I catch myself cradling my puppy like a baby. Yes, I’m serious. And he likes it too. I’m not sure if I’m preparing for the arrival of my actual baby this coming February, or if I am just excessively doting on the ridiculously cute puppy we call ours, but regardless, I never imagined myself loving a dog so much. Don’t get me wrong; I loved my family pets when I was a kid. But they weren’t my pets. I may have thought they were, but I didn’t take them for walks, I didn’t pay the vet bills, I didn’t spend all day thinking about how they were doing that day on obedience, and I didn’t understand the real connection that happens between a pet and its owner.
When Brandon and I brought home little Finnegan, our Irish Terrier, he was seven-weeks old and we were clueless. Puppy-proofing our house to the best of our ability, we spent the next few weeks reading every book on puppies we could and watching training videos on YouTube. We tracked how often he pooped, when he peed and documented every seemingly mundane dog behavior he exhibited. Our carpet has collected a lake of puppy pee, but finally he has picked up on house training etiquette and now only pees inside intentionally when he wants our attention.
Although much of owning a puppy is expected, and can be anticipated, there are several things I didn’t expect about owning a dog. Moreover, these things are less about owning a dog and more about the personal growth that has occurred within me because of the influence of having a dog. These are my most recent lessons in life, as taught to me by Finnegan:
Unexpected Lesson #1:
The mundane details of responsibility actually bring much joy.
Before Finn we were carefree and responsibility free. Getting a puppy was a big decision and it was one that we belabored over for twelve months. We weren’t sure if we were ready to worry about someone else’s needs and schedule and modify our lifestyle as necessary. Brandon and I love to travel and thrive off of being spontaneous. We knew having a dog was what we both wanted, but the decision to get one meant that we would have to put more effort into planning our weekends and our getaways.
The simplicity of the joy that a dog brings is perhaps what has been most surprising. Life, in the company of a dog, just makes you smile. From watching him play joyfully with a squeak toy, to the elation exhibited by his wagging tail, Finn has no problem finding wonder and adventure in his day. Perhaps what I love most are the walks. Walks with Finn are like little escapes from reality. There’s something magical that happens in the quietness of walking with a dog. There’s a connection, an intimacy and peacefulness that is more wonderful than I could have imagined. Our walks – a basic responsibility of dog ownership – are our little adventures. There is no technology, no distraction, no rush and nothing to worry about, just walking and just enjoying the day, whatever type of day it is. As it turns out responsibility is worth it.
Unexpected Lesson #2:
The neighborhood comes alive.
Literally, people come out of the woodwork to meet a puppy. I have lived in my quaint, sidewalk-laden neighborhood for five years, and before Finn I had made acquaintances with about a half-dozen people. In just two weeks of having Finn, we met and befriended well over two-dozen neighbors, all of whom don’t just know my name but Finn’s as well.
Unexpected Lesson #3:
The small things become easier to celebrate.
I’ve always been a proponent of celebrating the small details of life, but never as much as I am now that Finn’s been in my life. No exaggeration, I am ecstatic when he pees outside instead of on my carpet. I beamed with uncontainable parental pride when he first whimpered at the door to let me know he needed to poop, and I still think he’s the smartest dog in existence when he remembers his obedience commands without the bribe of a dog treat. He now hits the string of bells we hung on our doorknob to notify us that he wants to go outside. I still smile ear-to-ear every time I hear the bell ring.
Unexpected Lesson #4:
We’ve become social scientists.
In general, Brandon and I have always enjoying discussing social and behavioral psychology. That being said, we didn’t expect to be so curious about our what was going to be going on in our little dog’s head. We have now spent hours discussing and speculating about why he is doing something or not. We conduct trials to see how we can best communicate with him and are forever discussing what we think his understanding of his role in our “pack” really is. Furthermore, we worry about his loneliness when we are gone from the house too long and we relish in his enthusiasm when he welcomes us home. Dogs are smart, and ours is way smarter than we anticipated.
Unexpected Lesson #5:
A dog makes the morning seem more exciting, even for a morning person.
When the crate door opens and little Finn pokes his wiry head out in an enthusiastic stretch, it’s hard to not love mornings. He emerges slowly, gently – yet eagerly – extending his long puppy limbs in a yoga pose worthy of imitation as he welcomes the day. He utters a guttural yawn that is laced with a happy bark and his whole body wags. He never skips his stretch, unlike me. I try to stretch every morning, but often forget to in my rush to get somewhere. Finn literally will not start his day without a stretch. And that in itself is telling enough to the importance of stretching and to slowing down to appreciate the morning.
All in all, a puppy is a lot of work, but the truth is, without a doubt, that you get more out of the relationship than what you put into it. I couldn’t agree more with the 19th Century humorist Josh Billings’ opinion on the love of a dog:
A dog is the only thing in the world that loves you more than he loves himself. –Josh Billings