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What I've Learned From My Wonder Dog, Charlie!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

I've read a couple of interesting insights into dog "ownership" recently.

Here in Canada, several universities have experimented with therapy dogs to assist students get through the stress of exam time. The students are away from home, under lots of pressure to do well in a tight job economy with soaring tuition fees . . . and student suicide rates are alarming. But: there are still lots of cynical comments about how students should just "toughen up"!! And also how exposure to trained therapy dogs will give students a false impression about how soothing and calming dogs actually are: because lots of dogs (especially young puppies) can be yappy and demanding and . . . . .

Then TEENYBIKINI has had a recent blog on just that topic: dogs (puppies in particular) can drive you nutz!

True enough. I've had demanding dogs. Our basset hound, Rufus, who could open the fridge and bite into every bag of milk and scatter carrots (before and after "processing") all the way across the kitchen floor. Our Irish water spaniel, Sabrina, who wore a groove in the back yard and jumped against the patio door vertically, smearing mud from top to bottom. A childhood spaniel, Skippy, who bit the postman . . . and lots more similar tales to be told.

Charlie had lots and lots of puppy socialization and obedience classes. He is extraordinarily intelligent: high IQ. And our other dogs had sufficient IQ plus schooling opportunities. But Charlie wanted to learn.

That's because Charlie really is a wonder dog. High EQ. He was born that way and we really can't take much credit for it. Our golden retriever's registration name is "Heart of Gold", and his formal handle is absolutely appropriate.

So what's Charlie taught me?

1. Be companionable. Golden retrievers are bred to sit quietly in a duck blind beside their hunters waiting to fetch the ducks. Charlie is happy just to be with me. He lets me know with his wise brown eyes and his ready smile. Life doesn't get better for Charlie than being right beside me.
2. Be patient. It could be a long cold day in the duck blind (or sitting under my computer desk: whatever). That's OK with Charlie. I can learn to be more patient. Whatever's happening will pass.
3. Greet every family member at the door whenever they come home. Nope, I don't wag like Charlie does. I don't bring a carefully selected stuffed toy to the door, the choice of toy often uncanny in mirroring the returning person's emotional state. (Sheep? Monkey? Fawn?) But greeting, I can handle that. And I can try to be responsive to the mood of my family members, like Charlie is.
4. Never judge, no matter what. There is no sin I can commit that matters to Charlie. Ever. And I need to be less judgmental too. To let people be.
5. Be joyous and generous with that joy. Charlie is. Being around Charlie's joy multiplies joy. For all of us. Even if the rest of us don't have infinitely soft golden fur!

The worst thing about having a dog like Charlie? It's not forever. Charlie is 8 years old now. You can see his muzzle and eyebrows are getting whiter.

So we have to cherish Charlie every day.

And we have to cherish each other every day.

I can't let Charlie down. I have to try to be as good a person as Charlie is. As good as he believes me to be. And the effort of doing that?

It's transformative.
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