Lessons from a Dog

Melanie Szucs MA, LLMFT, LLPC

As a child, all I ever wanted was a dog. I used to get books out from the library about dogs and how to take care of them, just in case my parents ever decided we could have one. They didn’t. The closest I got was having guinea pigs. But my childhood dreams have now come true and I am the delighted owner of a beautiful Golden Retriever named Luna. She has even started coming to work with me as a therapy dog.

Before getting her, I watched dozens of training videos and read a bunch of books on the topic of dogs. Despite my rigorous preparation, I did not know what it would really be like to have a dog. And I’m not talking about cleaning up accidents in the house, or chasing her down the street as she hunts a squirrel. I’m talking about the many ways Luna has shown me what true joy and contentment is. She takes life as it is and lives into each moment. Here are some of the best things she has taught me.

Lesson #1 - Hold onto things loosely

This lesson came at Christmas time, when Luna decided that our beloved Christmas tree ornaments were her new favorite chew toys. Despite our efforts to move ornaments further up the tree, or place them around on the back, she somehow still found a way to get to most of them. As any dog trainer will tell you, if you don’t catch a dog in the act of misbehaving, it is only harmful to punish them after the fact. So there was nothing I could do about our ruined ornaments--gifts from loved ones, treasured memories from childhood. What was the point? It was over, and Luna had not intentionally destroyed our treasures. Her destructive puppy energy forced me to take a step back and hold on to only the most important things.

Lesson #2 - Pay Attention to Energy

Dogs, unlike most humans, are hyper aware of energy. If you’re nervous, the dog you’re with will be nervous. They pick up on subtle clues that humans often overlook or dismiss out of politeness. This means that for Luna to be at her best, I have to be calm and confident. I was recently driving home from work with Luna and got cut-off by another driver. As my husband describes it, I “Hulked-Out” and started yelling at the driver from my car. Luna immediately became scared and nervous and went on alert. In that moment I realized how potentially destructive my negative energy was. Luna acts as a kind of emotional barometer for me and lets me know when I’m not being my best self. The more I practice with her, the more it bleeds out into the rest of my life. Watching Luna has allowed me to live more freely and joyfully.

Lesson #3 - Chasing Squirrels Can Be Fun

Okay, so I haven’t actually chased any squirrels with Luna. But I have found the simple joy in just sitting and watching Luna chase squirrels. One of my favorite moments came at sunset a few weeks ago. We were at a park and I just sat in the grass as Luna tried, and failed, to catch squirrels and robins around the park. There were no deadlines looming over us, no dishes to be washed, or bills to be paid. Just the sturdy oaks and buttercream clouds floating in the sky. Just the next bird or the next squirrel. These moments obviously cannot be all of life. But they are good when they come. And Luna has drawn me into more and more of these moments.

Lesson #4 - I am Me and That Is a Good Thing to Be

Luna is 100% of herself all the time. She does not try to hide who she is or what she is feeling. As soon as someone comes into the office, she bounds up to them and stands waiting until they pet her. She is not nervous that she’ll be rejected or judged. Nor does she feel any shame if someone does not want to pet her. She harbors no hard feelings for those who do not want to be her best friend. Luna knows who she is and feels completely confident being exactly that.

As the youngest of three children, I have often tried to be more like my older brother or sister, or like various other amazing people in my life. But Luna has shown me the freedom in being me. In passionately pursuing what I like, and not trying force myself to be something I am not. She takes me as I am and invites me to take her as she is.

So even if you don’t have a dog, consider the simplicity and joy they demonstrate for us. And maybe take a moment to chase a squirrel.