Life Lessons from Watching Dogs
Yesterday was my birthday, and I like to reflect on what I’ve learned every year on the day of my birth. It just so happens that I’m watching a friend’s dog this week and I’ve learned so many lessons from dogsitting. Here are a few life lessons I’ve learned from watching dogs.
1. Exercise Keeps You Sane
My friends once hired a bad dog sitter. They put an Air tag on their dog and realized that the dog never left the apartment the entire week. Because their dog never got any exercise, and maybe didn’t even leave the crate, when the dog got home, he tore the place up.
Part of the reason I watch dogs is to make sure I walk more. What I’ve heard from dog owners after I’ve watched their dogs, is that the dogs return to them calm. In contrast, after their dogs come back from the kennel, they are anxious and out of control, like my friends’ dog.
When I think of all the people who have been cooped up the past year, I think of how anxious they must be too. I hope we’ve learned that getting outside and doing some good of exercise, is necessary not only for our bodies but also for our minds.
2. Take Care of Yourself Like You Would Your Dog
My friend got a dog recently and it was recommended that the dog walk 30 minutes a day. I thought, wow, that’s a lot of walking. But then I realized that humans are also recommended to walk 30 minutes a day.
It’s not surprising to me that one of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is treating yourself like someone you’re taking care of – like a dog. We are diligent when we think someone else needs us, but we don’t take care of ourselves. Advice that sounds crazy to us sounds less crazy when we take on a caregiving role. And it seems less selfish. Often we will do more for others than we will do for ourselves, which is almost a lovely thing except we need to take care of ourselves too.
3. It’s Ok to Need People
It’s funny having a dog because you start to feel like the most interesting person in the world. Your dog will follow you everywhere you go, even into the bathroom. Sometimes I think, surely you can entertain yourself for a few minutes, doggie?
It can be awkward never having alone time, but it’s also nice to have company. Humans tend to be really guarded. We don’t want to seem needy. Often we are wary of reaching out to others or seeming like we like someone too much. But it’s not a bad thing to crave social support and to spend time with the people we love. There are no hipster ironic too-cool-for-school dogs. They need the attention and are unabashed in going for it. People could use a dose of that fearless vulnerability as well.
4. It’s Not (Usually) the Dog’s Fault
One of the first things you learn in training a dog is to think from the dog’s perspective. You can’t punish a dog for peeing inside the home because the dog will understand it as punishment for going to the bathroom, and not punishment for the locale. It’s impossible to convey this nuance.
If the dog misunderstands, it’s your fault. You need to communicate better. You can’t change the dog – you can only change yourself.
Every dog has a story. And for many rescue dogs, they’re a really sad story. Once we learn their stories, we draw straight lines from the trauma to the dog’s behavior.
It’s funny how we can see how a bad dog likely came from a bad environment but we don’t see the same line for people. We don’t have the same kind of empathy. Granted, people have a lot more ability to change themselves and their circumstances despite difficult upbringings, but we all start somewhere. And until we understand the dog or the person’s environment and upbringing, it’s impossible to judge. Until then, improve your communication and empathy.
5. Life is Fascinating
Have you ever been as excited about life as a puppy is excited about everything? It’s a pretty great way to be. It’s easy to get wrapped up in social media and compare yourself to others sniffing more interesting scents. But if you really look at your world the way a dog does, it’s hard not to catch the enthusiasm for just being alive,having new things to smell, having a sense of smell. I mean, at the very least it probably means you don’t have Covid-19.
Conclusion – Life Lessons from Watching Dogs
A lot of people say they like dogs more than people, and I thought I would become like one of those people. But liking dogs has made me like people a little bit more because I see so many parallels.
We are creatures of our environments and too many of us are living in bad ones and don’t understand how much we need to take better care of ourselves. So even though we are arguably taking care of our dogs, our dogs teach us to take care of ourselves.