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What Dogs Teach Us about Peace, Joy, and Living in the Now

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” ~Marianne Williamson

Are you a dog lover? I know I am.

Animals of all kinds can bring us so much joy, not only when things are going well, but also when we feel pain and are suffering.

“Man’s best friend” can be our true and faithful companions through thick and thin. We look to our pets when we are ready to play and laugh, and they instinctively know when we need their support.

I’ve had a dog most of my life. From purebreds to mutts, I’ve loved them all. It has always felt comforting to me to have a dog around. The joy dogs provide is well worth the effort.

We all have struggles and challenges in our life, and it’s during those times that our pets can really come in handy to help us find our joy.

One of my most stressful challenges was discovering my daughter’s addiction to crystal meth. I felt blindsided by this discovery. I knew she was struggling, but this was something I had never expected.

I learned from this experience that the time I have spent working on myself, as opposed to the time I have spent trying to fix her problem, has been the most meaningful and the most productive. Despite having addiction in my life, I could find my joy again.

For parents in the midst of addiction with their children, it can be emotionally exhausting for long periods of time. It’s easy to let the stress of the situation overtake you.

I am one of the lucky ones. My daughter has gone on to seek recovery for her addiction. She has grown and matured in ways I would never have expected.

We have both learned life lessons, and have evolved into new and hopefully better people. We both know to take it one day at a time.

From this experience, I found I needed to change. I needed to approach life in a new way.

As I watch my dog go through her day, I realize the lessons are really right there in front of me if I care to pay attention.

Here are some of the ways I can be the person my dog wants me to be, and be the person I want to be as well. I know that whatever life brings me, joy is still always there for the taking.

1. Connect with others.

Our relationships with others nurture our soul. We may neglect our friends because of our work or other interests. We may just get busy and forget to stay in touch.

When we look to our dogs, they need our connection on a daily basis. They need our love, time, and attention. When we stay connected with others, it feeds our soul and helps to lead us to a long life.

2. Live for today.

We can spend time regretting the past and worrying about the future, but I have learned that the solution will not be found that way. Spinning my wheels thinking about things that I cannot change is not productive.

Dogs live for today—and so can we. We can appreciate every moment as it comes and be grateful for what we have. Like all animals, when we live in the present, we can have more enthusiasm, joy for life, and less worry.

3. Forgive.

Forgiveness may be something we consider, but find difficult to really feel and carry out. The payoff in not forgiving is that we can continue to blame others for how we feel and remain the victim.

When you study animal packs, there is rarely a conflict, as the members of the pack solve their problems and move on. They don’t hold a grudge or worry about what happened yesterday.

Forgiveness gives us back our power, as we regain a sense of wholeness, peace, and the ability to move on with our lives.

4. Trust your intuition.

Many of us have not developed or have lost touch with our intuition. We listen to words, but neglect our inner feelings. We may feel uneasy about a certain situation, but neglect what our body is telling us.

Dogs understand what is going on beneath the surface, as they are led by their instincts and rely on their gut reactions. We have these clues as well. Hone in on your intuition and it will guide you to a life of peace and serenity.

5. Find balance.

When any of us have a traumatic situation, we can get off track and spend too much time focused on the situation, neglecting the other areas of our life. I have, at times spent too much time worrying about the problems of others. I’ve learned that we shortchange not only ourselves, but those around us.

Notice how well a dog does when their life is balanced. Dogs need their exercise, a dose of love, and structure to their daily routine, and so do we. When we balance our life, the stress fades to the background and we enjoy life that much more.

6. Set clear boundaries.

We teach others how to treat us. Many of us have a hard time setting boundaries that are clear and believable. We can waver and be indecisive, and those close to us may not know where our boundaries begin or end.

Close, connected relationships start with clear and consistent communication. Our relationship with our dog is a perfect example. When the rules are clear, and enforced consistently, our pets do well; otherwise they are confused about what is acceptable behavior.

7. Find your purpose.

Have you ever wondered why you were placed here on earth? Sometimes we lose our way and are not sure about our true purpose. The same is true for dogs.

When dogs are given a job and contribute in some way to the well being of others they feel a sense of satisfaction. As humans, we need to find our purpose as well. When we take the time to discover our purpose in life, we feel more fulfilled, and our life feels more meaningful.

8. Make every day special.

Sometimes we can let days go by and get swallowed up in our routine. Every day is the same and our excitement is lacking.

Have you ever noticed how a dog finds everyday life exciting? They can’t wait to eat, go for their walk, see you come home, or greet a visitor. We can learn so much by observing how our pets have enthusiasm for the simple joys of everyday life.

Everyday can be special for us as well. When we take the time to look, we may find our joy is still there waiting to be rediscovered.

