What I learned from a Puppy
I’m takingcare of a friend’s puppy this weekend and I had a realization that eluded mefor all my 15 years of dog ownership. I was walking the puppy this morningbecause she was full of energy and had begun causing the types of problems thatan energetic puppy will cause (biting the kids, chewing everything, jumpingup). I told the kids that when a puppy starts to behave this way it’s notbecause she’s a ‘bad’ puppy, it’s because she needs to get some exercise. Lotsof exercise. So I brought her out for a walk.
I had adestination in mind: the dog run, where I could let her off her leash to runand exert herself. As we were walking the puppy wanted to stop every couple ofsteps to sniff around. I found myself pulling her and telling her to ‘come!’and continue walking so we could get to the park to run. I thought I had herbest interest in mind, but when I got to the park I took a moment to myself tojust breathe. While she ran around, I focused on my breath until the ‘rushed’ feelingof ‘getting to a destination’ subsided, and all that was left was me watching apuppy enjoy herself and her world.
On the wayback I took a different approach. I realized that even if it took me twice aslong to get home, it didn’t matter, it would still be less than 30 minutes ofmy day. So it might take 30 minutes instead of 15 minutes to get home; thequestion is, would that really make that big of a difference in my day? No.Would the puppy enjoy smelling every tree and fire hydrant along the way? Yes.Is this walk about me or the puppy? The puppy. And that was my realization: Iam doing this for her. I took on the responsibility to care for a puppy, so itis my responsibility to set aside enough time to give her a walk that’s abouther, and not about me.
When I amrushed, when I have projected a planned destination and focus too much on‘getting there’ instead of watching the puppy and observing what the puppy isenjoying, then I am making the walk about me. It’s not a matter of letting herdo whatever she wants; I still have my rules about not going on the road, notpulling on the leash and not venturing too far into people’s yards, and I amconsistent with those rules. In this way, I am the boss, because of city rulesand safety requirements. So I need to earn the puppy’s respect in this way-through consistency in upholding the rules. But in looking at the situationfrom a starting point of equality, wherein I put my wants, needs and desiresaside in order to look at the situation from a common sense perspective, I seethat if I just breathe through my automatic feelings of ‘rushed’ and thepressure of ‘getting there’, then I am giving the puppy a chance to reallyenjoy herself and explore her world for the first time. She’s so young, all thesmells must be fascinating and exciting and new to her. I was actually able to get over feeling likeshe was ‘slowing us down’ or ‘taking too long’, so that I could actually enjoywatching her sniff the grass and find little sticks and flowers to bite. It waslike every little thing she found needed to be sniffed, bitten, scratched orrolled in. It was really cool to be able to put my self-interest aside andwatch her discover the world.
The coolthing about dogs is that, even as they get older they never seem to stopwanting to play, discover and explore. So when I mind even older dogs I willremember what I learned from the puppy today: the walks are not about me, theyare about the dogs. It is my responsibility to set aside enough time to allowthe dogs to thoroughly enjoy themselves when we go out for walks. It is myresponsibility to remain patient, and to not accept or allow myself to go intomy programmed pattern of ‘walking to get somewhere’ and instead just enjoyingthe walk. This is not about getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ by taking thequickest route. It is about living in the Hereness of the moment, and it’sabout enjoyment.
So, thankyou Tilley, you’ve taught me a valuable life lesson which I will not forget.One which, when I live and apply it every time I am back in that situation,will actually be a benefit in my life. It will build patience, awareness andenjoyment for me, and it will benefit all the dogs I mind in the future. Iguess everyone has a lesson to teach, so long as we are able to stop listeningonly to our own minds, and instead open our eyes and ears and learn. Who knows-the whole world could be trying to tell us something.