Two weeks ago, my boyfriend and I got our first pet together: a puppy.
It took me years to get over the death of my beloved mastiff Winston (2002 – 2013), who was the best dog ever. Last year, I was ready to find a mini mastiff: a pug. My feral cat Beatrix had bonded with Winston, and she needed a buddy. I called her Miss Lonely Heart because she followed me everywhere. She had become so attached to me. I swear she has the soul of a dog.
Anyway, I began looking last year, but my boyfriend asked me to wait until he moved to Alabama. Then, we decided it made more sense to postpone getting a dog until we lived together. We moved into our house in January. By March, I didn’t have spring fever; I had puppy fever.
Finding a dog is tough. There are a lot of sleazy breeders. In retrospect, I was lucky with Winston. I couldn’t find a local breeder in Southern California so I bought Winston online. (Born in Missouri, I bought him from a puppy broker in Florida.) He was perfect. This time, I didn’t want to repeat that experience. I wanted to meet the puppy first. We had to find a dog with a passive personality. Beatrix has been alone almost four years; she is used to being top dog even if she is a cat.
I found someone on Craigslist giving away puppies. Though she tried to prevent it, her purebred pug and her purebred Rottweiler had mated. An unusual combination. I looked up the traits of both breeds, and they have more in common than I realized. They are family dogs; they hate being alone; they prefer people over other dogs; they are playful; they need exercise; they don’t tolerate heat well; they are easy to groom; they may bark and chew, and they have little sense of wanderlust. They are stay-at-home dogs.
The young woman’s female Rottweiler gave birth to seven puppies: six girls and one boy. By the time we met her, she had three puppies left. All girls including the runt of the litter who at eight weeks old weighed eight pounds. Since my boyfriend thinks any dog over 40 pounds is huge, I knew he would prefer the runt. We watched them play outside. Unlike her rowdy, spirited sisters, the runt, who had no name, remained calm, quiet, and withdrawn. She was shy. We thought she would fit in with our family. We needed a passive puppy.
On the way home, we talked about potential names. I wanted something Southern like Zelda (as in Zelda Fitzgerald). My boyfriend suggested Sadie. I looked it up. Though Sadie is a nickname for Sarah, the names have evolved into different meanings. Sarahs are thought of as sweet and serious while Sadies are considered sassy and outgoing. In Hebrew, the meaning of Sadie is princess. Fast forward 24 hours later … Miss Sadie has lived up to her name.
Seven life lessons puppies can teach us
When puppies leave the litter, which includes their mother and siblings, they don’t know where they’re going. They don’t know where they might end up. However, puppies are quick to embrace change. We thought we were getting a quiet puppy. How wrong we were! Sadie went from being shy and passive to being rambunctious and active within 24 hours of being in our home. She embraced her new environment. She didn’t mind living with a cat that was twice her size and somewhat hostile.
When I moved from Los Angeles to Birmingham, I embraced many changes. The obvious ones were in culture and geography. The unknown ones were in my personal and professional life.
- I didn’t know if I would stay married.
- I didn’t know how I would earn a living.
- I didn’t know if my nonprofit would continue to thrive if I was across the country.
- I didn’t know if I would make new friends.
But the farther east I drove, the more certain I became that everything would be alright in the end. I didn’t know how it would all work out, but I knew in my gut, it would.
- I don’t regret moving to Birmingham.
- I don’t regret asking for a divorce.
- I don’t regret living alone.
All of those things were huge changes in my life but change is the only way we grow.
Learn from a puppy: embrace change. You will experience growth. Trust me.
Dogs are loyal, especially puppies. Often, they trust their new owners without question. I held Sadie in my lap in my boyfriend’s truck. We went to the pet store where she was exposed to new sounds and new people. Because I held her the whole time, Sadie bonded with me before we arrived home. She trusts me 100 percent. Yet, I was the stranger who yanked her out of her comfort zone, away from her mother and remaining siblings.
We raise our children not to trust strangers. To never ask strangers for help. This advice, while well-intentioned, is not good. I’m not saying children and puppies are exactly alike, but sometimes, we need to trust strangers. Approximately, 75 percent of child abductions are perpetrated by family members, friends, or acquaintances — not strangers.
For example, when I was a freshman in college, I locked my keys in my car parked off campus. I was 18 years old. I was not a member of AAA yet. I had no idea how to break into my car. I called AAA: for non-members, the cost of unlocking your car was $30, which was a lot of money for me at that time. I was about to suck it up when I noticed a homeless man about a block away. Then I remembered, USC had been having a problem with homeless people sleeping in cars around campus. I hung up the phone. I did not know this man. He was the last person I should have trusted. But I took a chance.
I walked up to him. “Do you think you could open my car for me? I locked my keys inside.”
He glanced at my 1988 Ford Escort. He shrugged and smiled. “Of course.”
I wanted to offer him something in return. “I would be happy to buy you a cup of coffee if you like.”
“Okay,” he said. He whipped out a wire coat hanger, which acted as a homemade Slim Jim. (I remembered this method and used it many times in the future.)
Ten seconds later, he was done. I handed him a dollar, which more than covered the cost of a large coffee before the days of Starbucks. He thanked me and walked away.
