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Important lessons from time spent with my dog

Important lessons from time spent with my dog

It’s been another hard news week. It seems like that’s becoming the norm in modern American society. No matter which news outlet you favor, there are a slew of heartbreaking or alarming stories. Even if you simply pop on your phone to get directions or check your bank account, it’s hard to avoid the headlines. 

I read earlier this week about a young mother who was suffering from postpartum psychosis. When her husband left the house to pick up takeout, she strangled her three young children then attempted to kill herself by jumping out a window. She was unsuccessful and remains alive. If she heals from her postpartum mental illness, she will have to live with the horrible guilt and anguish over her children’s deaths while she sits behind prison bars. It is beyond my imagination to understand what she and her family are experiencing.

Then there’s the Tyre Nichols case, and not only the brutality of the case itself and his family’s grief, but also the trauma experienced by many people who’ve watched the video of this young man being brutally murdered. 

Additionally, the disturbing Alex Murdough trial started this week. There was a suicide bombing in Pakistan that killed 59 people and of course the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. It’s easy to get pulled into the quicksand of negativity and despair when the news flashes with headlines such as these. 

As I was walking my dog last night, I thought hard about his canine existence and the way he and all dogs approach life. With that in mind, I’m not going to continue dwelling on the sensitive and upsetting news stories of the week. Instead, I am going to offer you some lessons I’ve learned from my Australian shepherd, Ringo.

Get outside: If you have a dog, you know how much being outside means to them. It’s the highlight of their day. If I even walk near my dog’s leash, he starts jumping up and down and running in circles.  As humans we’re meant to be outside. Evolutionarily, it’s only been in recent history that our species has decided to stay indoors most of the time. I learned that a mere 10 to 30 minutes in the sunshine per day will keep our vitamin D stabilized. Surely, we can all find that amount of time to get some sunshine each day, and while we’re out there, let’s embrace the stunning allure of Mother Nature.

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Be curious: Each day is an unopened box with new knowledge at every turn. Yet, we’re bad to dwell on the negative or spend precious mental energy worrying and overthinking. Dogs are curious about everything. Sounds, birds, novel objects, even the trash. For us, there are books to be read, movies to watch and conversations to be had. Let’s try harder to stay curious. 

Play hard: Through the years, I’ve become less playful. Not only are dogs great models when it comes to play, but so are kids. When dogs or kids are in the middle of a game or activity, they are hyper focused on what they’re doing. They aren’t concerned with what happened that morning or what may happen five days from now. I’ve been working hard to be more playful and less pensive. I think hard about everything, but it feels lovely to sometimes be light and easygoing. 

Listen to your body: We’ll fill Ringo’s food bowl in the morning and it often sits uneaten until he finally decides to eat. This is contrary to many humans who eat based on the clock or our schedules as opposed to what our bodies are telling us. Similarly, dogs sleep when they’re tired. People, especially Americans, are terrible at resting. We act like it’s a weakness, but in reality many healthy cultures honor sleep as a sacred daily ritual. Like our dogs, let’s only eat when hungry and let’s stop resisting rest. 

Appreciate treats: I love giving Ringo treats because of the sheer excitement it elicits in him. He’ll do whatever it takes to earn it. If I say “shake,” he’ll shake. If I stay “stay,” he’ll stay. Occasionally we’ll max out his giddiness by giving him a piece of bacon or lunch meat. In life, there are treats all around. My kids’ laughter, a delicious cup of coffee, a beautiful day, a good book, a lazy Sunday, majestic mountains. Next time I take life for granted, I’m going to work hard to see all of these things as treats and get as ecstatic as Ringo does about his morsel of bacon. 

Love your people fiercely: Ringo is barely over 2 years old, so he can be a little overwhelming at times, but one thing’s for sure — he loves his people with all his Aussie might. They say that having a dog is more protective than having an alarm system, and I believe it. If a person or car gets within minimal proximity of our house, Ringo goes ballistic. Granted, it can be extremely loud when he gets in guard dog mode, but at the same time, I feel very safe. He also loves to snuggle and play with his family. Like dogs, we must love our people hard and let them know how much they mean to us. 

One of my life affirmations is “What we appreciate, we create more of.” Dogs naturally appreciate the good in life. When external situations and circumstances begin to spiral, let’s look to our dogs for inspiration and remember that every day is a gift.

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor, digital media specialist and creator of the podcast “She Breathes.”)

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