It’s fair to say that my dog, a black miniature schnauzer named Bessie (pictured), is no rocket scientist. She has no understanding of algebra, she’s terrible at measurement and conversion, and her proficiency with statistics is downright poor. She is, however, the source of endless amusement and joy for our family. More unexpectedly, she’s taught me a lot that I can use to make my own life better.
Here are 5 things I’ve learnt from my dog:
1.Be in the moment
We humans are often physically present but mentally far away, moving through the world while thinking of other things. Not so for dogs. As far as I can tell, Bessie never seems to spend any of her time lamenting what happened last week or wondering what the future will hold. She is always in the here and now, savouring the moment. In fact, I would say that she achieves a level of mindfulness that few if any humans could ever match.
2.Find joy in simple pleasures
As young children things as simple as a balloon or even a cardboard box can bring us joy, but as we get older we can become much more difficult to impress. Bessie, like other dogs I’ve known, is very easy to please. I’m always impressed by just how much happiness she gets from the simple things. Going for a walk, barking at birds, playing fetch or just being near us make her just about burst with joy.
Some years back I read a book called “Dogs Never Lie About Love” by Jeffrey Masson. This book makes a case that dogs feel emotions in a very real way. Based on Bessie’s behaviour I think she really does love us. Better yet, her brand of love seems to come with no strings attached. She thinks we’re great regardless of what we do for a job, what we look like or whether we’ve vacuumed the floor and dusted the blinds. She sees right past our idiosyncrasies and flaws and she loves us wholeheartedly and unconditionally.
4.Show more affection
When I come home from work there are usually 3 girls to greet me – my wife, my daughter and my dog. I get happy greetings from all 3, but if I was awarding gold medals for the best greeting Bessie would win every time. Even when I go out for a few minutes to check the mail Bessie shows me great affection when I return. Humans can be affectionate as well, but this varies greatly, depending on our moods, what we think the implications will be, and a whole range of other factors. Dogs show affection in a very instinctive way that is hard to match.
5.Always be ready to meet new people
When she’s out and about Bessie is always on the lookout for people to meet. If anyone gets within about 50 metres her tail starts to wag enthusiastically and she makes an excited sound. This wins over even the crustiest of hearts, and lots of people stop to talk to her and pat her. As humans, our fear of the unknown and our conditioning make it much more difficult for us to connect with new people. This is noticeable on public transport, where we sit together in anonymous silence. Imagine the difference if dogs caught buses to work!
I don’t think I can ever hope to be as good as Bessie at mindfulness, finding joy in the mundane, loving unconditionally, displaying affection and meeting new people. However, if I can take what I’ve learnt from my dog and try to get a bit better at these things my life could be so much better.
Thanks for teaching me these things, Bessie. Good dog!
Bessie sat beside me as I wrote this, and seemed to enjoy the process. Once I finished I asked her to give me a hand with the editing. Sadly, she had nothing to offer, but she did seem to quite like the picture of herself.