Four Things My Dog Taught Me about Healthy Relationships
“Be the person your dog thinks you are.”
Have you ever heard that phrase before? We laugh sometimes at how naïve, and utterly devoted our quadruped friends can be while at the same, we time nod in unspoken acknowledgement when we see characters like Dug in the movie “UP.” Dug is best known for his line: “I have just met you, and I love you.”
My dog is probably like most in the same way, but upon careful observation of his interation with me and my family, I learned a few things from him that made me wonder—What if people could be like this to each other?
Here are the four things I learned:
1. Unconditional love – Imagine this: You forgot to feed your dog, or you got so busy you couldn’t to take him to his favorite thing to do, the thing he’s been anticipating for the whole week (like, say, a trip to the Dog Park.) Does your dog give you the cold shoulder? Does she sulk or try make you feel guilty? Does she get cynical? These are all human reactions, aren’t they? Even if we don’t react this way when a friend of a loved on messes up and disappoints you, we might feel offended or hurt, and withdraw our affection, or worse, retaliate. What if we could love our loved ones the same, even if they fail us? What if we were loved just the same, even when we disappoint others? Think about it. Your dog doesn’t write you off if you do something wrong. He doesn’t judge you. He still loves you the same. And nothing you can do will make him love you more or less. That’s the kind of love we all should have.
2. Enthusiasm – Whenever we come home, our dog is right there at the door waiting to bounce up and down like a kangaroo (hence his nickname Kangadog). You can see the enthusiasm in his face, his smile, his happy bounding. He’s saying, “Yay! You’re home! I’m so glad to see you!”
We might sometimes take it for granted when the dog does this, but when was the last time you gave someone an enthusiastic greeting when they walked through your door? Is it a spouse who is back from a long day? What would he feel like if you started jumping around saying, “You’re home! Yay! I’m so glad your back!”? You might not literally be bouncing around and shouting, “Yay!” but some kind of enthusiasm will definitely make your spouse or loved one feel it’s great to be home.
The next time your spouse or child comes home, don’t just let them walk in, find their way into the sofa, and settle down alone. Run up to them, give them a hug. Let them know how happy you are to see them, even if this is the millionth time. Never let a homecoming be so routine that you begin to take it for granted. One day, you will miss this and wish you could have just one more chance to greet and welcome them back.
3. Faithfulness – Like Dug, from “UP,” my dog loves everyone he meets. It’s always love at first sight. Quite liberally, he bestows hugs and kisses on all who pass through our door. And yet, no matter what, given the choice, he will always choose to be on my side. Aside from his “squirrel!” moments, he will always choose to stand by me and my family.
I once heard a story about a boy who had gotten lost in a snowstorm with his dog. He could not find his way back. Being exposed to the elements and freezing temperatures, he would have died. But his dog had wrapped itself around him to keep him warm and alive.
Are we always ready to be on the side of those we love? When circumstances or opposition comes, do we stand by and watch, leave them to themselves, or do we remain by their side, ready to guide, protect and defend? My dog doesn’t seem to care if I’m right or wrong because he doesn’t judge. Now, I’m not saying that we should ignore and condone wrong doing. But I would like to suggest that our heart always be for the ones we love, for their best interest.
4. Being there (in person) – I just love how my dog follows me and simply enjoys being around me. He doesn’t ask for anything (except at the dinner table), he just wants to sit down and be in my writing office to hear me type, listen to me talk on the phone, and once in a while listen to some lines of dialogue I read aloud. If I go to another room, he follows, plops himself down and takes a nap. Now, I’m not advocating stalking your loved ones and following them around wherever they go. The point is to enjoy being together.
In this day and age of internet “reality,” we humans do so much alone that “alone” becomes our comfort zone. What once was normal human interaction has become burdensome for a lot of people. Rather than sit face-to-face, or even pick up the phone to talk, we send emails, text messages, facebook messages, twitter to avoid live interaction. It’s about control. And yet, who or what is being controlled?
Sadly, we’ve dehumanized communication because with the rise of technology, it hasn’t made us less busy, but more. Technology simply helps us do more things per minute. The end result is a society where we spend more time and give more attention to our iPhone and smartphones than the people around us. I’m glad my dog hasn’t learned how to use a tablet yet. The next time you’re with your loved ones remember to unplug from the internet. Resist the urge to spend quality time on your smartphone instead of with your family and friends. Put it away, and try talking, doing something together either face-to-face, or shoulder-to-shoulder. It’s not as easy as you might think, but if you can make your best effort to resist the urge to check your email/facebook updates/tweets, while with your loved ones, you might just find your relationships improving.
So those were the four things I learned from my dog, which I believe will help any relationship. To sum it up: Unconditional Love, Enthusiasm, Faithfulness, and Being there. May we all be the kind of persons our dogs think we are. And let us learn a few things from them as well!
Joshua Graham is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, winner of the International Book Award and Forward National Literature Award. His thrillers include DARKROOM, LATENT IMAGE and BEYOND JUSTICE, and TERMINUS. Graham's works have been characterized as thought-provoking page-turners.
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