Lessons From Dogs

We’ve had our second dog, Ben, for a few months now.

Our first dog Max is 8 years old. Many of you have met him – he’s a lab, shepherd mix that often reminds me of Kristen Wiig’s character on the Lawrence Welk show on SNL. He’s high energy, but pretty consistently neurotic.
We didn’t want to get a puppy because thinking back to when Max was a puppy, it took a lot of work to potty train him and he destroyed two pairs of pretty fabulous leather shoes Brian had, as well as several articles of my clothing and shoes, along with a few pieces of furniture. There are worse stories, but I’ll leave it at that.
Due to that experience and how insanely crazy our lives are, we thought a one year old dog would be perfect. We found Ben on Craigslist. The description was thoughtful and sincere and the owner thought he was a lab/shepherd mix, just like Max. We named Max after Brian’s grandpa and ironically, Brian’s other grandpa’s name was Ben, so it seemed like an omen. Ben is almost the exact opposite of Max: scared, shy, nervous, and introverted. His previous owners kept him outside 24/7, so when we brought him home we had to carry him inside.
Having Max in our lives for the past 8 years has taught us many things, and having Ben around for the past few weeks reminds us of new things, some thoughtful and some a little silly. I’m sure there are lots of online resources that will list out things people have learned from their dogs, but these are the things that have stood out to me during the last month from playing with and observing our dogs:
  1. You can teach a young dog new tricks (and we all know age is just a number): The first few days we had Ben we had to carry him inside. Once we got him inside, he wouldn’t leave the carpeted living room. After a few days, he walked in on his own, excitedly. He walks around the house everywhere on his own now too. We also had to put him on a lead line if he went outside because he would run away. Now we just let him out and he comes back when we call for him.
  2. Opposites really can attract: Ben and Max are bosom buddies – it’s like every aspect of their character perfectly compliments the other.
  3. Shitting in the house is not as bad if you always do it in the same place: Ben can’t seem to figure out how to ask to go outside, probably because he never had to before, living out there all the time and all. We try to let him out frequently enough, but sometimes we miss the mark. For some reason though, he always goes in the same place. It would be better if it weren’t on carpet, but it’s somewhat of a consolation that he doesn’t spread it all over the house in different places.
  4. Pets don’t need much to love you: It’s funny that with both our dogs, regardless of their personality, when you stop, pet their face and talk sweet to them, you can see the genuine love in their eyes. It’s so basic.
  5. Life can be simple: unless dogs for some reason decide they’re going to bite or attack you (or maybe shit in your house), they seldom hurt you. Dogs are pretty simple. They don’t manipulate you. They don’t take advantage of you. They don’t talk bad about you behind your back. They get fed, shown love and run around and they’re pretty happy. Sometimes it’s a good reminder to get back to the basics.
  6. It’s not always necessary to be everyone’s best fried: Max (and Brian) might beg to differ, but Ben and I feel differently. Everyone has their pros and cons for sure. None of us are perfect. Ben takes awhile to warm up to some people and there are a few people he hasn’t really warmed up to at all yet. Maybe he never will. Who knows why, really, but at the end of the day, he’s reminded me, it doesn’t matter. We are all allowed to spend time with those that bring us joy and none of us should feel obligated to reduce our joy to be around people who bring us down.
  7. In the right environment, you can discover your voice: Ben didn’t bark at all when we brought him home. Max barks all the time, mostly at other dogs and animals, seldom at people (see earlier comment about Kristen Wiig’s character). It’s not that we enjoy having our dogs bark, but they’re dogs and we don’t reprimand them for it. It’s actually been really satisfying to see Ben starting to bark and enjoy the ability to “speak his mind”.

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Focus

My friend Diondra is super into yoga. After I left Expedia, even though I only knew her for a few months, she convinced me to go to Wanderlust in Whistler and do yoga with her for 5 days. It was actually awesome and I’ve gone to several since then.

It was at the first Wanderlust where the intro to a yoga class began with a story I’ll never forget, although I will likely not deliver it as eloquently as the instructor.

She told a story of a man in India who discovered a small town up in the hills. The town was beautiful and full of vibrant art, handmade goods and produced amazing produce and other delectable treats. He moved to the town and thought to himself that others should see this beautiful place. He decided that in order to attract others to the town, he would host a parade, including having a gorgeous elephant at the end of the parade. He decided to have vendors along the parade path, so everyone who came could enjoy the food and art at the same time.

Hundreds of people showed up and the parade was beautiful. It was at the end, when the crown jewel of the parade, the elephant, should have made the biggest impact. The elephant started walking down the street, but soon became overcome with the joyous scents of all the food on display along the street. The elephant just couldn’t help himself and quickly deviated from the parade path, knocking over people, stands and making an utter mess of the place. People screamed and ran off and the man was embarrassed and hung his head.

A woman from the village came to the man and asked if she could work with the elephant and if the man could give it another shot. The man said he didn’t know but there was no harm is trying.

The woman worked with the elephant. She adorned his trunk with beautiful decoration and trained him to focus on it during the parade. Sure enough, on parade day, the elephant focused on the decoration, not allowing itself to become distracted by all the chaos and distractions going on around it.

My living room now has a silver elephant on the shelf. Namaste.