What Dogs Can Teach You About Health And Life
By Sara Wylie
I have a dog. He is one of my best friends. And to be perfectly honest, he is also one among the handful of incredible souls in my life who have really helped me open my eyes to a lot of aspects in regards to health and life as a whole.
Lovingly known as Brutus, my Border Collie/Pointer mix (otherwise known as a “pointollie”) is just under a year old. Whenever he can be, he is right at my side, bounding along as happy as can be with eyes wide and excited for whatever is coming next. He found his way into my arms most unexpectedly when he was very young and ever since, he has brought an unquenchable warmth and beautiful light into my life; a reason to continue moving forward even when I feel I can’t, a strengthening bond that nothing could ever hope to break.
Those of you who have ever had a canine companion of any sort who you’ve shared a bond with can understand what this feels like. It’s a bond that really can’t be described sufficiently to anyone, particularly to anyone who has never had even a taste of such a connection. Of all animals a human can own, dogs are among some of the most doting, loyal, intimate companions you could ever find.
When given the proper care and attention they need, dogs grow into some of the most incredible life-saving animals people have the privilege of keeping at their sides. They are trained and used for search & rescue, police work, war, herding, security, competition, racing, hunting, therapy, special needs guardianship, seeing-eye work, protection, comfort and so much more. No matter the size or breed, dogs have the potential capability of becoming whatever is needed and expected of them by the one they consider as a leader, the one they consider as their leader.
And there’s a reason dogs are like that; several reasons, actually.
Of all the things that Brutus and so many other amazing dogs I’ve known throughout my life have taught me, these are 7 of the greatest life lessons on health and living that dogs have to offer. Take what you can from these; but trust me when I say, they truly can make a difference.
1. Forever Grateful
Though dogs can be quite the hoarders when it comes to food, if you are the one that they know gives them the food they yearn so desperately for everyday, their devoted gratitude for that – and all else they love that you provide for them – will always show in their demeanor, whether it be through loyalty, kisses, tail wagging, obedience, etc. No matter the method, dogs will show their gratitude without a second thought.
Showing gratitude for everything in life is really saying more than you may think. When was the last time you just stopped and thought through all the things in your life that keep you happy and moving forward? The last time when you went out of your way to be sure someone special to you knows how much he/she means to you? The last time you paused in the midst of a laughing fit with your best friend and thought about just how much you love having his/her presence in your life?
Keeping gratitude as a consistent part of your mindset will not only help you feel more appreciative of the life you live, but it will also help keep your body pulsing with love and positivity, which both ultimately contribute to feelings of happiness. The more you acknowledge and show gratitude, the easier it becomes to stay optimistic in times of hardship.
2. Always In The Moment
As a natural part of their mentality, dogs are literally unable to have a concept of past or future. This leaves them always, always living in the moment. They never dwell on things or happenings of the past, they are always just there, in the now, focusing on whatever is before their eyes. When routine activities such as dinner come about, that will become the now for them and they almost always will be sure to let you know.
On the contrary, human minds are wired to jump back and forth in the past, future and present. A mental skill that, through practice, can be mastered is the ability to keep yourself present. Dogs do it so naturally, because it’s how their brains function, but, just like the saying goes, “you are what you think.” Though this saying is typically interpreted in other ways, I like to look at it as though it’s saying that, if you consistently think you are in the present, that is where you eventually will be.
Work the mental muscles, discover what helps you focus best, meditate and learn what it takes to control your thoughts. If you do, living will become that much more rewarding, because you won’t be concerned with what’s happened or with what you’re afraid will happen; you are just in the moment.
3. Shake It Off
Another factor about the minds of dogs that comes from their incapability to reflect on the past is their ability to shake things off; literally. You know how when a dog stumbles, gets beat during rough housing, or is humiliated in some way, he shakes his entire body? Clear from nose to tail, as if he is shaking off water? That is the dog literally shaking off whatever just happened and letting it go. The physical motion helps dogs clear the experience out of their systems and to simply move on, behaving as if nothing ever happened.
The act of letting something go or “shaking it off” can seem like such a daunting task, even a painful one at times. Because of that, the discomfort can make you huddle deeper against whatever it is causing you pain or bringing you down, making it twist all the harder. If you go against that impulse to huddle away and actually make the effort to let that twisting inside you go, the release can sometimes be so overwhelming, I’ve seen the sensation bring people to tears or send them away nearly dancing with the freed energy pulsing inside of them.
If you need somewhere to start in this letting go process, here is a little meditation that I learned awhile back that has been such a relief to me a good number of times. It really helps with the release and also has a physical aspect to it, kind of like the dog physically shaking off the water.
