I have lived my life with dogs. I understand them. I get their moods, and their intentions. I can tell what a dog is thinking or feeling, and I strive to nurture those moments of clarity, understanding, and communication. Here are some of the more transformative things I have learned as a dog communicator that reflect on my humanity (after the pic):
Dogs respect each other until given reason not to. They make it quite clear as to what their boundaries are, and when another dog is in danger of encroaching on those boundaries. Because dogs are so clear in their communication, I often lament that we humans cannot be as authentic and clear as dogs. This falls under one of the tenets of The Four Agreements. Be impeccable with your word. Do not use the word against yourself or others. Dogs do not deceive. I’ve often heard dog companions say things like, “Brutus was really pissed at me last night. He peed in the bedroom!” Dogs do not harbor ill will toward others. If a dog pees in the bedroom, there are other issues involved, and likely have little to do with us self-absorbed humans. If we stop making it about us, we’d be a lot happier.
Dogs exhibit empathy and compassion. I did not learn empathy and compassion for others until my dogs taught what those qualities were. Dogs do not see them as something that can be taken away from them and so protect them with ferocity. They know that both empathy and compassion come from a neverending source: themselves. They never feel they’ll be taken advantage of, and if they are, so what? I was always suspicious of empathy and compassion, as I saw it as a manipulative tool others used to take something away from me. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what that “something” might be, though. I was a product of a very abusive home life for 14 years. I thought every adult had an agenda to take my freedom of choice away. Now I know that not to be true. I can exhibit empathy and compassion, and it costs me so little to provide it to others. I don’t choose to allow others to take advantage of those emotions, and so don’t fear that I will be taken advantage of. Once fear was removed, the emotions were much more readily accessible.
Dogs cuddle. They enjoy touch, whether it’s with other dogs, humans, cats, hedgehogs…whatever. Touch is vital to their well-being. They draw emotional balance from it. Like humans. However, “touch” for me has always been a four-letter word. It came with so much baggage and unwanted emotional situations, that I shunned it at all costs. Touch to me was when I was beaten with my stepfather’s fists, or the electrical cord to my mother’s clothes iron. It meant pain, heartache, and physical torture. It wasn’t until I learned to trust touching my dogs on a regular basis that I realized that touching was something I needed. I’m still not entirely comfortable with the human aspects of touching, but I’m working on it thanks to my adorable pups.
Dogs sense others’ feelings. I was born sensitive to others. I learned to hide that fact from the world for many years, most out of a sense of self-preservation. Dogs, on the other hand, understand that type of sensitivity, and yet continue to live happily with that ability without any adverse side effects. For me it was fear that caused me to hide my sensitivity. Around dogs, though, I don’t hide that I can tell what they’re feeling or thinking. I use my intuition indiscriminately when I’m around them. It has created an incredible bond of trust and love between us. I’m still working on that same type of relationship with humans.
Trust your intuition. As a corollary to the above item, I learned to trust my own intuition, as dogs do. I don’t discount their growls or barks as simply annoyances. They are communicating something to me that I would be well served to validate. That’s why I rarely correct my dogs for barking, but instead, praise them, thank them, show that I am paying attention when they speak, and then go back to what I was doing. Once I have acknowledged and validated their communication, they no longer feel the need to continue, and will move on. This is their intuition. They recognize innately when something (or someone) is not quite right. And they tell us. I have re-learned to trust my own innate intuition from dogs.
Dogs help each other out. They’re naturally altruistic. When they’re taught to trust in their own abilities and skills, they gladly help other dogs out when they can. As they do with us clumsy, heavy-handed humans. I get my sense of community from watching dogs interact, even with those they didn’t know before. They trust, first and foremost. Yes, sometimes they get growled at or nipped, but they understand that it’s simply fear speaking, and continue to try to help anyway. We humans can learn a lot in this spirit.
They find love in even the most hopeless situations. Dogs don’t perceive the world the same way that you and I might. They approach the world with the expectation of love, and will seek it out no matter how dire their individual circumstance might be. I learned that from my dog Yaz, who was found wandering the streets of Galveston, TX., following the decimation of that city by Hurricane Ike in 2008. She was completely feral and running on pure survival instincts. Yet when I walked into the room to meet her with the intention of adopting her, she immediately came to me openly and without reservation. I did not see any of the aggression that had earned her a sentence of euthanization. Whenever I find myself in situation that I perceive to be hopeless, I remember that first moment with her, and I realize that there’s love everywhere, if I only choose to see it.
Dogs love playtime. I’m a self-avowed workaholic and introvert. I used to work 18 hours a day for years on end because I thought that my work defined me in some way. The better I was, the more others’ would look at me with admiration. Now I know that if there’s not playtime mixed in with work time, I become very dull, stressed, and ill. So now I mix work with play, and make work feel like play whenever possible.
Dogs live for today. They don’t worry about tomorrow, or about things they have no control over. They simply adapt. This has been one of the most beneficial lessons I have learned in my life.
Forgive. This is and has been the most difficult for me. I come from a very unforgiving family, who always criticized and tore others down — viciously and painfully — so that I learned not to trust myself. Over years, and through the example of dogs, I learned that it only truly takes one person to forgive. And that person has to be me. That doesn’t mean I’m a “turn the other cheek” kind of guy. Not at all. But I can forgive myself and others in ways that I have never been able to do before.
Make every day joyful. To be greeted every day at the front door by a pack of grinning, ecstatic dogs is probably the best part of living with them. They act as if they haven’t seen me for years, even though it’s probably only been a few hours. When I do something funny, they get as excited as I do, because they see the joy in living. Not the drudgery that we ourselves create in our lives. So I have learned to find the joy in those things that inherently contain joy, and to seek out the joy in those things and people I formerly saw as hard work. This alone has helped guide me back to health after experiencing severe illness and depression. What a wonderful way to live!
Find your own purpose. Not what we might want to do, but what we’re meant to do. Dogs require a purpose for their existence. Whether it be making us laugh, playing tug-of-war to distract us from our worries…or lying quietly by our side when we’re feeling down. They know, moment to moment, what their purpose is. My pup, Ozzie, loves it when I allow him to help carry groceries into the house. His tail wags a mile a minute, and he grins like a kid on a snow day. Yaz protects our house from evil squirrels and neighborhood cats. And she’s a fierce protector. Otis’s job is to be the consummate puppy with his clown-like antics and ability to make me laugh at everything he does. And he barks at anything he doesn’t know, which is his way of letting me know he’s on the job. So I teach him what he should bark at and what he doesn’t need to. He’s a fast learner, that one. But they know their purpose. As do I. Mine is to be the best human I can be, to never endanger or abuse animals, to monitor the planet and help in correcting the errors of our ways if I can, and to be good. I tell my dogs things, because I know they understand…if not the words, then the emotion behind them. And they listen intently. As I do them. My purpose is to live a good life as a decent, compassionate person, help others when I can, and do no harm.