Photo by Furryscaly

Avatar of Cathy Hull

About Cathy Hull

Cathy Taughinbaugh is the mother of a former crystal meth addict who has been in recovery for over 6 years. She writes on addiction, recovery and treatment at TreatmentTalk.org.

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  • Grace

    Oh, thank you for this!
    I, too, have a child who has struggled with addiction and I’ve learned to embrace my broken heart as part of my growth and experience. 

    I don’t know what I would do without my precious dogs – they make me laugh and force me to spring into action each morning. Their enthusiasm for life is definitely contagious. Patience is not one of the things they teach me!

    When I was reading this, my husband turned on the tv in the next room – there was a band playing and singing the line, “Dogs never get the blues.” Cool.

  • http://hanofharmony.com/ The Vizier

    Hi Cathy,

    It’s so nice to see your post here on Tiny Buddha!  :)

    Ah, actually I prefer cats to dogs.  But as you rightly point out, animals of all kinds can bring us so much joy, especially at critical times when we need support the most.  

    It must have been difficult dealing with your daughter’s addiction.  All parents worry about their children and feel their pain.  It is good to know that your daughter has gone on to seek recovery.  I am sure she has learned many valuable lessons from her experiences.  

    I think setting clear boundaries is very important.  Clarity is vital to life.  The moment we are unclear, we hesitate and become unsure of what to do next.  But once we have goals, these goals define the boundaries we have to work with and from there what we need to do becomes clearer.  Then it is easy to take action.  

    Life without purpose is rather meaningless.  In this day and age, many people seem to be suffering from purposelessness.  Whether it is some legacy we wish to leave behind or living for someone dear to us, it is vital we find purpose in our lives.  The good thing is that purpose is up to us to create.  We just need to find that someone or something that drives us.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!  :)

    Irving the Vizier

  • Lisa @ just here just now.com

    This was beautiful! We rescued a dog from the SPCA about eight months ago, and I think my most important lessons about how to be good and happy person have come from her. She is a profound spiritual teacher for me! It’s such a joy to be able to learn from animals. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • http://www.poweredbyintuition.com/ Angela Artemis

    Cathy,
    This was wonderful!
    I think our pets are, in many ways, wiser than we are. They don’t have “egos” that come through to twist up their perception. I just read a Native American proverb somewhere that said: Every animal knows more than you do. I would agree.
    All the best with your book,
    Angela

  • http://journeyofasoulsearcher.blogspot.com/ Madison Sonnier

    I love this! I watch my dogs all the time and think some of these same exact things. My dogs give me unconditional love and everything is exciting to them. They’re incapable of holding grudges or worrying about any moment other than the present moment. Dogs really can teach us a lot if we’re willing to pay attention. I’m one of the biggest dog lovers you will ever meet. :) 

  • Jenna Buesser

    LOVED this post. I have been a huge animal lover my whole life, and I’m glad I’m not the only one who has this love. I’ve always wanted a dog, but unfortunately I’ve never been able to. I hope to one day. I did have an amazing cat growing up, Jasmine, but we had to put her down a couple years ago. I balled for weeks. Some people didn’t understand but Jasmine was truly a part of the family. Whenever I was consumed with anxiety, upset about something, or dealing with some serious family issues, Jasmine was always there for me. Like you and others have mentioned, you can really learn a lot from animals. They don’t stress (well not normally at least), they live for today only, they eat when their hungry, they sleep when they’re tired, they don’t hold grudges, they’re loyal, and they always love interaction. On top of all that, they love you for you without any judgements!

  • http://www.facebook.com/shrijitn Shrijit Nair

    I liked this post! i had written something like this too on my blog… 
    http://dudoism.blogspot.com/2010/03/man-vs-dog.html  

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Madison,

    The unconditional love can’t be beat. That wagging tail is welcome every time I walk in the door. Dogs brings us back to the basics of life, the simple things that bring us joy. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Cathy

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Angela,

    Our pets are often wiser. They live for the moment. We can learn so much from our pets. When we take the time to observe them, we can truly understand why they are usually so filled with joy. Thanks for your lovely comment.

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Lisa,

    I have often found that rescued dogs seem to have such an appreciation for their new life. They just seem to sense that life has taken a positive turn. Good for you that you are helping animals find a loving home. Yes, they are our spiritual teachers. Thanks for your insightful comment.

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Irving,

    Nice to find you here on Tiny Buddha as well! Two of my children now have cats, and although I have never before had a relationship with a cat, I have grown fond of both of them. My daughter has gone on to live a meaningful life and I know we all as a family will hold dear the lessons we learned from that experience. Appreciate reading your comment.

  • Tess The Bold Life

    Hi Cathy,
    I love Marianne’s quote. She was my biggest teacher at one time, in fact she was the one who inspired me to right my first book! I’ve never owned a pet, my kids have! I’m making today special!

