When I was nine years old, I desperately wanted my family to adopt a dog. I remember telling my parents that a pet would teach me responsibility. The truth was, I didn’t care about that part of the equation—but I was willing to try anything to get a puppy.
When our dog arrived, I had a lot to learn about caring for someone other than myself—and quickly.
Twenty years later, my husband I adopted our own dog, and I found myself looking at things a little differently. Watching my little Havanese, Bartlet, interact with the world, it occurred to me that I could learn a lot more than responsibility: I could learn how to live my life.
Here are the top five lessons I’ve learned from my dog
1. When you’re wrong, be sorry
As in, really sorry. When you’re wrong, don’t give a half-hearted apology or try to downplay the offense. Would a dog do that? No way. When my dog disappoints me, he lays himself at my feet and grovels for forgiveness. And you know how long my anger lasts? About 15 seconds. I remember why I love him, I trust his apology, and we move on to the next fun thing. I’m not advocating for groveling per se—but imagine if all your arguments were over that quickly thanks to a sincere apology.
2. Persistence pays off
If my dog wants to play and I want to lay on the couch, he’s probably going to win. He just wants it more. He’ll bring me every toy, try every approach, and generally refuse to give up. Imagine if we all saw a potential dead end as merely a starting point in the negotiation.
3. Life is incredible
If you could see my dog’s zest for life, you’d giggle. Everything thrills him. Everything is an adventure. He’s excited about each new street on our walk, each new person he gets to meet at the office. To Bartlet, the world is full of amazing options, and he’s happy just to be a part of it. It’s a great reminder to appreciate life and never take it for granted.
4. Practice makes perfect
My dog doesn’t understand what to do the first time we attempt a new trick. Instead, we break it down piece by piece and celebrate each milestone as a victory. And he loves every moment. He doesn’t beat himself up if he doesn’t get it right away; he’s just trying to make it to the next treat. So I tell myself it’s okay to fail on the first try—I’ll take the little victories as they come.
5. Love is worth a lot
Let’s face it: it’s expensive and inconvenient to have a dog. It’s messy when your dog is sick, has an accident, or chews up a stuffed animal leaving a carpet of cotton all over your bedroom floor. But we put up with all of that because we love our dogs and they love us. And that feeling of love, value, and of being someone’s whole world, is easily worth the mess. I’m pretty messy myself sometimes, so I make sure that my friends and family know how much I love them. They’re still putting up with me, so it must be working…