. Sometimes that emotion is joy, but it can also be anger, fear or frustration. In the over-medicated world in which we live, with our “shock-and-awe” news clips and lack of interpersonal interactions, I think any emotion felt is an emotion “gained”, or rather, every emotion has value. We knew this instinctively as children, hence our proclivity towards haunted houses, Halloween and horror movies and our pre-occupation with tragic movies that make us cry, or pop songs of lost love that bring us to tears. Part of this is our empathetic nature – the desire to connect with others. But I think part of it is just in feeling genuine, raw emotion of all kinds – the good, the bad, and the ugly. We shouldn’t run from our emotions but learn from them. Dogs are continually doing this.
Sleep is very important. Dogs, on average, sleep up to 14 hours per day. And they don’t feel guilty doing it! Imagine what a kinder world we would live in if we all felt well rested.
Dogs are happiest when they have a job or purpose. For a working dog, like a Border Collie, this could be an actual job – herding sheep on a farm, for example. For my uber-domesticated Bichon Frise, her job is that of a companion and she takes her job seriously! My husband jokes that our dog’s job is to cuddle, but a lot of truth is said in jest (Bichons are classified in the AKC’s “Non Sporting Group” which always makes me chuckle). Our dog, Dingo, innately feels the need to greet and sit with humans, and not just her owners but pretty much everyone. It’s just in her nature. This is her job and purpose in life. And just as a Border Collie’s herding abilities are important to his sheep herding owner, Dingo’s capacity to give and receive love are important to my family. The takeway: figure out what is important to you, what you love to do, and do it to the best of your ability! This could be as a paid professional, a stay at home mom, a student, an athlete or all of the above. Humans and dogs can find purpose and meaning in their vocations and avocations but it is important to keep busy and keep your mind and body active!
Despite what cleverly edited TV shows and celebrity trainers may tell you, behaviors are not changed over night. To change a behavior, it must be reinforced over time. This does not happen overnight. The same is true for humans – there’s no such thing as a “quick fix”. Most shortcuts don’t work. The power of habit is profound, so make a conscious effort every day to be the person you want to be and train your dog to be the companion you want him to be. There’s no magic button for this. It’s a life-long journey.
You can teach an old dog new tricks. Older dogs can learn new behaviors but puppies have a greater capacity to learn than older dogs. Older dogs will learn slower and it will be more difficult to train an old behavior out of a dog than to reinforce a new one in a puppy. The same can be said for humans. This is why learning a language or a new instrument comes easier to children than adults.
After working with dogs for years and going to a number of seminars I now firmly believe that all dogs are born with an innate personality and there is only so much you can do to change them based on this. Not every dog will be successful in every situation despite his/her background or training. There’s a complex interplay of genetics, socialization, and training that make up a dog’s core personality. I think the same can be said for most humans. You can only change someone so much. Most people’s personalities will remain pretty much the same throughout their lifetime, barring some sort of cataclysmic event.
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return. In the past, scientists have been hesitant to state that dogs feel “love” (or what we as humans refer to as the complex emotion that is love). Many academics were loath to identify with anything that smacked of anthropomorphism as it was looked down upon in academic circles and thought to be a career breaker for animal behaviorists. But new research is emerging leading to the idea that animals, and this includes dogs, do feel “love”, provided that the word love is used very broadly. Most dog owners I know would swear that their dogs love them. And I feel the same way. In fact, I would say for most dogs, their highest priority in life, even over food or shelter, is that of love from at least one human. And as humans, isn’t that what we are all looking for – to find connection and love, be it romantic or otherwise? So maybe, dogs aren’t so different from us after all?