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Grace,

    Well, as you know I can relate to your situation, so I do wish you and your family the best with this disease. Our dogs can bring us back to that place of peace, joy and serenity. We can let go of our concerns and take a walk with them, throw the ball and just enjoy the simple things of life. Love the song title – how true is that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • http://www.OneMansWonder.com/ Jeffrey Willius

    Wonderful post, Cathy! These are lessons life’s trying to teach us all the time, whether through trials like your grief and growth over your daughter’s addiction, through our own personal growth work…or just through watching our dogs! Congratulations to you and your daughter for heeding those lessons!

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Shrijit, 

    Thanks for sharing – I’ll check out your post.

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Jenna,

    I’ve recently been introduced to cats, and I am enjoying the experience. Dogs do bring us back to the now. Some hesitate to have pets because they worry that they will be too sad when they pass away, but I look at it as the glass half full. Although I am always sad, I enjoy my time with my dogs, and savor the memories when they go. It’s just too fun to have them to give it up. Jasmine sounds like a wonderful cat, and you enjoyed your time with her. Thanks for sharing.

  • Laura

    Cathy, enjoyed your observations. Nice you had your wonderful pet to comfort you through it all. I think . . . that animals are here to guide and comfort us, if we allow them. Who doesn’t like to look into a being’s eyes and see LOVE being returned/reflected back?

  • PamelaJorrick

    I love this also! My kids and I were just talking about what loyal friends our dogs are, and how much comfort they bring in hard times with their unconditional love. Thanks for sharing.

  • Erika Dajevskis

    The other day I was stressed out an went for a walk. As I walked around a still-empty university campus, there was a pretty gray cat with a collar sitting in front of one of the classroom buildings as if waiting to be let in. I sat down on the steps and stretched out my hand to see if he would come say “hi,” and he walked right over, climbed into my lap, and curled up. How is it that animals just know when we need a little snugglin’?

    A woman came by and told us his name is Charlie. He lives a block over from the university but like the wander the campus, roaming around, saying hi, and is known by everyone there – like their mascot. He even wanders the halls sometimes… a very well-educated cat!

    http://girlseeksgoodlife.blogspot.com/

  • linnaea

    Thank you for sharing your insights about dogs with tiny buddha readers.You are very special to respond to so many who wrote a reply!For 20 years I wanted to have a dog, but knew that my life in Asia was either too focused on work, or too temporary (in one location) to give the structure that a dog needs. Luckily I was able to adopt 2 labs in Indonesia and many feral cats. I brought them with me to the US when I had to leave Indonesia.When each passed on, one by one, I decided to adopt more and now have 3 retrievers, two Great Pyrenees and 5 cats. They are why I breathe. I love sharing their unconditional love, focused attention and presence with strangers we all meet while walking together. I love the calm they show disabled kids.So far, I have not met anyone who really understands the special life of living with 10 rescues animals, each one appreciating their new life. As you said, a rescued animal really knows the value of life and love. They bond so quickly to their human and so deeply.I am not a perfect mom to my canine and feline family, and they are not perfect by any sense of the word, but we easily work through our differences, which is more than I can say for many of the humans I have shared my life with!We enjoy nature, they enjoy critters, I enjoy their 100% focus on whatever they hear or smell. It is a pleasure to be alive with my guys and girl.My heart is filled with warm affection just thinking about these four leggeds who are lying near me as I write this to you.Enjoy,linnaea

  • Lance

    I love, love, love this post.  What a great reminder to learn such important lessons from our everyday experiences with our pets and enrich the lives of everyone we touch.  Thank you!

  • Lkjc

    Hi Kathy, 
    That was inspiring.  It is so good that you have the courage to share you struggles and move forward and overcome them.  I have a dog too and you are so right in what you say.  A dog also accepts you and loves you for just being you with no judgement.

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Lkje,

    Thank your for your kind words. A dog does give so much comfort when days are challenging and can just be your pal when things are going well. They do love you for just being you. I’m glad you have a dog too – enjoy!

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Lance,

    Thank you so much – I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Our pets can teach us so much in life and be there through thick and thin. When we take the time to observe how they go through life, it does remind us to live in the present moment. 

  • Deb

    One of my friends posted this on facebook.  I am so glad I read it.  I too have an adult child on crystal meth. You do have to look at life differently to survive.  I now have 5 dogs.  I lost two of my older ones (15+ years) in the last six months.  One of them just last week.  Because of what my dogs have taught me, and the wonderful experiences we have shared, I will survive my son’s addiction.

    At age 51, with the help of my Rottie and McNab, I am learning to herd sheep.

