Things I Learned from My Dog Part I

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Friday is our beautiful dog Mia's 14th birthday. I originally wrote this article when she was three. Many of the things I wrote about this article are no longer true of her. She's slowed down a bit, but she's still my best buddy. I've had the good fortune to work from home most of her life. So, we've spent countless hours and been on countless walks together. This picture was taken the night we brought her home in 2004.

The article, I thought, was clever and motivational. I hope it gives you a new perspective. Our best friends have many things to teach us. Here are but a few. This second picture is of Mia a couple of weeks ago. Our granddaughter was visiting Boston for the first time and Mia, being the patient creature she is, was allowing Briar to sneak up on her.

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Today is the first in what will become a recurring series on things I learn from my dog. We humans may have the opposable thumb and a larger brain, but animals can actually serve as very good teachers for us.

I’ve always been a dog lover and I especially love Labrador Retrievers. They just seem to be the ultimate optimists in the dog world. They are fun, playful, and affectionate.

Take our three-year old black Lab – Mia. The whole world – me included – can be against me on a bad day, but Mia is still for me. When we need to feel better about ourselves or other people it always helps to take a dog’s point of view. Dogs teach by example and then there are those things we can learn by observation.

One humorous thing about Mia, though, is that she is a ferocious Squirrel Warrior. In fact, I’d have to say she's neurotic about squirrels. We're fortunate to have a house with a significant number of windows. Mia – when she’s not sleeping – can usually be found patrolling the windows…waiting…watching for movement in the yard or a gray bushy tail in the grass that might indicate the presence of a squirrel.

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She takes this very seriously and she can drive herself crazy over the squirrels. Some of the older, wily squirrels will do things to really annoy her like sit on the deck rail or the patio (in full view) and munch on a nut. While inside Mia is having a conniption fit, the squirrel is calmly watching.

They also seem to have a very good idea of exactly how far her chain will reach in the back yard and they love to sit just beyond it. Sometimes when we let her out she will sit up by the door for half an hour or more waiting for one to wander too close and then she is OFF. Chasing the squirrel for all she’s worth and almost catching it, but not quite. She is the Wylie Coyote of the neighborhood. Another brilliant trap foiled.

Much of Mia’s day is consumed with the pursuit of squirrels she’s probably never going to catch. She just cannot relax as long as there are squirrels around. They torment her and she lets them.

You know, we all have our squirrels. We all have things that drive us up the wall and refuse to let us have peace. It might be a habit of your spouse, e-mail spam, traffic jams, the project at work, or, well, you fill in the blank.

Even the language we use to describe our “squirrels” is backwards. We often say, “That traffic really annoyed me.” Did it? The traffic was just sitting on the deck rail "munching a nut. " You were the one in the car losing your sense of peace.

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There's a story I remember reading about a young man who decided to take up meditation. He was working with a teacher. The man lived in a big city apartment. He was explaining to his teacher that he could not meditate in the apartment because there was a bus stop right outside his apartment.

“The constant noise,” he complained, “will not allow me to meditate. It’s too distracting.”

The teacher leaned forward and smiled, “Ah yes, but is the bus coming into the apartment and bothering you or are you going outside and bothering the bus?” The teacher’s point, of course, is that it is not the things that bother us; it is our thoughts about them that create the stress.

Today, make a list of your “squirrels” – those things that really annoy you. Think about how each can be addressed. Is there something you can do to change the situation and make it better? Or, is this something you just have to accept and get better at dealing with it?

Don’t try to take them all on at once. Work on one or two at a time. Over the course of the next few weeks or months –depending on how many you have – you will have more peace by setting them down.

When you encounter something really annoying you remember Mia. If it’s a real problem that needs to be dealt with, deal with it. If not (and so many things we get worked up about are not), visualize yourself as Mia going crazy and the source of your annoyance as the squirrel calmly munching the nut and enjoying the show.

I promise a smile will come to your face and you will recognize how silly it is and let it go.

Have a peaceful and prosperous Friday!

Ray Davis
for 6 Sense Media