Back in 2019 a contact suggested I write about what lessons I have learned as a dog owner that I have applied to other areas of my life.
While walking with my dog today I realized why I was not able to answer easily to this question. If we flip the question around, then the answer is: there are tools I have learned to use in life that I have applied to how I care for and relate to my dog. These are tools useful for so many areas of life that I’ve thought it is worth capturing them here.
Words are on top of my list as a communication tool. I talk to and listen to people, I read books and write blog posts and journals. Words help me make sense of the world. But dogs have no words. In absence of them, observation is what helps me figure out what Lumi is feeling, trying to tell me, or needing. Through observation I know whether he is feeling tired, hungry, bored, excited, or scared. Thanks to observation, I no longer see just a furry face when I look at my dog. His nose, his ears, his whiskers all do and say something. His eyes, while lacking the very expressive human eyebrows, also say tons of things. But not only his face speaks. His paws, his tail, the softness or hardness of his stomach. His sitting, laying or sleeping positions. There are so many ways in which my dog speaks to me. But I can only listen to him if I observe him with intention.
Observation can be really powerful when trying to make sense of the world around us. Look at the birds in your balcony, at the old lady next door. What do they say? Are they lost? Are they in pain? Do they need help? Sit and watch the blue of the sky on a sunny summer day and compare it with the blue on a sunny winter day. Is it the same? Observe yourself. How do you feel? What do you think? What do you do? Where do you go? What surrounds you?
Observation helps us notice that which is not obvious and in return, it helps us value our world more and benefit more from being part of it.
I had never been a dog owner. I had lived and interacted with dogs, but I had never had to be responsible for one full time. So when Lumi joined our lives there were many behaviours and situations that I had no understanding of. Searching for answers on the internet or from friends can be very contradictory and confusing, although it can be a start. There is too much information out there that is just blind repetition. Experts can be a helpful way to sift through the noise.
I wanted to understand why there were so many foods people suggested not to feed a dog? How many hours does he need to sleep? Does he need to walk 1, 2 or 5 times per day? What are the consequences if he does or doesn’t? What should I expect when he grows old? Why does he bark on certain situations? Why does he smell other dogs’ butts or the pee on the ground? Why does he pee in multiple goes during a walk and not just once? And many, many more questions.
I have learned so much from books written by people who have dedicated their lives to these animals (or by watching their videos). If you have veterinarians, trainers and behaviourists, it probably means that dogs (or that topic you have in mind) are more complex than we think. Seeking expertise keeps me humble. It always shows me, similarly to observation, that there is way more than meets the eye. It also helps me answer to they whys behind the whats I observe.
I rely on experts for any area where I want to go beyond the obvious, like a hobby (baristas, woodworkers), a general life skill (financial advisors, nutritionists, language teachers) or for work (designers, recruiters, engineers).
Experts have sweat it for us. Value them and rely on them when you can.
Nothing like giving things a try yourself. Even with expertise, there are always multiple schools of lives and believes. You have to try what works for you. And dogs, like most things in nature, come in varying shapes and forms. Dogs have their personalities formed by genetics and by the events taking place during key ages in their life. They have different tastes and tolerances. There are big, small, young and old. There are active and not-so-active dogs, professionally bred, or abandoned and traumatized. And then there are owners, many types of owners.
So trying out what works for our particular combination is the best way to figure out how to go about dog caring or life, for that matter.
Like with any good trial, the key is to identify a clear result we’re after, the variables involved in the process and the modifications we will make to see the impact.
With Lumi this has involved, in the first years, trying different leashes and harnesses, and different beds and locations where to place them. Later, it has been about improving his health (mental and physical). For this, we have tried different toys and games, various foods and snacks, and so many walking paths and dogs to interact with (or avoid). We have even tried moments of the day and months of the year in which to do/avoid doing certain things (e.g. No dog to events with crowds or fireworks! Yes dog to the park during the day!).
Trying is, in a way, my philosophy of life. More on that here.
So, should you get a dog?
While it is very delicate business to suggest anyone to assume responsibility for a living being (no matter how many feet or paws) I can confidently recommend that you practice more observation, that you look for expertise guidance and, that when in doubt, try things out! These three tools will open up your world and improve your life if you use them wisely.