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Six Lessons From My Four Dogs

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(Originally published on Medium on December 5, 2019)

I have dogs. Lots of dogs. Four of them, to be exact. Four tiny, blonde,mostly-long-haired, high energy, yapping cairnoodles. For the uninitiated, a cairnoodle is fifty percent cairn terrier/ fifty percent poodle/one hundred percent pure comedic terror. Before we get into a few of the many things I’ve learned living with these knuckleheads, let me introduce you to my fur family.

There’s Eddy, my thirteen-pound goofball who lives life on his own terms. Eddy loves a good trash party and doesn’t care what you think. If you happen to scold him for it, he simply closes his eyes and POOF! Annoying human is gone. He’ll crack one eye open as soon as he’s sure you’re struggling to hold in a belly laugh. Eddy loves to run and considers it his constitutional right to mark every curb, rock, and light post in the neighborhood. Getting through the door without unleashing Eddy on the ever-widening bounds of his “territory” is equal parts art and skill. He and my son are bros. They get each other.

Netta is eight pounds of pure, unadulterated adoration for my husband AKA Her One True Love. No, seriously. Find someone who looks at you the way Netta looks at my husband. As soon as he sits down she appears in his lap through a hole she chewed in the space-time continuum and proceeds to gaze reverently, nose to nose, into his eyes. It’s uncomfortable for all of us.

Benji, coming in at ten pounds, is the son of Eddy and Netta, is a rare short-straight-haired version of the breed. It’s a mutation that shows up every now and again. He is long and lean where Netta is short and squat. All of my dogs are good looking but where the others are shaggy and urchin cute, Benji is sleek and beautiful. Poor Benji is a coward’s coward. Everything scares him. If you say “hi Benji” too forcefully you’ll be cleaning a yellow puddle off the kitchen floor. He hates the outdoors, people who don’t live with him, dogs who don’t live with him, the park, the car, and collars. Especially collars. He still doesn’t get that his rear left leg is attached to him and it startles him every time he notices it. He has hay fever and sneezes when he gets nervous which is always. He loves to cuddle under my daughter’s chin and hide his face in her shoulder. 

Angel, Benji’s sister, is four and a half pounds of fury, straight out of whichever ring of Dante’s Inferno is reserved for the spawning of naughty, naughty puppies. She is as aptly named as the Tower of Joy in Game of Thrones. She has destroyed several pairs of shoes, the entire family collection of slippers, countless towels and blankets, two dog bowls, an Xbox controller and a computer. Yes. I said “a computer”. She’s so full of energy she can’t control her limbs and she delights in launching sneak attacks on her perpetually nervous brother. She once slipped her leash at the local park to take on a pit bull, an amiable fellow named Harley who sported a jaunty bandana. Poor Harley made a beeline for his human mom, peering out from behind her legs at the deranged snowball heading for him like a torpedo before my son swooped in and caught her. Spoiler alert: I love her and she loves me. After a tiring day of mayhem, she curls up in my lap, on my shoulder or anyplace else a three-pound demon fits (which is most places) and falls into a contented sleep, no doubt dreaming up tomorrow’s round of shenanigans. 

This is the four-legged half of my family and they can be found alternating between barking furiously at neighborhood dogs who dare to exist, sleeping, begging for treats and howling in unison at sirens. What we’ve lost in material goods (they are the four reasons we can’t have nice things) we’ve made up for in laughs, cuddles and a personal fan club. Here are the six key things I’ve learned from my dogs.

Love Unconditionally

Before I had my dogs, I had cats. I’ve always considered myself a cat person and still do to some extent. I don’t always need someone to be one hundred thousand percent into me every moment of every day. I enjoyed the companionable silence of a lazy afternoon with a cat curled up next to me. My cats purred when they saw me, followed me around most of the time but also would get sick of me and find some hidden nook when they wanted to be alone. If I left for too many hours in a row, I could be sure of a kitty cold shoulder for a while.No amount of cajoling would help. They would let me know when I was back in their good graces. My cats loved me, that I know, but they didn’t LOVE me love me. Oh no. That sort of unashamed love that is always turned on full blast is strictly the domain of the dog. Where my cats would saunter to greet me at the door, my dogs barrel over each other in unrestrained joy when any family member comes  through the door. It makes no difference to them if we’ve been gone all day or made a quick trip to the recycle bin. We get the rock start treatment either way. Waking up in the morning and emerging from the bathroom get the same response. You never have to wonder if your dog is happy to see you.

Always Find Time To Play

Sure, my dogs don’t have very demanding jobs: secure the property by barking through the chain link at the neighbor’s chihuahuas as they man their own perimeter, chase any unsuspecting squirrels back up their trees and howl at sirens and doorbells, both real and televised. Still, it’s important that they take time out to play and play they do. Almost constantly. Doggie rumbles are all the rage at my house, followed by four dogs wrestling over one toy while ignoring the three other replicas of that toy, followed by hiding in blankets so as to ambush one’s canine sibling. 

Remember To Stretch

My pups love to stretch. Every morning and throughout the day, our dogs stop what they’re doing and stretch out their backs, legs, necks. It’s important to be limber so you can keep the squirrels at bay.

Get Plenty Of Sleep

Dog insomnia is not unheard of but it is rare. Certainly it’s much less common than the human variety. After a long day of scaring squirrels and doggie rumbles, my dogs get a solid night’s sleep. They also take long naps at mid-morning and late afternoon. Granted, they don’t have bills to pay, plumbing to fix or kids to worry about but that’s the point isn’t it? They sleep without worry. Since worry doesn’t actually solve anything, maybe we should take a cue from doggos and put our troubles on hold for a few hours each night.

Live In The Moment

Dogs do what they want, when they want and they don’t worry about what anyone thinks. Of course it’s easy to do that when you don’t have any responsibilities but we could all stand to fully live the moment we are in. We waste so much time auditing our past and planning our future that we sometimes forget to live right now. When was the last time you were present, really present while you were talking to someone? Were you thinking about your ever-growing to-do list, tomorrow’s meeting, next Wednesday’s dentist appointment? Were you fiddling with your phone? Try sitting for a few moments, without distractions and focus on the moment at hand. Pay attention to what’s going on around you, not what you just did or what you’re about to do but what you’re doing right now. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Be Unapologetically You

We always joke about how different our dogs’ personalities are from one another. It makes them so much more interesting and it makes life with them a lot of fun. Do you know something my dogs never do? They never try to be like anyone else. They never change to please others. They simply are. No apologies. No regrets. What you see is what you get. Wouldn’t it be great if we all felt free enough to be exactly who we are? 

I doubt I will ever be the person my dogs seem to think I am, but if I take a few lessons from them I might get that much closer to being as happy as they are. That’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

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