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Linnea,

    How wonderful that you have rescued dogs and cats and brought them home with you. You will always have the satisfaction of knowing that you have made a creature’s life just a little bit better. None of us, by any means are perfect. We are human and that is what makes life so interesting. I would love to have more pets, but traveling a bit, keeps me with just one. She is a great companion and good traveler as well. They do become part of our family and we couldn’t live with out them. Thanks for sharing, Cathy

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Erika,

    Animals do have a sixth sense and seem to know just what we need. How fun to have the cat come right over and curl up with you. Charlie sounds like a wonderful addition to the campus. take care, Cathy

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Pamela,

    Dogs are amazing companions for children, some breeds of course, better than others. When a child learns to care for a pet, that is the beginning of learning kindness and care for others. They do bring unconditional love and that is what makes them so lovable. Enjoy your dogs! take care, Cathy

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Laura, 

    How true. A dog’s purpose seems to be the role of companion, and it is wonderful to know that they are there for you. My dog just loves to follow me around and curl up for a nap, once I’m settled. They just want to be close. take care, Cathy

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Jeffrey,

    I agree, and believe life’s challenges are lessons that we need to learn. I know the different experiences in my life have given me a new appreciation for what I feel is important. When we let go of everything else, the simple things like love and joy are what we have left. Thanks for sharing, Cathy

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Hi Tess,

    How wonderful that Marianne was your teacher. I have read a few of her books, and she is so inspirational. I would love to learn more from her, and so glad that she inspired you to write your book. It takes a little nudge from someone sometimes to send us on our way. Enjoy your day! take care, Cathy

  • http://www.owenmarcus.com Owen Marcus

    An old friend of mine, Peter Levine who put PTSD therapy on the map credits his dog teaching him about how we can recover from PTSD. Because of his dog thousands of people have had their lives transformed.

  • http://nochnoch.com/ Noch Noch

    I totally get what you mean – I’ve had a puppy for the last 10 months and it’s been a joy with her. It gets me out of the house and I think it has helped me to recover from my depression. Dogs are so patient too, they just sit and wait till you have time for them. I wish I was like that, instead of rushing through life!
    Noch Noch

  • Debra

    Maryanne always has some soul searching enlightening give me a different perspective on life things to say.THANKS FOR BEING YOU, and also sharing your struggles.

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  • http://www.BigIslandDog.com/ Jt Clough | Big Island Dog

    As a professional dog trainer I find this article to be more than touching in that someone else “gets it”!  I learn so much from my dogs and though I have many tell me how much I have helped them, it has come through connection and many times connection with the dogs!

    Aloha wags!

  • http://adriennesmith.net/ Adrienne

    Wonderful post Cathy.  I stopped by your place but saw you had a guest post so when I read the topic I had to come by and read it.  

    I was with my family just this past weekend and my sister has a one year old English Mastiff.  She has been sick and she shared with us how Logan sensed that she didn’t feel good so instead of being the lively puppy he still is, he just crawled up on the couch with her, laid his head on her shoulder and napped with her during the day.  She’s a fairly new dog owner so she’s learning about the pure love these animals bring us.

    I’m such a dog lover. I don’t know what I would do without my girl, she always brings me such joy.  Since I work at home she lets me know when I need to take a break and play with her some.  We also take walks every afternoon so I make sure she gets the attention she deserves. I know so many people who have dogs yet they don’t show them any attention.

    This was a wonderful reminder of how our dogs can teach us some of the things we sometimes forget.  Thank you for sharing this Cathy!

  • JJ

    I wish I had know about your site 12 yrs ago when I was struggling with my son’s mental illness.  It is so inspriational that I am sharing it with my other friends who have children/teens that have severe mental illness.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1128236262 Travis James Holasek

    I have learned that when I am having a particularly bad day, be it stressed over finances, my school work, or a relationship issue, all I need to do is get the leashes out, and me and my two Dachshunds head out for a walk along the river. As soon as they start romping around in the grass and get that doggie smile, my problem seem to not be as big a deal as I was making them. And the times when I get in the grass with them and roll around (people walking by think I am crazy), I really lose myself in the moment. 
    And the part about dogs knowing when we need them, it is so true. There have been many nights that I wake with one of my anxiety attacks, and my little girl, Bella, is right there, rubbing her head against my beard. It is her way of comforting me, and I am so grateful for it. 

  • Elaine

    In May 2009,
    I began a love relationship I did not know was possible. On that day I
    travelled to Salisbury North Carolina to pick up a Pomchi, I found on
    Craigslist. This was the first time I heard the name pomchi. However, by
    searching the Net I discovered that a Pomchi was a cross between two dogs, a
    Pomeranian and a Chihuahua. The pictures I saw were beautiful and I was please.
    This was my first time having a dog for a personal pet. Acquiring Charlie was the beginning of a
    relationship between a dog and its owner, I had only read and heard about. The lessons I learn from Charlie are profound.

  • timofiy

    hi guyz im new here n i frickin luv my doggie, she is so cute haha lol :P xoxoxo