7 Important Life Lessons I've Learned From My Dog

We’ve had our dog, Olive, for just over two years. And in that short amount of time, she has already managed to teach me a list of lessons to last a lifetime. Without saying a word at all, Olive has instilled valuable wisdom about love, joy and abundant living. While I value the instruction I received from my parents, teachers and various leaders and mentors over the years, my dog has a special way of speaking to my heart.

If you have a dog, you may just understand this unique and unexplainable exchange that occurs between a person and their dog. Among other things (such as “getting a dog was the second-best decision I’ve made”), Olive has taught me...

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1. It doesn’t matter what other people think.

Olive is a two-year-old labradoodle, and therefore a super energetic “eternal puppy.” She has embarrassed us time and time again, by getting overly excited when approaching another dog on leash, jumping on people at the dog park, or barking at another dog (which always sounds aggressive but is 90% excitement and 10% protecting me or Brandon). At first, I was overly concerned with how our crazy dog might make us look, or what others might think about our dog parenting abilities. But after awhile, I began to care less and less about how others perceived us or our dog. Plus, if we act stressed during a stressful situation, Olive easily picks up on that and ramps up her stress even more! Instead, we focus more of our energy on correcting her habits and less on how others perceive us.

2. Things are just...things.

During her early puppy days, Olive chewed up more “important” items than I can count — Brandon’s Ray Bans, three(!) computer mouses (mice?), an entire book collection, my Fitbit, the shoes I wore at our wedding reception, Brandon’s flight school materials...and the list goes on. After each shocking discovery, there was an immediate surge of frustration and disbelief. But after a few minutes, we realized that these things we hold so valuable are so incredibly temporary and unimportant in the grand scheme of life. There is nothing I own that if found destroyed or missing, I would spiral into a pit of despair and lose all hope entirely. And I think that is how we should view all physical things! As fleeting and trivial.

It reminds me of Matthew 6:19–21, which says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

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3. Rest is important.

I don’t know a being on this earth that sleeps as much as Olive. Our friends we see at the apartment dog park might be surprised to learn this, as she is a ball of energy while playing with her dog friends. While I am furiously typing away at night, Olive will actually stick her paw on the keyboard, pant like a lunatic while staring at me, or even start to bark, as if to say, “That’s enough!” She reminds me that rest and solitude are so important and overlooked in our fast-paced and digitalized world. Olive certainly has her priorities in order! Even her sleeping nearby has a way of calming me when I feel anxious or sad. Which leads me to...

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4. You are not alone.

I believe most dogs are an in-house therapist whether or not they are a certified “therapy dog.” If I cry (fake or not, because let’s be real — I have fake cried simply to test her reaction!), Olive will come running from the other side of the apartment, get as close to me as possible, and lick the tears off my cheek. Dogs have the innate ability to sense emotions and provide exactly the remedy needed without prompting. Whether I’m depressed, anxious, lonely, scared, or any combination of the above, Olive is my personal mental health therapist. And she only charges in kisses, treats and “Cocoa Puffs” (that’s what we call her food).

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5. You are not as important as you think you are.

As a dog owner, you are forced to be selfless on a regular basis. There have been plenty of times where I am not thrilled to take Olive out late at night. And we’ve been inconvenienced while trying to figure out where she’ll stay during a weekend trip. And I have to roll out of bed to feed her and take her out — even on a Saturday. But I value the lessons I’ve learned and the responsibility and maturity I’ve gained while having to care for another living being. It has been a humbling experience to lay aside our personal agenda to ensure Olive has time to play at the dog park, eat food and drink water, go on a walk, go to the vet, or simply cuddle with us for awhile. We see it as a training period for when we have kids one day! Because let’s be real — we need training more than dogs do.

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6. Be patient.

Surely anyone who has raised a puppy understands this! Training — especially potty training — can be a long and arduous battle. The process you must endure to raise a dog instills within you an extra dose of patience and understanding, as you clean up a pile of poop off your floor for the eighth time that week (thank God those days are long behind us!). You also become more gracious towards other dogs and their unique quirks. Again, this patience crash course has been a valuable exercise before having kids someday.

7. Don’t take life so seriously.

Just watching Olive’s goofy habits reminds me of the importance of carefree living and childlike play. She loses her mind any time a tennis ball is in sight, she tries to “shake” paws/hands when she wants something (especially a T-R-E-A-T), she tilts her head when we simply say, “Do you wanna…”, and she sleep talks and even sleep “runs” (moving her legs in the air while laying down) on a regular basis. Olive makes us laugh, keeps us entertained, and shows us the simple and pure joy found in the little things.

What about you?

What do you love most about having a dog? Or what lessons have you learned from your dog? Let me know in the comments below! The dog community is unlike any other, and I love hearing from fellow dog parents.