Unconditional love. It’s what most human beings are searching for – that sense of “You are okay, no matter what.” Unfortunately, a variety of factors make achieving unconditional love from another human being (and giving it to ourselves) tricky. Most parents don’t really know how to offer it – they weren’t raised with it either. Institutions like schools and even churches can have the “good boy/girl, and bad boy/girl” approach to reprimanding and punishment. Love is elusive at best and never achievable at worst for most people.
Enter the dog. Dogs seem to be wired for unconditional love, and it isn’t because humans deserve it from them. In fact, statistics show that every ten seconds abuse on an animal is committed somewhere in the U.S. They suffer at the hands of the people who are supposed to love them, and yet they continue to be loyal and dedicated to their owners. Mark Twain famously said:
“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.”
In these challenging times where friends and neighbors are at each other, accusing each other based on a political affiliation or a view of the world, what can you learn from the love of a dog? Five important things to mimic that dogs teach us:
- Bark less, wag more. Most dogs bark for a reason – the annoying squirrel runs in front of them, the neighbor’s dog is growling, the doorbell is shrill and lets the family know someone is visiting. The barking is done for a reason. You may not believe it, but to the dog, there is a purpose. Wags, however, are random. Wags happen for any reason at any time. Wags are the happy response to even the slightest positive encouragement. It can be your happy voice they hear in another room. It can be the neighbor’s dog they really like; the idea of a treat, or a back rub. When you look at a dog’s day, most dogs spend little time in bark mode and lots of time in wag mode (assuming they are not in an abusive situation, of course). Look at your day. Where can you bark less and wag more?
- Everyone deserves love. Imagine, dogs will forgive even the worst abuser if they simply show the dog some love! Yes, desperately abused dogs may take the rest of their lifetime to realize their full potential once they are out of the abusive relationship, and some are scared and scarred forever, but most dogs bounce back. They want to love. They want to offer love. They want to be loved. They don’t care about skin color, sexual preference, gender identity, income brackets or career choice; they just know you are human and you might be someone who will offer a pat and a rub. Do you hold back love based on someone’s lifestyle or outward appearance? Find places you can offer more love, even when you don’t feel someone is worthy of it.
- The play yard is big. It’s the whole darn world! Dogs love to romp. They love to run, and play and jump and chase things. They chase tails, and run after toys. For most dogs, it is especially fun to run unfettered through the woods or the dog park. Running in a circle inside the fence is cause for joy! As a human, you have loads of places to run and jump and play, even if it is inside your own tiny apartment. If you are physically capable, put on some music and dance, do jumping jacks, take a walk around your block, find some woods and just run for a little bit. Allow yourself to move your body and experience the world around you. Humans sit far too much, and don’t move enough to experience themselves. How else can you move today and change your physical experience?
- Everyone is a possible friend. There are definitely some dogs, based typically on how they were raised, who aren’t fond of other dogs. Many will enjoy the company of a cat or a rabbit or a ferret, however, in place of another canine friend. Most dogs – and dog parks are a great example – love to have a new friend. They enjoy getting to know them, and then playing with them. Dogs are fascinating in that they seem to understand each other’s limitations. A large Rottweiler will get down on the ground with a tiny Rat Terrier in order not to hurt the other dog with its size. While you don’t want to go around sniffing other human beings the way that dogs do, what if you approached each person you met with a curiosity about “what can I learn about you?” “What fun might we be able to have together, and what can you teach me?” Humans are also fascinating and interesting, if you take the time to get to know the ones you encounter each day.
- Rest time is great, too. Dogs can run, play, hike in the woods and go for long walks, but then it is time for a nap. Humans can’t (and shouldn’t) mimic the 12 to 18 hours per day that most dogs will sleep. It isn’t practical, and would probably indicate depression in a human being! However, the idea of rest or a nap is a good one in a busy, non-stop life. You may not be able to sleep, but what about finding ways to take a nice deep breath during the day just to calm yourself? Or closing your eyes for a few minutes to use some positive self-talk (not when driving, of course) or maybe, when the time is right, getting under the covers for a quick one-hour nap? Heck, it might be nice to snuggle up with your dog!