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Life Lessons I Learnt from My Dog

Truly, we can learn a lot from our furry friends. In some cases, dogs even have higher standards than men when it comes to loving unconditionally and living life to the fullest. We should be so lucky to have dogs in our lives, says Smridhi Sukhija.

Growing up, my family never had any dogs. But we always had cats coming over and staying with us as long as they wanted. Those were strays who let us pet and play with them. Some even let us give them the occasional bath! They would mind their own business and were instinctual predators with squirrels and pigeons being natural prey for them. My mother said she didn’t want to end up looking after another kid – we were four siblings – because none of us would take the responsibility of taking the dog on his daily walks, giving him baths and a whole lot of other things. It wasn’t until I was an adult and my husband and I got our very own dog, or we were forced to, that the lessons really piled in. In 2020, we shifted to Goa as we worked from home and liked the place so much that we promptly bought a house. One day as I walked to our gate to get some fresh pao from the poder, or the traditional bread maker, who comes on his cycle daily, he wasn’t alone. He was smiling and had a small, white and grey puppy on a leash. Before I could rebuke him for carrying such a small puppy along on his daily deliveries, he told me he found the pupper tied to a pole outside our house! So, someone had abandoned the poor puppy. One close look at his bright eyes, white face, and all-around striking appearance and I was instantly smitten. I didn’t have the heart to tell the poder to take him away. I took the pupper inside and my husband, who knows more about dogs than me, jumped out of his chair, but even he couldn’t stop commenting on the gorgeous furball. But it was a husky for sure, and one of his friends who’s also a husky parent, once told him not everyone is up to the task of husky parenting! They shed constantly, pretty much all year long and require more exercise and attention than some breeds. But both of us didn’t have the heart to let him go and decided to foster him till such time that someone came along and provided him with a forever home. He is three now and I must say, I’m privileged to be the owner of a beautiful husky that fills my life with joy every day. Not only do I appreciate the companionship, he also frequently amazes me with his mindset and behaviour. We have accepted fur as part of our home decor – a little fur on the furniture is an awfully small price to pay for the honour of sharing your home with such an incredible animal. The only problem, actually there are many, is that he’s an escape artist. We have a large yard surrounded by a tall fence reinforced from every angle that would be super-secure for just about any other dog on earth, but he’s so talented, determined, and intelligent that he finds a weak point and makes a run for it. Giving your husky plenty of daily exercise and mental stimulation can help curb this urge a bit, but it’s still crucial to keep an eye on whatever containment system you’ve built. Just make sure your pup’s ID tags and microchip info is up to to date, just in case he sneaks away. As for things I have learnt being a dog parent, it’s true that you pick up plenty of insights about life when you’re in the company of dogs. They make great teachers of love, gratitude, compassion and living in the moment. Beyond the many benefits of having a pet, these domesticated animals also exemplify a certain wisdom that we mere humans might do well to take notice of. Here are some life lessons that the fluffy creature sleeping on our couch has taught me:

Dogs value routines

Lazy days of lounging on the bed or sleeping in are long gone if you’re a dog owner. You have to stay on track of routines when you have a dog. If your pet is used to morning walks, you need to forget about hitting the snooze button even if it’s a Sunday. He’ll appear restless if it’s time for dinner and you haven’t started preparing his meal. Dogs teach you to stick to a routine, which really helps when you always have a packed schedule.

Live in the Moment

Animals practised mindfulness long before it became popular in the human sector. Though they certainly experience fear and trepidation at times, any anxiety is based on the circumstances in the moment. Rowdy rarely thinks or worries about the future. He tends to trust that his needs will be provided for on an ongoing basis. While not preparing for the future is not as practical for people, living in the moment is a helpful practice. Worrying about the future is not productive and undermines the present moment. As Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Be like your pets and enjoy the moment, you can deal with tomorrow . . . tomorrow!

Dogs are always upfront

It’s amazing how these four-legged furry creatures can be so direct about their feelings when they cannot communicate using words. Dogs will always let you know what they want. They won’t hint at it and they’re never subtle about it. However, they also won’t shut you out or mope around the house if you fail to read their cues. Dogs teach us that it helps to be direct and truly say what you want to say, where it matters most.

Place your trust wisely

I’ve always been a somewhat naive person when it comes to trusting everyone and believing that most people are good. While I do appreciate my positive outlook, it’s also something that’s led to being walked over. Something my dog has taught me is that it’s okay to question people as you meet them. It’s okay to sniff them out (obviously not literally as a human #awkward) and garner trust before putting effort into that relationship. As a 30-something, I value really getting to know people before letting them into my life, and that a smaller group of friends is a lot better than playing with everyone on the beach.

Follow Your Instincts

Dogs don’t have the advantage of higher education. Other than a few house rules they may have learned, animals must rely on their own instincts to survive. It’s true that they may not always make the best decisions, but they are following their own intuition and behaving naturally. While logic, research, and examination are all factors in making good decisions, experts say that acting on your instincts can also be very effective. You may not even be aware of the learned insights you have within your subconscious that influence your decisions. So don’t be too quick to disregard your initial reaction to a given situation.

The outdoors is your friend

If he is cooped up for a couple days in a row, especially during monsoons when it rains continuously for days in Goa, he starts to go a liiiiiitle nuts. And I, being a natural homebody who also happens to work from home, can get in the hermit habit if I’m not conscious about it. Rowdy has taught me that it’s crucial to get outside, soak up Vitamin D, and that the natural mood boost that comes with nature isn’t something you can get from the indoors — even if you’re working out. Thanks to Rowdy, we’re exploring a new hike almost weekly and taking quick walks around the neighbourhood most evenings.

Listen More

It’s easy to talk to Rowdy as he usually looks you in the eyes and rarely interrupts — and he never looks down at his phone in the middle of a conversation. While it can be so tempting to jump in with opinions or to be thinking of what you’ll say next, active listening is more effective. The next time you’re in a conversation with a friend or family member, picture your beloved dog and emulate his listening habits. Take note of what your fellow human is saying, but also watch his body language for clues on how he feels about the topic. Dogs pick up on subtle changes in the way we speak by paying close attention. And dogs don’t judge, offer unsolicited advice, or interrupt. They simply listen for as long as the person wants to talk. How might your relationships be improved if you did the same?

Forgiveness is key

If Rowdy gets in trouble for tearing up a book, he gets scolded, sulks in his bed for about five minutes, and then is in my face giving kisses saying he’s sorry. Instead of harbouring resentment or negativity — whether to my husband for not watering the plants or a friend for forgetting to call me — it’s much easier to pick your battles when it comes to forgiveness and letting things slide.

It’s going to be okay

Obviously, dogs don’t have to deal with the stress of paying EMIs, not getting enough sleep, or the commitments that bog us down. But they’re definitely there to remind us that everything will be fine — even through the really stressful, busy times. Rowdy doesn’t care if the dinner in his bowl isn’t gourmet or if the house is messy, or if we didn’t go to every backyard BBQ that week. He’s a great reminder that things will be fine, and that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be happy.

Pay attention to those you love

Half a decade in and married, my husband’s lucky if he gets a “hey babe” from me. Which is awful! Rowdy, on the other hand, is elated every time someone walks through that gate. He drops everything (even a really important squirrel chase) and runs to that person. He gives that person his undivided attention for probably more time than they’d like, but the attention is what’s important. In a time when we’re all glued to our phones or work, I love how he’s reminded me to get up from my desk to hug my husband after our work days, and to take time to chat about our day after that.