A girls best friend
I sat on the floor gazing out the window as a tear rolled down my cheek. Suddenly Kula perked up from her plushy pillow and wiggled across the hardwood to give me a slurpy lick; and then two, three, four, until I couldn’t help but smile.
I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have been graced by the presence of this extraordinary dog, but I’m grateful every day. Kula is two-and-a-half-years-old now, a red fox lab with an insatiable passion for mountain biking—kinda like me. Maybe it’s cliche, but my dog truly is my best friend. She’s my riding sidekick, snuggle buddy, sous chef, and she’s always there for me. I believe we can learn a lot from dogs, they teach us about gratitude, love, friendship, compassion, presence and joy.
Friends with benefits
When it comes to improving your state of zen, a furry sidekick comes with an abundance of benefits. If you have one, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, consider getting one! Ever since I was a kid I’ve pretty much always had a dog. My first partner in crime was Mango— a sweet golden retriever with a heart of gold. My brother and I sold apricots from our fruit tree in Kelowna until we had enough money to buy her. Mango was a pivotal ingredient in my childhood and a teacher of many life lessons.
Life lessons from my furry friends
Whether Kula is inhaling her dinner, chasing a stick or cruising down the trail at mach 10, she’s always living in the moment. The past is gone. The future is unknown. Sure, she experiences fear, like when I have to trim her toenails, but once the moment has passed, she doesn’t harbour resentment, nor does she live in constant fear of their next esthetician encounter.
Although I can’t read her mind, I highly doubt she’s distracted by negative self-talk, such as, “I’m wasting my life sleeping on this cushion all day.” or “Oh man, the cute dog up the street doesn’t like my over-sized floppy ears, I’m sure of it.” or “I made such a fool of myself when I barked at a shovel on the trail ‘cause I thought it was a bear.”
Kula inspires me to savour even the simplest of moments. When we stop beside the creek for her to drink, I listen to the soothing sound of water trickling over the rocks and my gaze floats around to appreciate the forest’s magic—sun flares peaking through the trees, sap green moss that looks like soft blankets against the trees, the rich red hue of decaying stumps, and the stillness and silence amidst so much life.
Kula is a shining example of unconditional love. She smiles ear to ear as she greets everyone who crosses her path. Graciously sniffing and wagging without judgment or conditions. She accepts all beings in their true nature.
No words need to be said to show the deep affection from a dog. Love and friendship is felt by experiencing it. It’s not something you can force, it happens organically and we discover its depth by watching it unfold in our lives. We can learn love lessons from dogs by extending ourselves, vulnerabilities and all, with the notion that regardless of the outcome, we want to connect with and benefit another person.
One of the vital components of emotional intelligence (EQ) is empathy, which gives you a significant advantage in life. Dogs are excellent teachers of empathy and compassion. Having a dog means you learn how to care for another being, and your intuition increases because you cannot speak to them. Loving my dogs has also taught me what it means to be selfless—sometimes you have to wake up at 3am because she ate too many cherries the day before, suit up for a walk even though it’s pissing rain, or stop what you’re doing to give them difficult-to-administer medication.
Having empathy means tuning into another person. With empathy we learn how best to communicate with that person and what matters to them; we sense their mood and emotions, understand their perspective of the world and discover how best to connect with them. This vital information can help us at work, in our friendships and in our intimate relationships.
When Kula wants something — a banana, to go outside, to play, she lets me know. She will wag her tail near the bananas, stand by the door, or bring me a toy. She’s not vague and she doesn’t drop hints or confuse me, expecting me to guess. She is direct and honest. She also doesn’t sulk and get passive aggressive if I don’t know what she wants right away.
Taking Kula’s approach with honest and direct communication has helped me build stronger, more harmonious relationships. It can be our nature to want to avoid conflict, but avoidance often causes tension and resentment. If we can put our ego and fear aside and consistently provide open and honest communication, we will experience healthier conversations, trusting relationships and stronger teamwork.
Kula is pretty good at achieving her goals. If she wants her dinner she will sit by her bowl until I cave, even if it’s 3pm! And if she really wants someone to play with, she will hold a staring contest or lean against my leg until that eventually wears on me. Recently I was at a friends cabin where Kula spent the whole weekend trying to catch minnows in the shallow water. We all laughed at her hopeless endevour, until to everyone’s amazement, she caught one! Although I think she was also surprised because she promptly spat it out.
Often the only difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is the ability to keep going long after others have dropped out. As people, we give up so easily after the first try or two. We give up on job opportunities after the first attempt, we quit sports if we aren’t good at them immediately, and we walk away from love because it’s hard or we don’t feel worthy or able to overcome difficult circumstances. Take a lesson from Kula and go for it! Never look for an excuse or a way out, instead go passionately towards your deepest desires.
Forgiveness & Patience
Kula sheds fur like no one’s business, I could seriously vacuum twice a day or more! Sometimes she runs through the house with muddy paws and is oblivious to the frustration I feel. In the summer she sneaks veggies from the garden, pulling up carrots one by one until I come out and chase her around the yard in my pajamas.
Having a dog means you learn quickly that there’s no point in holding a grudge, because a dog simply won’t understand it. That’s a lesson we can apply to human relationships too — grudges may feel good in the moment, but they’re not going to help you.
The reality of impatience becomes clear when you own a dog too. Impatience taints our best and loving intentions, and seems to especially do so with those who matter to us most. Dogs have given me the ability to practice forgiveness and patience, which I’ve learned shifts the attention away from stress and frustration, increases inner peace and helps relationships.
Life is short
Each time I’ve loved and lost a dog, my heart shattered. The dark and heavy weight of loss in my chest persisted for a very long time after—so much so that I told myself I would never get another dog. The pain was too much. But, as time passed I understood that the good times together far outweighed the inevitable grief.
Experiencing loss can make you feel like building a wall around your heart, but dogs teach us that no matter how fleeting a relationship was, there are so many precious moments that’ll never leave you. Life is short and it has been said that the thing we regret most at the end of life is not taking chances. By not taking a chance, we may save ourselves pain, but we give up far more…we give up love, smiles, laughs, lessons, and a richer and deeper life overall.
My dogs have taught me that life is short, and putting your heart on the line for love is always an extremely worthy cause.