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I’ve said before that we can find wisdom in unlikely places, and it’s true; we can learn a lot from all sorts of experiences, if we pay attention and reflect upon it. I quickly discovered that as I trained Inkling, and worked to teach her how to effectively share our lives, my experiences with her provided a pretty instructive life lesson or two. I figured I might as well share them with you! So, here’s a little bit of wisdom I’ve uncovered while raising this burgeoning adventure pup.
Life Lesson #1: It’s all about relationships.
Having never had a dog before, I naively assumed that once we adopted her she would instantly be my best friend. That didn’t happen, and really, why would it? Relationships don’t spring up overnight. So while Clarissa and I fell in love with her almost instantly, Inking needed time to get to know us and learn that we could be trusted. After all, a puppy has no contextual knowledge that the house we brought her into is her home, or that the people that took her from the shelter are now her family.
Human relationships take time too; Clarissa and I felt a spark the moment we first met, though I wouldn’t call it love at first sight. Still, we had to get to know one another, figure one another out, and learn how we work together. I have several close friends who I didn’t like at all when I first met them. Add a little time and shared experience into the mix, however, and I have a tribe of people I can trust with my life.
No two relationships are the same either. Inkling is more likely to cuddle up with Clarissa on the couch, but she loves to play with me. She absolutely adores when we’re roughhousing and I push her around a little, and she’ll run right back to my lap for ear scratches and belly rubs! It’s the same with people, each relationship is unique (although most probably don’t involve so many belly rubs). I love my buddies, I love my family, and I love my wife, but I love them all in different ways.
Life Lesson #2: Shit happens, and somebody has to clean it up.
Everyone poops, dogs included. It’s a fact of life so there’s no use being weirded out by it, and there’s no sense being grossed out by this discussion either. When I had a cat, I cleaned a litter box. Now I have a dog, and I pick up her poop with little black bags and throw it away. That’s part of having a pet.
Since we adopted her, Inkling hasn’t had a bowel movement that hasn’t been picked up and thrown away. That is, in my opinion, part of being a responsible dog owner. But Clarissa and I quickly discovered that not everyone shares our sense of duty (pun not intended, but enjoyed). That means that not only do we clean up our own dogs poop, we end up picking up lots of random turds that are left in our yard. It’s not our mess to clean up, but we do because it improves our neighborhood, keeps our pup from getting into strange poop, and helps reinforce proper behavior.
Life is the same way; shit happens and we’ve got to clean it up. It’s easy to kick the can down the road, but at some point someone needs to pick it up. Most of us have had to scramble because someone else dropped the ball. Likewise, most of us have made someone else scramble because we dropped the ball. Don’t worry about blame, just try to fix a problem. We all want a better world, but to get it, we’re going to have to do something about it. So, pick up the poop.
Life Lesson #3: We don’t notice everything around us.
There are tons of dogs that live around us; there’s Linsy, the awesome shitzu next door, the poor lab a few houses down that gets left in the back yard for hours, and the yippy dogs across the street that never seem to run out of things to shout at. I’ve always noticed these dogs, but after adopting Inkling, she started to make me aware of plenty of other dogs in the neighborhood, that just never registered to me.
She’s a sensitive dog. She’ll perk up, or occasionally go ballistic, at noises and sights that I never paid attention to. Squirrels in the tree, dead leaves blowing down the street, a car haphazardly driving too fast over the potholes in the road alongside our house (slow down guys). These things have always been there, I just didn’t notice them. And there are countless stimuli out there that we never notice, but perhaps we should slow down and pay more attention to them.
There are all kinds of signs around us, feeding us information. We just don’t always notice it. In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell discusses all the information that our brains process without us even realizing it; our responses that we think are instinctual or intuitive are, he asserts, actually the response to our brain processing stimuli faster than we can consciously think about them and spitting out a response. The more information we take in, however, the better our responses will be. Better observation of the world around us means better decision making.
Dogs are more consciously aware of all this input, and while we can never be as aware of our surroundings as our four legged friends, we can certainly benefit from being more conscious of what’s around us.
Life Lesson #4: Consistency is key.
Most people who adopt a puppy want it to be a cool dog. The kind of dog that will chill on the patio of your favorite brewery, or relax next to a campfire. I know that both of those examples are something I want to do with Inkling.
But most puppies don’t come to that behavior naturally. Instead, we have to train them, and the secret to success in that is consistency. Clarissa and I have devoted a lot of time to working with the pup, learning to communicate that the right behaviors reap rewards, while behaviors we don’t want bring her no benefits.
This doesn’t happen in long sessions. Rather, we spend fifteen minutes or so throughout the day putting her through the paces and teaching her commands. After being at it for a few months, she actually enjoys training sessions.
It isn’t just training sessions though; every interaction is an opportunity to reinforce good behavior. She loves to roughhouse with me, but has learned that if she bites the fun stops. She also loves walks along the river, but if she lunges or pulls the walk is cut short. It’s through that consistency that Inkling’s behavior has steadily improved and she gets to do more fun things with us, like go to the hardware store.
How does this apply to us? Think about it, you’ve seen it a hundred times. We’ll set goals, make huge efforts out of the gate, only to fizzle out a short ways down the road. Maybe you’ve done this too. I know I’m guilty. This is why most new years resolutions fail.
But if we make small efforts consistently, we are much more likely to stick with it. It might not seem like much, but that small consistent work builds up quickly, helping us achieve our goals.
Life Lesson #5: Struggles lead to snuggles.
People often tell us that our puppy is well-behaved, but it doesn’t always feel like it. She still has a lot of work to do when it comes to biting, barking, and being calm with strangers. She’s awesome and I love her, but some days are still a struggle. But just when I’m starting to get too frustrated or exhausted, she’ll hop up on the couch, lie down against me, and start to snooze. Struggles lead to snuggles.
Not every struggle in your life is going to end with a puppy curled up in your lap, but if you persevere good things will come to you. Whether that’s a better job, a new opportunity, or a more fulfilling relationship, working through the hard times almost always leads you to a better place in life. It can be a lot of work, but in the end I think it’s worth the effort.
Not everyone wants to adopt a dog. Maybe you’re a cat person, or just don’t fancy having a pet. I’m not here to talk you out of that, and you don’t need a doggo to understand the life lesson. Adopting and training Inkling has taught me a lot, and I hope you’ll take a little something away from this distillation of some of what I’ve learned from the pup and apply it to your own efforts.