1. Find somewhere calm and quiet where you can be alone for a bit. If possible, I love to ditch my shoes and socks and sit out on the grass.
2. Settle yourself down and let yourself be calm for just a few moments, until you eventually feel ready to close your eyes.
3. As you calm yourself, start thinking about and picturing this meditation as if you are sitting there brushing away and releasing “strings” that are attached to you coming from your past, future, or wherever else you feel they are pulling against you from.
4. With your eyes remaining closed, begin to then focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply in and slowly out. With each breath, here is what needs to go through your mind:
- Breathing in: This is known as the ACCEPTANCE part. As you take in a breath, think about whatever it is you need to let go of. Think about it and tell yourself that you accept whatever it is (you accept the string(s) that is pulling against you). You accept that it’s happened, you accept that it’s affected you, you accept that it’s hurt you, etc. Do this as the air slowly fills your lungs.
- Breathing out: This is known as the ATTACHMENT part. As you breathe out, in your mind, take whatever it is you are accepting and release your attachment to it. Let it go, let it drain away from you along with the breath (let the string(s) fall away from you and drift away). Do this until you have no air left to release.
5. Repeat this process as many times and for as long as you need. Do it until you feel you are ready to open your eyes and face the world again, when you feel that the “strings” you were releasing are no longer attached to you in any way, until you feel you have let go.
This meditation is simple, but can also be difficult, depending on what you are working through. Just breathe through it and as you continue to breathe and go through this thinking process, it will get easier; it will get easier and easier until it is no longer a burden for you anymore. You will be set free.
My favorite part of this meditation is the point when you can open your eyes and feel at peace right where you are; in the moment. The strings pulling against you this way and that, they are gone, no longer there. You are no longer attached to anything in the past or future, you are simply in the now (understand now why dogs are able to let go so well while constantly in the moment and vice versa?).
4. Quick To Forgive
Have you ever had the horrible, guilt-tripping experience of stepping on a dog’s paw? That yelp can instantly steal a beat of your heart away. Then, directly afterward, did the dog tuck his ears back and begin to wag his tail while licking you and begging for love and comfort? Never in my life have I seen any living creature be as quick to forgive as a dog can be. If a dog has a bond with you and shows you love and respect, that dog will be forgiving of anything done to him by you. He trusts you; he knows when an action against him is deliberate or not. He has no reason to fear you or hold anything against you.
Being able to forgive is a quality of life that can make the difference between night and day for you. You can look at it in just the same way as you do the concept of letting go and the meditation mentioned above (you can even use said meditation for forgiveness purposes if you feel you need to; it helps just as much).
Forgiveness is often pinned under the impression that, if you forgive someone, whatever it is you are forgiving them for suddenly becomes “okay.” This isn’t necessarily the case. When you forgive someone, you aren’t saying or implying that what happened was okay or acceptable, you are simply releasing yourself from the burden of holding onto whatever it was that happened.
You know you don’t need that kind of weight on your back. Forgive what happened, forgive who caused or made it happen, forgive yourself, allow yourself to accept it all and then just let it go. Let it go to the Universe, to God, to the wind, wherever you need. Whatever the case, it is no longer yours to deal or suffer with.
5. Living Shamelessly
Dogs are absolutely shameless about the way they live. Have you ever seen a dog who cared whether or not you saw him sprawled belly up on the ground or tending to his privates? No, I imagine you haven’t, because dogs just don’t care! Dogs each have an individual personality and they are not afraid to let them shine. They aren’t bothered by what others think or if they are being a nuisance. They don’t hang onto embarrassment or bother about appearance, they’re just living their lives as the dogs they are.
This is a common trait in dogs that I honestly wish I could be better at. So much of your time can be spent worrying about the opinions of others, whether or not someone likes you, what you look like out in public, what your physical appearance is like, etc. Now, I’m not saying you should just go streaking through the mall or start letting your tongue get away from you in a conversation, but seriously, why spend so much time bothering about what other people think of you when the only person whose thoughts really matter are yours?
You are a unique individual who is living your life, just as everyone else is living theirs. You have your own interests, passions and endeavors, things about you that can lead to incredible outcomes. If you let yourself become hindered because someone spoke out against something about you, just how far do you think your endeavors will be able to take you?
Start focusing on yourself. Shut yourself away in your room for a few hours if you have to. Just get out of range from all the influences and opinions around you and simply spend some time with you for a while. Make decisions about what you want out of life based on what YOU think and feel. Figure out whether or not the path you are on is your own or just following in the footsteps of someone else.
Then, once you open the door again, keep focusing on you. Start working towards what you want and with what you love and, eventually, I think you will find yourself one day turning around and realizing just how much the opinions of others don’t matter to you anymore.