Much like the way I trusted the homeless person to open my car for me (and not do anything else), Sadie has trusted us as her new owners.
Many people have broken my trust over the years so I don’t trust easily. However, to quote Henry L. Stimson, “The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.”
I’ve shifted my mindset regarding trust. I trust people until they give me a reason not to trust them anymore. But if you lose my trust, you may never get it back. Ever.
As a career coach, my clients have to trust me. The only way they can is if I trust them, too. The partnership works both ways. They have to trust I will teach them all the knowledge I know, keep their confidentiality, support their dreams, and coach them. I have to trust them to absorb, listen, learn, and most importantly, take action. I am successful when they are successful.
One of the most frustrating things is working with a client who doesn’t trust you. They hire you for your expertise, but then, they don’t trust you. It’s the worst kind of relationship.
Whether you are hiring a career coach, interior designer, SAT tutor, etc., you are taking a leap of faith. You are trusting a stranger, even if a friend referred you to the person.
Remember: you have to give trust to gain trust.
Babies nap. Small children nap. (Well, I never did.) However, we adults do not nap.
In the United States, napping is seen as a form of laziness. Studies have shown that taking a short siesta in the middle the day is good for productivity. In Europe, it is common to stop halfway through the day and take a short nap before resuming your work activities. In China, a one-hour, post-lunch nap is considered a constitutional right. Though Spain may banish their two-hour midday siesta soon, I doubt other countries will follow suit. In fact, many U.S. companies are encouraging their employees to take short naps. With couches, recliners, beanbag chairs, and napping pods available for their employees, Google, Nike, and Zappos believe naps will increase productivity.
I do not sleep well. I do not get seven hours of sleep without interruption. It’s a rare and beautiful thing when it happens but it’s unusual when it does. However, I love naps. All I need is one sleep cycle and I am back on track. My sleep cycles last 75 – 90 minutes. When I was teaching, I would often come home after school and nap for just over an hour. A doctor might argue those naps affected my sleep at night, but that’s not true. The sleep I get during a 90-minute nap is better than the sleep I get during the night. Guaranteed.
I don’t nap every day. Occasionally, I will take a short nap when I need one. Naps are not a sign you are lazy. Your body needs to rest both physically, emotionally, and mentally. Napping allows your brain to recharge, which is why productivity increases when people are allowed to nap.
Puppies and children have the right idea: take short naps.
Use your senses
Have you ever paid attention to puppies? They smell, look, taste, touch, and listen to everything. They use all of their senses in ways that many of us humans do not. I love it!
With their advanced sense of smell, dogs have an advantage over us. They ‘see’ things before we do. I caught Sadie digging into an existing hole. She was quite proud of herself when she produced an abundance of leaves in her mouth. Because they love to chew, puppies will taste anything. (Whereas babies will not!) When Sadie bites into a dandelion and it disappears, she seems surprised. When she gnaws an acorn and spits it out, she seems annoyed. She carries my tennis shoes around the house; they have become both a chewing toy and a safety blanket.
She has to touch everything. The grass. The bushes. The trees. The steps. The cat condos. The couch. She loves sliding across our hardwood floors but seems to dislike the tile in our bathroom.
The best part though is when she stops, sits, and listens. She cocks her head like my English Mastiff did. Sometimes, I know what she hears: dogs barking, birds flying, squirrels scampering, Beatrix (our cat) hissing, dishwasher starting, etc. Most of the time, I have no idea what sound has attracted her ears.
British philosopher Barry C. Smith believes we have more than five senses (a theory credited to Aristotle). Neuroscientists argue we have anywhere between 22 and 33 different senses. WTF!?!
Before we dive into our 22+ senses, follow the example set by puppies. Use all five of your known senses.
Savor every meal
Have you noticed how much puppies look forward to being fed? Children are not necessarily this way but puppies are.
Though puppies may not eat slowly, they enjoy their food. My English Mastiff Winston knew what the food words “breakfast, dinner, bone, and yogurt snack” meant. It’s incredible how much dogs understand when we teach them. How dogs eat is different from we humans. For example, dogs eat wherever their bowl is. They don’t have an option. The bowl may be on the floor or it may be elevated. Dogs, especially hungry puppies, may move the bowl around or pick it up, but they don’t go too far. Their entire purpose for being in front of their bowl is to eat their meal. Without distraction.
Compare their behavior to ours:
- Have you ever eaten your lunch at your desk at work? (I have.)
- Have you ever eaten standing up? (I have.)
- Have you ever eaten while you continue working? Sitting or standing. (I have.)
- Have you even eaten while texting, talking, or playing any apps on your cell phone? (I have.)
A huge part of nourishment is not only eating food but slowing down enough to enjoy it. How many times have you been in a restaurant and watched a family ‘eating dinner’ with their heads down looking at their phones? Zero conversation at the table. Every time I see that scene, it saddens me. Meals are one of the best times for families to talk, laugh, debate, etc. Part of savoring every meal means the phone is not on the table. During the brief time I was dating, if a man left his cell phone on the table during our date, I never saw him again.
