The 5 important life lessons I learned from my dog

Posted by Nick Niesen on October 26th, 2010

The 5 important life lessons I learned from my dog

Our son has been on a long, arduous campaign for our family to adopt a dog. I have to admit we are weakening.

I have always loved dogs and I can well remember my own beloved childhood friends as well as that desperate desire for my very own canine companion. Plus he is an active child who loves the outdoors and he is an only child with no children his age living nearby so a dog could be a wonderful playmate and friend.

But I also feel in my heart it is simply too soon for me to open my heart to another dog. It has only been a year since I lost my beloved labrador Shamus and I still miss her terribly. Friends have told me to get another dog, but I find that rather hard-hearted. If my husband died people wouldn't send me right out to pick a new one and if my son died people wouldn't simply suggest I get pregnant again. Yes I will eventually adopt another dog to join our family, just as many people do remarry or have other children, but I am not done grieving for the loss of Shamus. You see she was a special dog and she was a very large part of my life.

Shamus joined our family during the first year of our marriage, more than a decade before our son made an appearance, and moved from New York to Kentucky with us.

She was the sweetest, most loving dog imaginable but then she was a lab and we know that is part of their nature. When she was younger my husband would take her hunting and she loved to hunt so much despite being lazy. However, I always swore that made her a better retriever because she didn't want to waste a step! She was such an agreeable dog that my husband said she was the best dog he'd ever had; she was so eager-to-please (another lab trait) that she was a joy to train.

During the last years of her life she steadily grew weaker and struggled with many health issues but she was still so loving and uncomplaining. It was very difficult for us as we watched her decline and I dreaded being forced to make a decision, but in the end she made that decision on her own. Despite the many months of knowing her death was coming it was still so very hard to say good-bye. It was even more difficult to know that the world contains one less gentle heart and one less being that loves me.

But the lessons she taught me live on:

The 5 important life lessons I learned from my dog?

You can learn a lot from being a pet owner and the lessons begin from the first day your furry family member steps into your life and continue after you say your final farewell. In many ways, my dog was a far better person than I can ever hope to become.

1. Stay in touch with your loved ones

And I mean really in touch! Every pet owner knows what I mean. We humans don't touch each other enough. Sure, we cuddle our babies, and fondle our new lovers, but in every relationship there comes a point when kisses are perfunctory farewells and hugs are doled out sparingly.

Dogs know that a simple touch from someone you love can make any situation better and sometimes make all the difference in the world. They appreciate the wonder and magic of a kiss (or lick) just because they love you and know that sometimes just sitting close enough to touch frequently keeps the cold, dark nights at bay.

2. Never overlook the chance for a nap

While most of us can't work into our schedules the 20-hours of sleep time that dogs enjoy, we could all benefit from taking advantage of some down time to relax and rejuvenate. There are few of us who are getting enough rest and many are subsisting on far less sleep than is really adequate. This is no way to live let alone thrive. Your dog knows how to relax, just roll on your back and let your tongue loll out. You'd be surprised how wonderful it feels!

Dogs know that sleep should be high on your priority list-surely higher than laundry and cleaning although not higher than any food-related activity. Give yourself some down time and you'll feel the better for it.

3. Jealousy is a waste of time

It would have been understandable if our dog took an instant dislike to our newborn. After all, for 11 years she had been the "baby" of the family. Even more than that, during the nine months of my pregnancy I'd been very sick and she'd been my constant companion on couch and bed. Now suddenly that was over and there was precious little time for grooming, walks, or cuddling. All our attention was focused on someone else. Jealous? Not our Shamus. She instantly bonded with the little screamer even though we didn't let her get too close while we sussed the situation out.

She was better than any baby monitor available as she would come find us at the first sign of stirring and distress. She was the best nursemaid as she carefully investigated any visitors approaching the baby and always slept by his bed to guard against intruders and be vigilante for his every need. Then as the baby grew and became more mobile she was the epitome of patience with all his hair-gripping, lip-tugging, ear-pulling explorations.

She was his his guardian angel, playmate, and furry walker and she loved every minute of it.

4. The best toys are found not bought

Expensive squeaky toy? Shredded in minutes. Knobby ball? Lost in the bushes. Rubber bone? Shoved under couch. Frisbee found by the side of the road? Played with every day and stowed carefully on bed when not in use. A person's hand? Endless play opportunities.

Dogs and young children teach us an important lesson about gifts. Your time and attention are the greatest gift of all and with a little imagination and energy you don't need any toys at all, let alone expensive, electronic gadgets.

5. You are never too old to play

Arthritis and muscular atrophy sometimes make it a challenge for Shamus to get around, but she still loves to wrestle and will even romp for a little while. Although she can't be as active and play fetch for hours as she once did, she still wants to be in the center of the action and participate as much as she can.

We humans forget that the need for play and fellowship does not disappear when we leave childhood. There is no such thing as being too old to play. Perhaps we need to revise our choice of game and venue, but no matter what our age, there should be no limit to our ability to join in the fun!

What lessons has your dog taught you? What role does your dog play in your home?

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Nick Niesen

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Nick Niesen
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