How to Let Go of Expectations: Lessons from My Dog

Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” ~Tom Robbins

Have you ever finally gotten something you longed for only to find that things didn’t work out as expected?

I know I have.

I firmly believed that having a dog was the answer to some of my desires, such as having more meaning in my life and receiving love on demand from another life.

I bought into irrefutable sayings like, “Dogs love unconditionally,” and, “Dogs are man’s best friend,” and, “Dogs are loyal.”

As it turns out, the reality can be very different. And yes, those statements are true, but the results of expectations don’t manifest out of thin air. It takes patience, understanding, and a willingness to give more love than you take.

A Day That Changed Our Lives

My partner and I talked about having a dog for a while. He set his heart on West Highland Terriers because of their friendly, playful, and gentle nature. We couldn’t decide on the finer details, like shall we get a pup or “rescue” one that really needs a new home?

Not having children, we thought a dog would be an ideal way to introduce some fun, responsibility, and meaning into our lives, and of course to get an abundance of joy and love. We fought our own demons around the same time; my partner had the blues, and I was still searching for myself.

Then, by a series of “coincidences,” we found Mowgli. We spent hours scanning the classifieds and had gone to see a couple of Westies already, but none of them felt right.

One cold February day, we visited a local shelter and set our eyes on an interesting-looking yellow terrier, one that would do.

As we took him out to the playpen, we admitted to the keeper how we gave up on finding a Westie because the right one was hard to come by. Our jaws dropped when he said, “One’s actually coming in tomorrow. He’s five years old, and his name is Mowgli. Would you like to see him?”

We could barely contain our excitement!

My partner turned up the next day, and his first words will always ring true in my ear: “He’s perfect.” He walked him tirelessly for two hours every day until we could take him home a couple of weeks later.

What Have We Done?

But things weren’t as smooth as I had pictured. It took me a while to fully accept this little creature into my heart and life.

We knew he had some behavioral issues that weren’t apparent until we brought him home.

The first time I realized this was when my partner left the house and Mowgli repeatedly displayed his disapproval by messing in the wrong places. And my empathetic reaction to this? “I see now why they wanted to get rid of him!” However, the situation was more complex.

After some research, I discovered he suffered from separation anxiety—common among some rescue dogs. Knowing this made it easier to understand what he was going through, and we started to take corrective action.

Ironically, I was also dealing with my own anxiety problems, and this little dog helped me in some ways to change. I unreasonably chastised him when I was no better. As time went on—using ingenuity and creativity to calm him—small improvements became noticeable.

Then came the jealousy; he formed a strong bond with my partner, and I felt left out. He didn’t love me as much. Every time I took him out, he didn’t want to go—he kept pulling me back home. I lost sight of the bigger picture and started to resent this poor animal.

A Sobering Wake-Up Call

The wake-up call came when he was attacked by another dog in a field and got injured. We all limped home shocked and bemused. My partner and I were irresponsible to let him off lead since we barely even knew him. We could’ve lost him right there.

I took time off work to look after him, and we began to get closer. I nursed him and took him on walks, carefully introducing him to other dogs. While I got to know local dog owners, I faced my own fear of people too.

A year on, we have a much better relationship. He still prefers my partner, but I no longer have bad feelings about him. I now understand his needs and emotions better, and I fully accept him and the way he behaves.

On reflection, he was also teaching me some important lessons—I needed rescuing from my own expectations and rigid beliefs.

He’s a content little dog most of the time, and we love having him around!

A Dog’s Wisdom on People and Life

Take a good look in the mirror.

The dog’s behavior was a catalyst for me to recognize I needed to change some of my attitudes.

He was afraid of being apart from my partner, and I was afraid of interacting with people. But he required daily walks, and inevitably we’d meet humans and canines along the way. Slowly, he got used to spending more time with me, and I was getting better at small talk.

Sometimes you get so caught up with everyday life that it takes a big change to jolt you into reflection on how things really are. Use difficult events in your life as reminders to take a good look in the mirror and ask, “How can this help me?”

Cultivate patience and let events unfold.

Clearly, you cannot hurry bonding with a dog. Same goes for human interactions—deep and meaningful relationships will take time to form.

Chatting in the park regularly can make friends out of acquaintances. I now know a number of people from town who I would have never met if it weren’t for catering to my dog’s needs. If something goes awry, try and try again.

Befriend acceptance.

Be willing to receive wholeheartedly what you are faced with instead of judging and wanting to change it. I learned that it was better to acknowledge how things were rather than fighting them and wishing to be different without doing the work.

Be more present.

You can immerse yourself in the right now instead of focusing on how things should be. Whatever you experience in the moment, embrace it. And some of it won’t be pretty. But each of them contributes to your understanding and reaction to events.

Release the need to control.

One reason you become paralyzed by expectations is because you want to feel in control of every situation coming your way—to be able to deal with everything efficiently and to have a handle on them. But, it’s okay to be out of your depth and admit you don’t have all the answers and may need to learn something.

Find your role.

You’ll get more satisfaction out of a seemingly lost situation if you can recognize your part in it.

I didn’t get instant or unconditional love from this dog, but I had another role to play in supporting both him and my partner while we were figuring him out. I found the answers for his behavior, which enabled me to see my value, making me a whole lot happier.

Adopt a flexible outlook.

Consider letting go of rigid beliefs and give yourself permission to change your mind. We all hold onto some values and ideals that we think define us. Sometimes we don’t see the woods for the trees because of recurring patterns we are trapped in.

Look for opportunities.

Go beyond the initial projections you had about a situation, and be willing to see what else may be possible. It could be the ideal time for gaining better understanding about yourself and expanding your horizons, thereby allowing for growth that was not apparent before.

Remind yourself of the bigger picture.

When all else fails, think of the big reasons for why you’re doing something. Why did we want to take the dog in the first place? A living, breathing soul in need of a forever home and a loving family to take care of him. In this light, all my prior expectations dissipated.

Turning Around Unhelpful Expectations

Expectations are like first dates. You put them on a pedestal to which they rarely match up. They confine and limit your vision, clouding anything else that may be out there.

But they don’t have to paralyze you. Have an open mind. Have the courage to be wrong. Find the usefulness in seemingly lost causes.

Like a wise old sage, you’ll become skilled at finding valuable lessons even when things don’t go as planned.

And what you thought was the worst thing that’s ever happened to you might just turn out to be one of the best.

Western Highland Terrier image via Shutterstock

About Andrea Still

Andrea is a recent environmental graduate, and she's equally fascinated by human nature and their mutual interconnection. She's enthralled by personal development and is the voice behind the popular Instagram page @the_warrior_spirit. If you're finding life frantic, she's written a guide on Peace of Mind which you may find helpful.

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