Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dog as my Teacher

Aries first day home June 26, 2007

After reading Your Dog is Your Mirror by dog trainer Kevin Behan, I looked at my dog, Aries, differently. Behan states that dogs respond to what their owners feel and not necessarily to what they say. Most of the book demonstrated the heart connection between humans and their dogs. The trainer had handled numerous canine behavioral issues which he felt were related to the owner’s emotional state.

I remember thinking – wow – if Aries’ behavior reflects what is in my heart, I could only be so fortunate. She is playful all the time. She is loyal, trusting and dependable. Aries never has a bad day. She likes everyone and everything. This dog is always wearing a smile. I must be joyful, loving and optimistic if my dog is my mirror.

In light of that idea, what keeps going through my mind is My dog is My Teacher. I could only aspire to be what Aries shows me. I don’t know if I can agree with Behan that she shows me what is in my heart or what I wish was there.

Aries demonstrates to me unconditional love. Right now, it is just the two of us. Aries lets me know every morning and every evening that I am the most important thing in her life. I can be totally who I am and she loves me completely. She is totally accepting, a walking example of unconditional love. Each day I see her and remind myself to be more accepting and forgiving in my work and at home. To me it is a process, to Aries it is who she is.

Aries trusts me completely. She does not worry that I will forget to feed her or care for her. She is always in the moment. How amazing would it be to have that kind of faith and trust? Aries lives without worry of the future and has no regrets of the past. Right here, right now. It is my intention to achieve that kind of peace and security. I tell myself “Surrender and Release, Let Go and Let God.” Eventually, I sense anxiousness over something at my work or fear of my future and I must remind myself to stop trying to control the outcome. Let it go. I say the Serenity prayer once more. Aries does not need a reminder.

Hand in hand with trust, must be patience. This is a quality I have worked on my whole life. Blame it on my personality type, my astrological sign - I’m an Aries, too – or my upbringing, but I am a get it done person. Be a part of the solution to something, or get out of the way. My co-worker and I joke about this all the time. I’d like to grow into the sweet, gentle, little, old lady in the back of the church that is wise and humble. I recognize that patience is a major ingredient to that achievement. Aries will wait for me for days, for weeks, for months. You could say it is because she has no choice. True. But when I leave her anywhere, she watches the door quietly until my return. Friends and kennel owners tell me that she doesn’t want to play, she doesn’t whine or pace, she just waits. She is obedient and calm. Her patience is unlimited. Her patience is not limited to waiting. Aries loves children. I took her to a sledding party where there were many dogs, kids, adults and activities. There was a disabled child there that could not join in the sleigh rides. She could only throw snowballs. Aries assumed that was a game and joined in catching the snow each time a handful was thrown. The child’s mother came up to me and said, “I am so sorry, your dog does not have to keep doing that for so long.” I told her, “Don’t give it a thought. When Aries gets tired, she will go lie down.” I can’t remember who gave out first, the child or the dog. I have seen her catch sticks, snow, or tennis balls from children for hours without getting bored or agitated. This must be where the saying “Patient as a Saint” came from.

Aries makes a sport of every activity. Ever since she was a pup, her favorite game is to catch the snow that is being brushed off the car as it is scraped in the morning. She makes me laugh even when I want to be miserable. This was a particularly bitter cold winter with more snow piled up than I have seen in years and countless subzero nights. Of course, it coincided with the winter I would sign up for a boot camp at the gym four mornings a week at 5:30 am. At 4:45 am, I am shoveling the walk and trying to find the car and Aries is having a ball. With each swish of the snow broom, Aries’ face is filled with white powder as she leaps and swallows the snow. She coughs; she gags and then leaps again. As I shovel, she grabs the shovel and tugs. I get angry because I’m freezing and tired and she pulls even more. Finally, I have to enjoy it with her. Her sense of humor is contagious. I can’t imagine cleaning the car without her dashing around my legs. I will remember her actions and be more like her finding enjoyment in little things - being excited by simple daily duties. No matter how daunting things appear, there must be fun in here somewhere waiting to be discovered.

Maybe her happiness stems from her youth. I told my friends when she was a fuzzy puppy, “I am treating her like she is 90 lbs. and I am wearing nylon stockings. This is how I want her to behave.” I spent countless hours training her and I have been rewarded for that effort over and over. The days of practicing drills, we were making an investment in our future. I had clear boundaries and expectations, consequences and reinforcement. She never questioned who was Alpha; she fell into her role as pack and relaxed contentedly. We would go on long hikes, swim in the lake and bask in the summer sun side by side as she traversed the road from sprout to mature dog. I was a mother bear in her regard, protecting her and the rules were clear. She didn’t need to expend energy in a power struggle; she could live life and find the ecstasy that abounds. I would be much more peaceful if I could remember that there is a power higher than mine. I am safe and protected. My relationship with the Divine is endless and the journey clear.

I do not believe for an instant that Aries is some type of super dog. She is a good dog. We have molded each other. She will be seven next month which is getting up there for a 90 lb. German Shepherd. Our time together is finite. I am choosing to learn the lessons that she presents to me. We humans, with our amazing brains and souls, have an ability to see everything and everyone as a path to our evolution. What can we take away from observing wildlife, holding a lover, raising a child or helping a friend? Are we able to use every opportunity to grow and become more of who we really are?

I can choose to become exasperated over the mud and shedding hair this time of year, or I can remember that soon things will dry out and Aries will be back on the front porch of our little cabin. I do not know if I will adopt a dog again after she leaves this world. I would have a great deal more options on where I can live without a pet. I will never regret this time and I treasure each day I am graced with her presence. People come in and out of our lives and pets do, too. Can I discover the lesson that each encounter brings to me?

What does my Creator ask of me? He asks me to be patient and kind, forgiving and trusting, love unconditionally and without regret. He asks me to be grateful for everything in my life and to know I am being cared for even if I lose my way. He asks me to be joyful and happy. He asks me to be of service to my brother. My Creator has given me a teacher and she is lying at my feet. Yes, Dog is my Teacher more than she is a mirror. Thank you for this gift. I am honored and grateful.

Aries and I December 2013

Monday, March 17, 2014