Dog Lessons for People

by Susan Brooks, LPC


If we just watch or interact with a dog for a while, we can learn life lessons too numerous for this article.  So this is just a taste of what I have learned from dogs over the years:


Sit close and listen.  If you observe yourself in a conversation, especially at home, you will likely notice that your listening is in preparation for a response/defense/attack!  Seldom is listening purely an activity unto itself.  For dogs, on the other hand, listening is an activity without future planning included; a dog listens in a way that is “all ears.”  He is taking in every word you say.  There might be a response, for instance if he hears the word “treat,” but it is a spontaneous response.  Imagine if we listened to our friends, co-workers, children and spouses for the “treat” they might be trying to offer us.


Play every day.  What grown up has time to play?  Life is serious business, busy with work, errands, responsibilities.  If play happens, it is quickly turned into competition.  In order to have a party, we sometimes think we need drugs, like alcohol!  Dogs come equipped with their own natural “high.”  In our house, the word “ball” evokes near hysteria from our dogs!  Play is not only a means to an end such as getting healthier or losing weight; it does not have to be productive in the way we usually use that word.  There are physiological benefits to play—I could cite studies which support this.  Dogs don’t need studies.


Forgive quickly.  The lesson here is about letting go.  It’s not a deep, theological lesson, but an attitude toward people and events.  Bad things happen; people can be hurtful.  It is important for us to honor our feeling responses to people and events; it is important to release and let go, too, so that we don’t get stuck in a dark cloud of holding grudges.  I accidentally stepped on my dog’s foot this week.  He screamed.  As soon as the ball came out for play, we were reconciled!  My unfortunate clumsiness was not on his mind, even though his foot might have been a little sore for a while.


Be in the present moment.  My dog was able to forgive and forget because he was in the present moment; the moment of being stepped on was gone and the moment of running with a mouthful of ball was present.  Dogs do not live in the past, with regrets and ruminations; they do not live in the future, with the anxiety that goes along with all that is unknown about the future.  Dogs don’t need a mindfulness course to be in the present. We humans might benefit from a mindfulness or meditation course or yoga class or centering prayer – or watching a dog – to reconnect with our bodies, minds and spirits in the present moment.  That’s where the real action lies, as any dog can tell you!


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