By Suzanne Engelberg

Everything I Need to Know graphic

I like to think that I know how to get along in life.   Most of the time I do, but there are some lessons that are harder for me to learn.  Fortunately, the old dogs in my life are great role models.  Everything I really need to know, I’ve learned from them.  Here is my list of the top five things I’ve learned from old dogs:

Take more naps.  Just because the world is spinning fast enough to make me dizzy doesn’t mean I have to try and keep up.  Sometimes I feel like I’m on the assembly line from the I Love Lucy episode in the chocolate factory.  (The faster she worked, the faster the conveyer belt moved, until everything went to heck, and she and the machine were covered in chocolate mayhem.)  My old dogs don’t worry about keeping up.  When life gets tiring they simply take a nap.   They wake up ready to take on the world again, unless they don’t feel like it, in which case they go back to sleep.  The few times I tried that I was stunned to discover that the earth had continued to spin despite my inattention; people who had urgently needed me figured out what to do without my help, and I woke up in a much better mood.  As a bonus, I got extra snuggle time with my two dogs who sleep on my bed.  Now, when I’m tired, I make time to stop and rest.  My body thanks me, and I’m a lot less cranky.

Stop and pee on the roses.  Dogs don’t hesitate to leave their mark on the world.  They proudly announce who they are and where they’ve been.  I’m more reserved.  Although I want to have an impact, I can be shy about calling attention to myself, or—heaven forbid—doing something that might upset someone.  My ODH final refuge dogs don’t worry about those things.  While they’re pretty good about using the pee pads inside our home, outside they squat and pee whenever they feel like it.  They don’t worry whether someone will approve of the spot.  My male dogs actually go out of their way to make a mark.  What a concept! Whether it’s roses, the yard waste bin, or just an old paper bag in the road, my old dogs proudly leave their mark on the world.  Thanks to their example, I’m learning to do the same (although my marks are purely metaphorical and don’t need to be cleaned up).

Don’t complain about the little things.  I have aches and pains, frustrations and disappointments, just like everyone else.  It’s part of life, and one way I know I’m still alive.  There’s no point complaining about them–it doesn’t make me feel better, and it doesn’t change anything.  Thanks to my old dogs, I’ve learned to either try to change what I don’t like, or just let it go.  My dogs don’t complain because someone else drank the last of the water in the closest bowl; they walk over to another bowl.  My ODH doxy-mix doesn’t complain that she’s cold; she barks at me to put her covers back on.  Thanks to my old dogs, I’ve learned to first acknowledge an annoyance, then either try to correct it or move on.  (Besides, complaining cuts into my nap time!)

A slow walk is just as good as a fast one.  Two of my old dogs go for ambles, not walks.  They revel in every scent and sight, sometimes adding their own scent to the community aroma.  They embody Ralph Waldo Emerson’s belief that the journey is more important than the destination.   In my life I’ve definitely prioritized the destination.  I’m very aware of deadlines, responsibilities, and my unrealistically long to-do lists.   My goal for our walks is to provide us all with enough exercise to keep us physically and emotionally healthy.  My old dogs, on the other hand, don’t set goals for their walks.  They simply enjoy the experience of whatever they are doing that moment.  They don’t understand the point of hurrying.  I imagine them thinking, “Doesn’t she notice all the amazing things right here in front of us?  Why rush off to someplace else?”  Of course they are right.  When I’m focused on racing off to the next thing, I miss the wonderful experiences already available to me.  I’m so glad my old dogs have taught me the pleasure of slower walks and a less frenzied life.

The world is a wonderful place when you’re loved.   All we really need is one dog (or person) who thinks we’re wonderful.  Although it would be great to have a partner who hangs on my every word, or an entire fan club that adores me, whenever my old dogs run to greet me with wagging tails, or contented sighs as they lay their heads in my lap, I know I am loved. (It feels especially good coming from my Final Refuge dogs because I know how bad their lives used to be.)  In those moments, nothing else matters. As long as I have dogs who love me, I can handle anything that comes my way.