Recently, I had the good fortune of bringing home a two-month-old Australian Shepherd puppy named Henry. Now, welcoming a new puppy into the family is certainly an exciting and joyful time. However, raising a puppy can be quite challenging and, between you and me, Henry is certainly giving me a run for my money! That said, I wouldn’t trade the world for the things he is teaching me.
Here are some of the lessons I am learning:
1. Live in the moment
This is a wonderful gift of dogs. Henry only knows now. He doesn’t stress over what happened yesterday when Charlie, my other dog, tried to steal his bone; nor does he worry whether he will finally master the “stay” command. Unlike our anxious monkey minds that cause us to swing from tree to tree, Henry revels in the current moment. He doesn’t need to be reminded to breathe as he embraces his naturally present state of joy.
2. Prioritize play
From the moment he wakes up in the morning, Henry is ready to play. The first thing he does when he bounds down the stairs is to go to his toy box and grab one of his toys. And of course, he insists that I join in the fun. Play can consist of a friendly game of catch, tug of war, or his recent favorite, rolling and chasing the plastic water bottle. While in theory we understand the importance of play, most of us do not tend to play first…if at all. Rather, we prefer to complete all of our chores and check off everything on our “to do” lists before indulging in any type of merriment. But what would happen if we took a lesson from Henry? We know that the benefits of play include stimulating our imaginations, keeping us in the present moment, and making meaningful connections with others. Play actually leads us to be more productive in other areas of our life as well. C’mon…let’s play catch!
3. Practice forgiveness
There are many things I do that Henry doesn’t like. He doesn’t like when I begin my “getting ready for work” routine because he knows playtime is over. Some days, Henry’s playtime is cut short by a change in schedule. But he is always quick to forgive. This has taught me to reciprocate. I have learned, for instance, to forgive the occasional accident, the discovery of a shredded book cover or favorite sweater. As humans, we know that holding a grudge can be detrimental to our health. It can raise blood pressure, weaken our immune system, and lead to depression. Holding on to our anger and hurt certainly doesn’t help us to live happier lives. On the other hand, forgiveness does not necessarily mean excusing bad behavior or past wrongs. Rather, forgiveness allows us to become more empathetic which leads to a sense of peace.
4. Be amazed
Have you ever observed a puppy explore the world around him? A young pup can barely contain his delight at each new moment. Henry’s recent greatest pleasure is to roll around in the freshly mulched garden, burrowing his nose in the peat. He views the world with fresh eyes each moment as he chases a leaf blowing in the yard, greets passing strangers as his adoring fans, follows a new scent, or discovers his reflection in the full length mirror. He has never seen such a handsome dog!
Henry believes that the world is full of amazing adventures, and he insists on being a part of them. We need to pay more attention to the amazing discoveries in our everyday world. Last weekend, while enjoying a break in the rain, Henry and I spotted a hummingbird at the same time. In that moment, we were both awestruck. Being filled with wonder and surprise allows us see the truth in our existence. It strengthens our relationships with others and all living things and bears witness to the inherent mysteries of our universe.
Dogs give and receive love outwardly and effortlessly. Henry does not hesitate to race to greet me, furiously wagging his tail to let me know he is happy that I’ve arrived. And while many humans have difficulty receiving love, dogs clearly insist that we give love back to them whether through a tummy rub or countless numbers of sloppy wet kisses. In our short time together, I can confirm that dogs truly love unconditionally, no matter the circumstances. Henry never keeps score or withholds love because I came home later than expected or forgot to pick up his favorite snack. In the end, a dog’s main purpose is to give and receive love. And when all is said and done, isn’t that what each of us really wants?
Kathie Foster is superintendent of Robbinsville Schools.