A friend of mine and I have a (totally blasphemous) saying that we use whenever we see a dog on the internet demonstrating how entirely unworthy humanity is of the perfection that is dogs: “Praise be to Dog.”
Admittedly, we use it quite liberally. However, at the heart of our inside joke is an acknowledgement of what dogs have to teach us –astoundingly simple life lessons that it took me a full year of reading voraciously to truly comprehend.
When I launched this website a year ago, I was still clawing my way out of a major depressive episode and the universe had challenged my recovery with a bunch of other super fun (read: freaking AWFUL) personal life issues. I was determined to fix my shit, and Jester came into my life at almost the precise moment that I needed him. At that time, he was my alarm clock and my gym coach and my reason to get out of bed every day. He was my protector on the days I couldn’t get out of bed.
A year later, the universe is showing me how to pull together all the threads of what this last year has tried to teach me. Yeah, I’m a bit slow on the uptake but I got a lot of irons in the fire and by fire I mean I waste a lot of time on Pinterest. MOVING ON. Jester is basically the Yoda to my Luke Skywalker. Except that in this incarnation Yoda enjoys trying to eat cat poop and sleeps on a Minnie Mouse blanket.
Dogs supposedly have the intellectual capacity of a 2-3 year old human child, which actually makes a lot of sense when you think about the way dogs and small children appear to move through the world. A dog’s life is beautiful in its simplicity, and if you’ve been reading the blog for the last year you’ll note that common thread running through many of my posts.
Jester can’t type, but he presents his Top 5 Life Lessons:
- The best things in life aren’t things at all.
Jester is a natural minimalist – he needs little more than food, water, a warm place to sleep and the occasional treat. The only toy he has ever cared about is Mr Elephant, the toy I picked out for him the day before we brought him home (and who has starred in countless totally adorable photo ops since then).
I know that lots of dogs love their tennis balls and squeaky toys and ropes – but at the end of the day when those things are removed, the thing they love most is the people throwing the toys in their general direction. Being connected to each other is what life is about, and even though it can be hard and messy, in the end all we have is each other.
- Be present.
When Jester and I started one on one doggie training school, one of the first things I learned was how important timing was in terms of rewarding good behaviour. Delay giving Jester the treat when he does what I’ve asked of him, and he won’t make the connection – he’ll just see a delicious treat and assume I’m just a benevolent biped with a pocket full of foodstuffs. I like to think he’s not wrong, but I also really like it when he sits when told.
The thing about dogs is that they are just so very present – we attribute adjectives like “forgiving” to them, but really I think it comes down to being firmly planted in the here and now. If Jester does something he knows he’s not supposed and I have to give him the (hopefully) stern “NO,” he doesn’t hold that against me. He’s over it minutes after it happens. I’m sitting here stewing about the brewing resentment and probable list of “Hooman Wrongdoings” he’s got stashed under his bed, but I’m anthropomorphizing. The past is the past to a dog, and all he cares about is that he’s getting belly rubs now.
I know it can be a tough sell (especially when you’re an anxious depressive like me) but I think it’s important to try to re-centre ourselves every now and again. Yeah, maybe you got in trouble because you ate a dead bird yesterday, but today is a new day!
- Keep your heart open.
My favourite thing about Jester is travelling together – to the Tim Horton’s drive-thru or just walking around the neighbourhood. We meet people everyday that I would have put my head down and powered past if I didn’t have Jester bounding up to them and giving them his paw. He sees people as potential friends, always. One time a kid stopped his bike in the middle of the damn street and asked “Can I please pet your dog?” so I of course sat Jester down in the middle of the damn street and said “Of course” and then this precious little human THANKED ME for the opportunity and I went home and died a thousand deaths of overflowing heart-ness.
I like to keep my heart on the inside (I know, I know, I have a perfectly good sleeve I could wear it on) but every once in a while, Jester convinces me to let people in. In small increments, of course.
- Stay curious.
I make a lot of jokes about being an eight-year-old in a twenty-eight year old woman’s body, but quite honestly I don’t think I would have it any other way. The world is so full of tiny amazing things that it would be easy to miss them. As we grow, so to does our list of experiences and the more experienced we become, the easier it is to dismiss things under the “Been There, Done That” umbrella. THE UMBRELLA IS ROBBING YOU. Not at gun point or anything because like, how can an umbrella hold a gun? But the umbrella is keeping you from pulling over to the side of the road to watch a particularly blazing sunset. It’s keeping you from staying up well past your bed time to watch the sky for meteors. When was the last time you sniffed a fire hydrant to see who else had been by? OK, that last one was purely for my dog readers (of which I’m sure there are MANY) but you see my point.
Every time Jester leaves the house, it’s a new opportunity to explore the little world that is our neighbourhood. He passes the same houses and trees every day but the world never ceases to fascinate him. I mean, he’s curious because if he smells enough he might find another popsicle in a flower bed (true story) but who am I to question his motivations? One time I literally stopped him in the middle of the sidewalk and yelled “Jester! LOOK AT THIS GIANT WORM!” and he could have cared less.
- You can totally teach an old dog new tricks.
Jester is ten years old and can be crotchety and stubborn. But he’s also smart and loves to be challenged. He loves learning new tricks (because he knows what the reward is but shhhh) and he also kinda loves showing off. My old dog taught me that no matter how old you are, where you’ve been, or where you’re at now, there is still time to learn and grow and change.