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  • 5 Life Lessons I Learned From My Dog

    It’s been about a year since my best bud, Baxter, passed away. Because Baxter and I were intensely bonded, I knew that grief work with my therapist would be necessary and would not be quick. Some of the most helpful therapy involved finding ways to memorialized Baxter which included recognizing all that he gave me including these life lessons.

    1. Communicate your needs. Make request of others.

    When Baxter wanted a walk, he would growl at the front door. When he wanted a treat, he stared at the treat jar and licked his lips (yes, I googled it. Dogs have lips…well, lip-like structures). When he wanted to be petted, he nudged me with his cold, wet nose. Yet we “sophisticated” human being, stink at asking for what we want. Instead, we expect others to know what we want. I, as a psychologist, see this communication style in couples therapy. “He should know that I want flowers for anniversary.” “By now, she should know that I don’t like driving long distances. I want her to drive.” Ultimately those sessions end with someone frustratedly saying, “How would I know that? You never told me that.” Avoid disappointment by communicating your needs.

    2. Get enough sleep!

    Our society loves to glorify busyness. We seem to think that being busy means we are being productive and productive means we are succeeding. The problem is (well, there are many problems with this thinking, but I’ll stick to the topic) that there are only 24 hours in the day and if you do not prioritize rest, you will crash. Baxter never complained to me about burnout or exhaustion. Do you know why? Because he rested when he felt tired. Sleep and rest help us recover from mental and physical exertion. Insufficient sleep increases the risk of chronic health problems and leaves you more vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

    3. Show your love.

    No matter how long I have been gone, an hour, eight hours, a week, Baxter was always so excited to see me and love on me. It felt so good! We humans need to do a better job of this. It’s good for the giver and for the recipient. Don’t wait until you see them in person. Don’t think it’s awkward. Just do it! Tell people what you like and appreciate about them. Tell people you’re grateful for them. Express your love through words and actions.

    4. Eat the damn treat!

    Baxter enjoyed his milk bones and we should too. I mean, we probably shouldn’t be gnashing on milk bones, but we need to relax and enjoy the treats in life – dessert, a good book, time with a friend, a warm cup of tea. Slow down and mindfully enjoy the treats. By mindfully, I mean, be present for whatever treat you’re enjoying. Be aware of the pleasure. Don’t judge it and don’t rush it.

    5. Being enthusiastic. Wag your tail. Don’t forget to play.

    Dogs and children are good at this. When Baxter played with his four-legged friends, he would get so excited! He would wag his tail, spin, and pull on his leash. Have you ever seen a child open a gift that they love? That! That reaction! You need to find some of that enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is infectious, motivating, and energizing. Tell yourself you are awesome after completing a hard workout. Jump up and down when you pay off that credit card. We tend to dilute enthusiasm and neglect play. Play time is good for both our physical and mental health. Reward yourself with play (time with friends, a cannonball jump into the pool) for a job well done. Experience joy and show it.

    My last words to Baxter were “thank you” because he gave me more in his 15 years of life than I ever gave him. His gifts to me continue through these life lessons. As was said by A. A. Milne in The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

    If you are struggling to cope with the loss of a beloved pet, therapy can help. Therapy is a safe space to externalize and process a disenfranchised grief, including the death of a pet. There are therapists with specialized training in pet grief who can help.

    Dr. Beverly J. Pedroche