“Buy a pup and your money will buy love unflinching.” ~Rudyard Kipling
I didn’t even want a puppy really. Puppies are synonymous with poop and pee. Everywhere. At least until they’re trained, and that takes time.
Of course, they’re also synonymous with love and affection, puppy breath, and lots and lots of wet kisses. (I’ve learned to keep a towel handy around my little Bella.)
Certain things I sort of expected when we got our little girl.
I expected to lose some sleep for a bit.
I was prepared to sacrifice the cleanliness of our home for a while. (Puppies and puppy toys are about as bad as actual baby messes, and sometimes worse.)
I even expected to lose an object or two to the jaws of this teething little being—though my beloved $300 Bose noise-canceling ear-buds came as a very unwelcome surprise.
That was the first lesson our puppy taught me. That hanging on to, dare I say being attached to, material objects is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for suffering.
I mean, after all, they’re just headphones; they can be replaced.
When it was all said and done, I was just thankful that she hadn’t chewed through an electrical cord somewhere and shocked herself to death.
My second lesson under the tutelage of our King Charles Cavalier is one she delivers daily: Don’t forget to stretch.
Not just after you’ve been sleeping all night, but every time you get up. Extend those limbs to their max and even let out a big yawn to open up your jaw muscles.
This is a super important lesson for a guy like me that spends so much time hunched over his laptop.
Speaking of which, it’s exactly when I’m hunched over my laptop that she offers up the third lesson: There’s always time for kisses.
Now, I know there are many breeds of dogs and each has their own distinct characteristics. Well, the Cavalier is known for an enormous amount of affection; and Bella has it in spades.
Hardly an hour of work goes by that she doesn’t jump up onto my lap and shower me with puppy kisses. And I’m not talking the quick little peck you might expect from other animals. No siree! She places her forelegs on either side of my neck and covers my face with hers.
She’s a great reminder for me to give this same kind of love and attention to my family. You can never get (or give) too many kisses.
The fourth lesson is one I’m still working on mastering, and that’s unconditional love.
I would joke with my wife that only Bella loves me unconditionally, because if I locked them both in the trunk of the car for an hour, only Bella would be excited to see me and shower me with affection upon my return.
My wife later experienced the truth of this when she had to leave our puppy in the car for a bit (not in any way endangered, mind you), and was greeted with great exuberance upon her return.
Which leads me to the fifth lesson: dogs know how to let go. Well, maybe not of a bone, but of grudges, attachments, and feelings.
Within two minutes of me scolding Bella for eating my ear-buds, she was right back on my lap and begging for playtime and attention.
She somehow understood that my “No” said in anger was only a temporary thing. She didn’t add any story to it. She didn’t turn it into the idea that from now on I hated her.
This lesson really got me looking at the places in my life where I could consider letting go. Where was I hanging on to a moment in time and carrying it with me into the future?
Another great thing I’m learning from our puppy—don’t judge. That’s the sixth lesson.
As I mentioned early on, I tend to work a lot over my computer, and she tends to try and distract me. In combination, it really does lower my productivity.
So, sometimes I take Bella and place her in her kennel near me. She may whimper and whine occasionally, much preferring to be roaming loose, but I’ve noticed that she doesn’t judge.
I mean, okay, maybe it’s a stretch to think that I can read her thoughts or feelings, but, to a large degree, I think I can. And I know that she isn’t sitting there thinking, Hmmmph! He’s just too damn lazy to play with me right now.
And you know what? It feels good to not be judged. And when I tried it on the other way, it felt even better to not be judging others.
I think our puppy’s onto something.
And finally, the seventh lesson showed up over several days. That is, I didn’t see the lesson right away; I was just seeing, well, from human eyes.
This lesson frequently takes place in my kitchen. On many occasions, I will make (and eat) my lunch standing at the kitchen counter. Please apply the sixth lesson here, and try not to judge me.
As I’m prepping and eating my food, Bella sits patiently behind me, I suppose hoping for me to drop something. She’s so good about being quiet and not begging (and she’s just so damn cute) that I feel compelled to treat her.
As I mentioned, I didn’t notice this last lesson for a few days, and then it came upon me like a ton of bricks. Bella never complained. Not one bit.
Now, I know that may seem trivial, but hear me out.
She would watch me take a big bite of my sandwich. Then another. And then a third, before I would lightly toss her a small piece of bread (about half the size of a kernel of corn).
Then I went back to eating before I would treat her again in a bit.
And then I noticed something big. I was placing very human thoughts into my perceived dialogue for her. That is, I imagined her thinking things like, Why is he getting to take big bites and I’m only getting crumbs? Or, Why won’t he just give me that whole damn sandwich?
These thoughts I was giving her quickly devolved into things like, Wow, my master is a greedy jerk and What a selfish pig this guy is.
It took a little bit before I let go of giving her any thoughts at all and actually tuned into what was likely more real.
She was completely happy with what she got. Her thoughts were more likely in the line of “wonder” questions: I wonder if I’m going to get any food, followed by Oh, hey, I did. Brief pause. I wonder if I’m going to get any food.
And maybe an occasional I wonder what that food tastes like.
This lesson was my favorite because it’s all about being present. And not just being present, but also letting go of the need to make things up about the present. The need to give meaning to what we see in the world.
My little puppy Bella, my great sage, is teaching me all the time. She’s a great example of being, here, now.
Now if I can just teach her to poop outside.
Cavalier King Charles puppy image via Shutterstock