Six lessons learned from my cuddly canine

1. Greet everyone you meet with a smile. There is nothing more rewarding than coming home from a long day at the office and having my canine companion greet me with the utmost excitement and happiness. On his hind legs, dancing and hopping, in a fashion closely resembling the choreography in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video, my sweet little puppy makes any gloomy day instantly better with his happy face, wagging tail and cheerful demeanor. unnamed

You’d be surprised just how far this type of greeting can go in the human world, too. No matter how bad you might be feeling, put on a happy face when meeting up with a loved one or welcoming them home. If it feels insincere, fake it until you make it. It’s a win-win. They’ll feel happier and so will you. Positivity fosters positivity.

2. Be grateful. In my dog’s eyes, I can do no wrong. I give him a bowl of food to eat. He adores me. I bring home a stuffed animal purchased from the dollar store for him to play with. He loves it. I pat him on the head. He kisses me in appreciation. I drop an empty toilet paper roll on the ground and decide to let him play with it. He thinks he’s won the lottery. The simplest of things, tangible or intangible, bring him immense joy.

Every day, we take for granted the luxuries in our lives. You are reading this on a computer, smart phone or tablet. You have access to the internet, a luxury denied to nearly 60 per cent of the world. You can drink clean water, yet 780 million people, worldwide, cannot. Remember what matters. Who cares if you don’t have the most recent edition of the iPhone? Why worry about whether or not you own the latest Michael Kors handbag? You know what people are going to remember about you when death comes knocking at your door? How you made them feel. So, show them just how appreciative you are of their kindness and give that kindness back in any way you can. What you put out comes back and it can feel amazing. Again, everybody wins.

3. Get out in nature, put your phone down and admire the beauty around you. A leaf blowing across the sidewalk amazes him. A caterpillar in the grass is the most fascinating thing he’s ever seen. To our dogs, nature offers incredible, vast, endless spaces just waiting to be explored and experienced. There are days when I come home from work and the last thing I feel like doing is heading out again for a walk, but, without fail, once I’m out, I always feel better. Such is the therapeutic power of Mother Nature.

When we get so caught up in the monotony of our daily routines, we forget to get outdoors and enjoy the fresh air. We forget that tiny miracles are taking place all around us. We stare at our smart phones, become absorbed in the digital world and miss wonderful opportunities to witness the splendour of nature. Put your phone down and look around you. It is healing. Stop experiencing the world through a camera lens. You will enjoy it more. Take a deep breath and look up at the sky. The earth freely provides gifts to us every second of every day. Tread lightly and give thanks for these gifts. They are finite resources.

4. Looks fade, but a beautiful heart will never wither. I could gain or lose 50 pounds and my dog wouldn’t bat an eye. I could become horribly disfigured in an accident and he would lick my wounds and cuddle up to me to provide comfort and reassurance.

To a dog, you are the most beautiful being he’s ever seen. He doesn’t see your pimples, imperfections or the fact that you gained five pounds last week. He sees your heart and, to him, you are perfect. Try to see the rest of the world this way. Look for the good in people instead of concentrating on the bad.

Similarly, be kind to yourself. We are often critical of ourselves, fixating on every failure or mistake. You are human and, as such, you are hardwired to stumble from time to time. You are going to have good days and bad. You are going to look in the mirror every now and then and be unhappy with what you see. But, are you making a conscious effort to spread kindness and compassion in your world? Are you being the best person you believe you can be? If you answered yes, then give yourself some slack. Remember, when your time comes to leave this earth, people won’t remember whether or not you had a 26 inch waist or washboard abs. They’ll remember how you made them feel.

5. Don’t underestimate the power of touch. A gentle nuzzle. A tiny kiss. A warm cuddle. Why do I always feel a rush of happiness when my dog exhibits any or all of these displays of affection? Well, for something that seems, in many ways, to produce abstract or intangible results, the answer can be found in science.

Hugging, for example, increases your body’s levels of the “love hormone” oxytocin. Research has shown that loving touches, such as hugging, can reduce the harmful effects of stress, including impacts on your blood pressure and heart rate. A gentle, loving touch can help fight infection, boost your immune system, reduce fatigue and ease symptoms of depression. In short, hugging literally makes you healthier and happier. So, spread some love and hug away!

6. Apologize and forgive. I don’t know how many times I’ve come home to evidence of a day’s worth of mischief. I’ve found toilet paper strewn across the floor, my favourite hat, one less pompom, barely recognizable and new pairs of shoes, no longer looking so new. Of course, discipline is necessary. It’s important to let my furry friend know that his actions were hurtful or destructive and he understands, pretty much instantly. He cowers a little bit, with his tail between his legs, lays his ears flat to his head and, slowly but surely, inches toward me until he can get close enough to ask forgiveness with a lick or two.

In our lives, we make mistakes, whether consciously or subconsciously. Our actions and words hurt those we love, admire and respect. Put your pride aside and apologize. Ask for forgiveness. Apologizing, when genuine, sets you free. In most cases, it will also open the door for a greater mutual respect and understanding. The same goes for forgiveness. Let go of the pain that is holding you back. Release your anger. Forgiveness is a gift to yourself and the person who wronged you. It will help you find peace and live a happier, fuller life.

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