Almost every morning, I read while I eat breakfast. During lunch, I listen to podcasts. But dinner is sacred. My boyfriend and I eat dinner together as often as possible whether we dine in or out. It is usually our first point of connection for the day because our schedules are quite different.
- We do not check our cell phones. (If we do, we call each other on it!)
- We do not check Facebook.
- We look each other in the eye.
- We enjoy our meal.
Perhaps puppies are lucky because they don’t have cell phones, but distractions existed in the 20th century, too.
Savor every meal. Maybe don’t wolf it down like a puppy, but sit down, slow down, focus on your food, and taste every bite.
I’m sure it varies from one breed to another, but most puppies are curious. They are interested in the world around them. They want to know you and the rest of the family. Our puppy Sadie does not know what a cat is, but she is doing her best to become friends with her. Despite the hissing, spitting, and clawing, Sadie remains undaunted. In fact, I think our cat’s actions have made our puppy more curious than ever!
People who are curious, who are lifelong learners, live longer. Think about it. If you are curious (i.e., always seeking new knowledge), you are keeping your brain active.
In the article, 23 People That Lived to 100 Spill Their Secrets of Longevity, the second most commonly cited thing was to not retire and “To stay curious about life.”
The article How and Why to Become a Lifelong Learner states: “Learning new things can also help stave off old-age ailments like dementia and Alzheimer’s. One study has shown that older folks who stay cognitively active and curious about the world around them are 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s than those who let their minds lie fallow.”
I love talking and spending time with people. Though I don’t want to learn everything, I don’t relate to people who are not interested in learning at all. Curiosity is a valuable trait to have. I’ve learned 80 percent of my computer skills (e.g., Microsoft Office, WordPress, Social Media Networking) by being curious. The other 20 percent I learned from classes or friends.
Be curious about the world around you. Be curious about the people around you.
Be curious and interested in who you are and how you can make a difference for yourself and others.
Both puppies and children play. However, according to the Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit advocacy group, “Compared to the 1970s, children now spend 50 percent less time in unstructured outdoor activities.” What happened to children playing outside? And what about adults? We adults forget to play altogether.
American psychologist Erik Erikson, once said, “The richest and fullest lives attempt to achieve an inner balance between three realms: work, love, and play.”
I think most of us have the work part covered, especially Americans. I believe people are always in the pursuit of love. But what about playing outside?
When I watch Sadie dashing around the backyard, I wonder when was the last time I played outside. Or played for no reason whatsoever. And what does playing look like for me as an adult?
One of the benefits of owning a dog is you have to go outside. Some people view dogs as a lot of work. During the potty-training stage, puppies will get on your last nerve. But I’ve spent more time outside in the past two weeks than I have in the past two months. (It’s been cold, too!) No exaggeration. I work from home so unless I’m doing a live workshop, I don’t go outside. Even when I’m in a regular exercise routine, I do yoga at home or at a studio — indoors.
I like being outside. I grew up in the 1980s when kids were still allowed to play from sunrise to sunset with little parental oversight. During the summer, we would pop inside for lunch and dinner, but otherwise, we played outside until the street lamps turned on. Even then, I remember many summer nights sitting at the end of my driveway goofing off with my friends past nine o’clock. No wonder I took showers at night. I was filthy when I walked in the door.
My first experience as an entrepreneur was running a Kool-Aid stand from my garage. When the boys refused to let the girls play ball, I decided to get even. I knew they would be thirsty after their game. My girlfriend and I rode our bikes 1.2 miles to the Circle M Food Store where we bought a few 99-cent Kool-Aid packets. We made several pitchers, grabbed popsicles from my refrigerator, and sold out our ‘inventory’ within 30 minutes after the boys finished their game. I think we made more than $10.
My point is from start to finish, our parents did not know about our new venture. We were allowed to play without supervision. (The term ‘helicopter parent’ did not exist until 1990.) I grew up during a time when parents allowed kids to be kids. To play outside with unbridled abandon … just like puppies.
Even though I like being outside, I hate camping. I need indoor plumbing and electric/gas heat. I don’t like hiking either. Mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and spiders eat me up. I love the beach, but I’m not the best swimmer. The sun and I have a tumultuous relationship. I have to wear sunscreen all the time. If sunburns, bug bites, and cold weather didn’t exist, the outdoors would be perfect.
In many ways, my work is a form of play for me, but it is not the same as going outside. Getting in touch with nature. Feeling sunlight on my face. Throwing a stick for Sadie. Meeting my neighbors.
When was the last time you played outside? Or played at all. Because we all need to play.
You are never too old to play outside.
- Embrace change
- Trust strangers
- Take naps
- Use your senses
- Savor every meal
- Be curious
- Play outside
Sadie may be driving me crazy right now, but I am grateful. She has reminded me of valuable life lessons, some of which I had forgotten. I have a feeling I’ll be doing a lot of yoga outside this summer on our back porch. Of course, I will have to teach her not to chew up my mat (see #4 and #6). Maybe by that time, she will lose her baby teeth. (As I am typing this sentence, she is lying on my lap and gnawing on my desk!) Fingers crossed. 😉
Also published on Medium.