2017-03-27

How to Live a Dog's Life

By Joanne Brokaw

In today's hectic, economically unstable, electronically plugged-in culture, few of us live a dog's life, but maybe we'd be happier if we took a few life lessons from our faithful canine companions.

For more than two years, I've been observing Scout (pictured above), my 3-year-old Border collie, as he went from fearful puppy to confident (albeit quirky) dog. Dogs offer humans loyalty and companionship, and all they ask for in return is shelter, food, and love. It's not a complicated existence, but it is enviable for simplicity and peacefulness.

Here are 10 lessons I've learned about life from my dog.


Joanne Brokaw is an award-winning freelance writer and the blogger of Gospel Soundcheck for Beliefnet. She lives in western New York with her husband, their Border collie, and their cat.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

One morning Scout found an apple-shaped Christmas ornament that had been under the couch for months. It looked like a ball, so Scout licked the red lacquer off the faux fruit until there was Styrofoam. I didn't find out about his discovery until hours later, when I stepped in a puddle of bright pink dog vomit and found a very sick puppy hiding under my desk.

Like Scout, I've often been deceived by things that look attractive but turn out to be bad for me. Slick ads, promises of greener grass on the other side of the fence, and the sparkle of expensive things have led me down the path to heartache more times than I can count. Just because something looks good doesn't mean it's good for me.

Your Enemy Can Also Be Your Best Friend

I walked into the living room and found Scout curled up on the couch with the cat, Murphy, their foreheads touching.  They were sound asleep. Just a half hour earlier, they'd had a wrestling match that involved overturned furniture, loud yelps, and frightening moments when the Murphy's entire head was in Scout's mouth.

Dogs and cats are supposed to be natural enemies, but for all their fighting, Scout and Murphy have learned to tolerate and enjoy each other's company. Wouldn't it be nice if humans followed their example? Rather than focusing on our differences, we should take time to know other people, even those who look and think differently from us. We might have a lot more in common than we thought.

Greet Strangers As If They Were Old Friends

Scout just assumes that everyone in town wants to be his friend, from other dogs to teenagers on skateboards. As soon as he spies a stranger, Scout's tail starts wagging until the other person is close enough to be covered in wet, slobbering dog kisses.

When you meet someone new, what's the first thing that goes through your mind? Do you quickly take in their appearance and make a judgment about whether you'll like them or whether they'll like you? Do you avert your eyes and walk by so you won't have to engage them in conversation? Instead of being wary of strangers, why not reach out to them? You might be missing out on the chance to make a new friend.

Don't Be Afraid To Leave The Yard

When Scout came to live with us at 15-weeks-old, he left a quiet country home with woods and fields for our village home with a postage stamp-sized yard and the sounds of automobiles and neighbors. For a long time, he was afraid to leave the yard, and walks consisted of me dragging him down the street for a block or two before carrying him home. He balked and fought, and he hated the sight of the leash. I understood how he felt. For a long time, I suffered from anxiety attacks.  There was even a short time when I, too, was afraid to leave the comforts of my familiar house.

Thankfully, I got over my fears, and Scout did, too. Now, instead of balking, Scout gets excited when I snap on his leash because he knows we'll usually end up at the park where he can play catch or splash in the spray pool on hot summer days. If you’re too scared to leave the yard, you’ll never get to play in the good parks.

Sharing Your Toys Is More Fun

One morning, Scout and I were outdoors for a game of catch. I threw his ball and then stood in the freezing cold, waiting for him to bring it back. That day, he decided to play “keep away,”  dropping the ball a foot away from me and then snatching it back as soon as I reached for it. Apparently this was fun for him, but I was cold, so I headed back towards the house.

Scout knew that was the signal we were done playing, so he rushed ahead and cut me off at the door. He dropped the ball at my feet and backed away to let me know he wasn't going to grab it back. I wonder how many opportunities I've missed because I've been so busy playing “keep away” while someone was waiting to work or play with me. How many times have I been clinging so hard to my own ideas that others just walked away? Life is a lot more fun when we share with others.

Every Mess Needs to Be Cleaned Up Eventually

Scout hated baths, but unusually warm temperatures had turned the winter snow to slush, and after a morning romp in the park, the dirt and stink had reached a crisis point. Rather than wash him in the bathtub, we headed to the local do-it-yourself doggy salon that provided the tubs, shampoos, and towels.

Scout's long coat was filthy, and it took several cycles of lathering and rinsing before there was no more dirt swirling down the drain. When he was finally clean, I spent a half hour unknotting his shaggy fur. Scout's bathing adventure reminded me of  things in my life that needed cleaning up, from organizing my office to paying bills to mending a shaky friendship. All of them needed to be handled, but I was learning that the longer I procrastinated, the harder it was to clean up the messes.

Take Time for Love

I was lying on the floor with my eyes closed, following an exercise tape, when I felt warm dog breath on my face. Before I could react, Scout was slobbering his wet tongue in my eyes, nose, and mouth. I wasn't in the mood to be bathed in dog spit, but as I started to push him away, I realized that I'd much rather be playing with him than exercising.

Sure, I needed to finish my routine, but there was time to do that later. For now, it was time to snuggle with the dog. Too often we're so intent on sticking to our schedules that we don't take time for a little unscheduled love. Maybe someone close to you just needs a moment, so connect with a kiss and a hug. When the moment arises, stop what you're doing and share an affectionate moment with someone you love.

Work Hard, Play Often, and Don't Forget To Nap

I sat at the computer, my stress mounting as my deadline neared. Scout lay at my feet, sound asleep amidst the clacking of my keyboard and papers falling to the floor as I searched for my notes. I envied his nap time.
A dog's approach to life could really teach us a lot about rest, peace, and success. When Scout is working, he's completely focused, whether he's jumping hurdles in agility class or chasing the squirrels away from my bird feeders. When he's playing, the only thing on his mind is retrieving the Frisbee and preparing for the next shot. When he's finished with both, he has no qualms about taking a long nap. Scout's not distracted by deadlines. He works when it's required, rests when he's tired, and plays with energy. That's the kind of balance we all need in our lives.

Foster Friendships

Several times a day, Scout meets with his canine friends in the back corner of our fenced yard where several neighborhood dogs have a clear view of each other. Whoever gets outside first gives a short "Woof!" and in minutes they all meet for a bark fest.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time alone, but I’ve been inspired lately by Scout's routine of checking in with his friends every day. Whether he's woofing at the fence or rushing out to meet our human neighbors, Scout always takes time to say "hello" before returning to the task at hand. It's easy in today's electronic society to become disengaged with our neighbors and to foster cyber friendships rather than flesh-and-blood relationships.  It's important to take time and chat with people face to face, even if it's just a quick "hello" over the fence.

Be Willing to Forgive and Be Forgiven

Scout loves cat food, and while he knows that he's not supposed to eat it, sometimes he can't help himself. When I leave the kitchen, Scout licks Murphy's bowl clean before finishing his own food. Rather than wait for me to scold him, Scout meets me as I come back into the kitchen. He sits at my feet, with his head lowered in a woeful expression.

I know he ate Murphy's food, and he knows that I know he ate Murphy's food.  Yet, his woeful look is so cute that I can’t be mad. I just pat him on the head and feed Murphy again. Everyone is happy. Like Scout, I've learned that it's better to own up to my mistakes, rather than try and cover them up. They'll get found out sooner or later, so it's better to admit my errors and ask for forgiveness instead of worrying until I'm caught.

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