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5 Life Lessons I Learned From My Dog

relationships Jun 19, 2019

When I was six years old, my parents agreed to dog sit for a friend's dog for the weekend. I was so excited to be in the company of this dog that I refused to leave her side. When my parents put me to bed the first night she was with us, I vividly remember sneaking downstairs to get the dog to sleep in my bed. 

...and when she refused, I did what any determined six year old would do--I got some kitchen twine from the junk drawer and tied this poor dog's front paws to the top of my bed. (Thank goodness my parents came in and discovered the torture chamber I created and rescued her!)

But, what I remember about that night is that this dog just sat there quietly, loving me unconditionally despite the obvious discomfort that I was inflicting on her. Since then, I have had the pleasure of owning five dogs. Every single one has taught me an invaluable lesson about how I wish to live my life.

Here are the top 5 most important life lessons my dogs have shown me, simply by being dogs:

1. Dogs love unconditionally. 

Dogs love you no matter what. Period.

It doesn’t matter how much money you make, how successful you are, whether you have too much of this or not enough of that. Even if you make a mistake and accidentally hurt them, they forgive you.

Why can’t we take a lesson from our dogs, and love ourselves the way our dog loves us? What if we practiced loving ourselves unconditionally without putting conditions on our self-acceptance? Can we love ourselves, despite our faults, flaws, and mistakes?

We focus too much attention on what we want to change or fix about ourselves. If we could learn to love like dogs, we would practice love (no matter what). 

2. Dog live in the present moment. 

Dogs are only concerned with what is happening to them right now.

They don’t care what happened 5 years ago, 5 weeks ago, or 5 minutes ago. On the other hand, most of us never live in the present moment. We carry around worry and shame about our past mistakes. We feel anxiety about the things that have yet to come in our future. We spend much of our emotional energy focusing on what we should have done or not done in the past, and what we should or shouldn’t do in the future.

What would our lives be like if we could practice focusing on the here and now? What if we could practice living where our lives are actually occurring rather than living in our minds (which is the only place that the past or future reside)?

3. Dogs teach us about gratitude. 

Dogs are grateful when we do the smallest of things for them. They are grateful for being fed, for going on walks, being thrown a ball in the backyard for them to chase, or even for a simple belly rub. If we are too busy to play, dogs will entertain themselves with a stick, a bone, or a squirrel.

Unlike dogs, we often forget to be grateful for the little things in our lives. In our fast-paced world, we focus on our “to do” lists. It's easy to get caught up in stress from our jobs, our children, and our relationships. If we practiced finding gratitude on a daily basis by focusing on who we are and the lives we lead, we would find the peace and contentment that we are all craving. Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to what you already have and who you already are, that is miraculous.

4. Dogs show their love every day.

Dogs are always happy to see us when we get home, no matter what. If we have left for 10 minutes, it’s as though we have been gone for 10 months. They literally stop whatever they are doing and take the time to show us that they love us for no other reason beyond that they just do!

Whether they are licking our faces with kisses or snuggling in our laps (even when they can’t fit!), dogs let us know we are loved every single day. If we took the time every day to celebrate the people that we love and to show them that we love them just because we do, what would that do to the quality of our relationships? How different would our most important relationships look like if we were finding small ways to show our love every single day?

5. Dogs teach us about letting go. 

Each of their deaths taught me is that life is short and that in letting go we find peace.

I have endured the deaths of 3 dogs in my life so far, all from sickness or old age. All three were incredibly painful. Just like needing to let go and accepting when it is time to put a pet to sleep, so too is it important to learn when to let go of that which we can’t control in our lives. Holding on to what keeps us in pain, such as regret from the past or control over the future, keeps us stuck in unhappiness. When we choose to let go, there is peace and freedom in finding acceptance of the way life is...and the way it isn’t.

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