6. Energetically Sensitive
Whether they realize this or not, dogs are very sensitive to the energy around them. It’s this sensitivity that makes them so effective when comforting or tending to the needs of someone else. They can feel when you are happy, when you are content, when you are anxious, when you are sad or when you are angry; they can tell how you are feeling and they can and do often act based on those emotional energies.
This is also why they can grow protective if they sense you are on edge about or afraid of something. If there is tension in the atmosphere, they may become tense, if there is excitement, they may become excited too. Dogs act based on what they are sensing around them. When you think about it, this fact about dogs oftentimes explains common behavioral problems more often than most people think.
Though you can’t necessarily alter how you energetically function, you can become more aware of your surroundings and to the feelings of others. Being in the moment is a big factor to this. You have energy flowing through you that is affected by how you think, feel, do and even eat. Keeping yourself in the now and being sure you are balanced energetically can create a self-awareness that can ultimately lead to you having a general, in-tune awareness of all that surrounds you.
Having this general sense of awareness can sharpen you observance/analysis skills, learn how to better read people and ultimately gain better leadership skills and strengthen your confidence. Getting yourself energetically balanced can be done through meditation or energy work, or you can accomplish it by focusing on your emotions, how you treat your body, how you speak to yourself, etc. Being kind to yourself, getting your rest, eating well, spending time in the sun, all these things can help you come to a better awareness and help you become more accustomed to living and thriving in the now.
7. Unconditional Love
Of everything that I’ve learned from dogs, their unequivocal ability to love so deeply and unconditionally is the part of them that ultimately makes them the beautiful, intricate creatures they are. If a dog creates a bond with you, it’s not just a bond of respect. It’s a bond of love, of adoration and of trust.
If you earn that level of trust from a dog, you’ve earned that trust for life. You can get angry at him, you can throw him outside for being naughty, you can accidentally forget to feed him one night, you can shove him off the couch; no matter what, that dog will love you. He will love you for the rest of his life. The ability dogs have to love and care are powerful enough on their own, if you make eye contact with one, it’s been proven that your dopamine levels can go up and help you feel better (dogs aren’t effective therapeutically for nothing; even the wagging of their tails can lower blood pressure and help people grow calm).
Having a love as deep and pure as that of a dog’s is not the easiest for a human heart to take on. We judge, we doubt, we withhold ourselves, we distrust others, we criticize ourselves – it’s all human nature. But that capability to love is there and if you allow yourself to open up to the world, be confident, let your light shine and share what truths your bear in your heart, you can and will develop a love for life that you never would have found had you held back and stayed hidden within the shadows of self-doubt.
Learning to trust yourself can be a hard journey and who can blame? We live in a world full of hardship, danger, pain, war and deceit – one can’t be too careful. But amidst the dark, you must also realize just how much light there is as well, especially around you.
You have people who love you, you have the lungs to breathe, you have the ability to live, you have books to read, you have art to create, you have water to drink and chocolate to eat – there are even dogs to adore! But, most importantly, you mustn’t leave out one of your greatest sources of light in this world: yourself.
Regardless of how small you may feel, you have the ability to help weave the turnout of something beautiful and the potential to completely tear a hole in society. You have strength, you have power and you have light. Stop beating yourself up, stop putting yourself down. Learn to rise above all that and to love yourself. Love your life. Love what you do. Love those in your life who have earned your trust and show them how much they mean to you. There is nothing quite so empowering as the feeling of love and certainly nothing quite as beautiful as the ability to feel it yourself.
Dogs truly are some of the most incredible animals on this planet. Without the force of their bright, intelligent, loving, shameless lives, the world would not be spinning quite as smoothly as it is. They have saved the lives of many in both literal and emotional ways and that’s including my own. If you or anybody are needing a teacher to help learn about growing healthier in mind and body and living life purely for the beautiful experience it is, dogs certainly could never lead you astray.
Life truly is beautiful and it is here, right now, waiting for you to step forward and make your next move. No matter who you are, what you look like, or what you’ve been through, your life has purpose, your life has an impact and your life is all yours to live. Show gratitude for everything that makes you who you are. Learn how to be in the moment by meditating, letting go and forgiving others, including yourself. Strengthen your ability to lead and to be confident through self-awareness and thriving in the now. Be shamelessly you and do what makes your soul take wing.
And, above all, love. Love yourself, love others, love everything that you do and love life; love it until not an inkling of pain could ever bring you down.
Sara Wylie resides in Utah where she is currently working as an Editorial Intern for Fitlife.tv while also pursuing a career in writing. She hopes that through her words and fiery passion, she will be able to not only inspire others to seek out and nourish their own passions, but to also help others feel what it’s like to truly be alive.
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