Will is two years old. We became friends at the PAWS location in Lynnwood, Washington just three months ago, after Will’s original owner could no longer care for him. A part of me defends Will’s name by referring to it as his “people name.” He is not a Spot or Cooper, Lucky or Buddy. He is, however, a sweet chihuahua-terrier mix that has taught me just as much, if not more, about life than I have taught him. For that reason, I think having a name typically reserved for humans is perfect for him.
Sporting his red pull-over hoodie and striped t-shirts, Will typically draws a lot of attention. Small dogs in clothing are cute, after all. This morning was a dynamic example of Will’s presence. On a leash, Will tries to be anything but constrained. He doesn’t run into the street (he actually looks both ways and waits, not kidding), and he doesn’t tangle his leash around my legs (thankfully). But he does run at full force for all the smells, sights, and experiences that his “potty outside” has to offer. In a different interpretation of his pulling, a woman we passed today said,
“So full of life!”
So. Full. Of. Life.
I recently saw a cartoon circulating on Facebook that showed the thought-bubbles of a dog and his owner, walking down a sidewalk, surrounded by trees and nature. The dog’s thought bubble was a representation of that moment in time — the dog was enjoying the fact that he was on a walk with his owner. The human? Thinking of all his responsibilities and priorities and everything but the fact that he was bonding and enjoying the world with his puppy.
Lesson No. 1: Be Present
As a full-time student and member of management at my job, I am always doing something. My (fortunately) short commute is still something I fill with intention. NPR One is running, I’m reviewing my Todoist, and checking emails. I hardly ever watch TV unless I can also be writing or cleaning or working on homework. Lately, though, I’ve committed to taking Will on walks without earphones in. Enjoying the scenery with Will is far more important. Laughing when he stops dead in his tracks to observe a squirrel across the street? Priceless.
Lesson No. 2: Keep Learning
Will has learned a lot in just a few months. Having not been potty-trained, socialized, or trained for obedience, Will has been a lot of work so far. We have learned sit, stay, down, up, off, shake, high-five, “go to bed,” “potty outside,” and how to play a fair game of fetch.
I always talk about how Will has learned so much and all the progress he’s made, but I forget that he has taught me just as much. And yes, an “old” dog can learn new tricks (Will is also in his twenties, if you convert his dog years). I constantly fear that I am not doing enough in life. That I am behind because I put school on hold. I compare myself to everyone else in terms of education and career. Will decided, “Cool! My human is working so much with me, I’m going to run with it!” Presumably pulling his leash the entire time.
Lesson No. 3: Patience
I am not a patient man. Full-blown Millennial, I’m refreshing a page or command+Q-ing my way out of Chrome if a website doesn’t load in 2.5 seconds. If a bus is five minutes late, I’m thinking of all the work I could have been doing in that time and doesn’t the transit system know I’m busy?
The hardest learning with Will was potty-training. Even when he no longer made a mess in the apartment, Will took upwards of half-hour walks before he decided he had experienced enough scenery to do his business. Three times a day, or when I start work in an hour and that adds up to a big problem.
Nowhere in this experience would Will have responded to, “I’m running late, can’t you hurry?” So the long and arduous task of rewarding his completed business, controlling the walk until he did so, and teaching him that he can smell the roses afterward took weeks. Patience paid off.
Lesson No. 4: Don’t Snooze
One of the most pleasant experiences full of instant-gratification is hitting the snooze button. Until the alarm goes off again. And in that time, you got no real sleep, no REM, and now you have less time to shower and drink your coffee. That was me a lot of times, regretfully. Until a pup named Will became my wakeup buddy every morning.
Once Will recognized iOS’ Radar meant, “My human is awake and we can go outside and now I can run around and I bet I see a squirrel and there’s sunshine and flowers and I can run and run and run and then I get a treat and we will go home and my toys are waiting and then I get to eat my food and-” I was never able to truly hit snooze again.
Sometimes sleeping an extra few minutes isn’t worth it. Thanks, Will.
Lesson No. 5: Responsibility
Now, I don’t think I am particularly irresponsible. I work hard, I take care of myself and my apartment. I go to the dentist, stick to my schedule, and after supporting myself since 18, I think I pretty thoroughly take ownership of my actions.
That being said, major milestones like owning a home and being a parent haven’t happened yet for me. I do, though, feel like I have a glimpse of parenting from Will.
Parenting such as vet visits and medications. Grooming and bath time. Feeding multiple times a day. Exercise. Training. Cleaning up messes. Paying his “rent.” Buying new toys because he destroyed the old ones and sweaters because it is 30 degrees and raining.
Making plans to hang out with friends and remembering that I have to stop at home to let him out first. Remembering that, even though I have hours of homework, somewhere in the middle of it, Will needs belly rubs and attention.
By no means do I think I have a grasp of what parenting feels like, but this has to be pretty close. It is a full time job to be responsible for someone else’s well-being, and it is fully rewarding, as well.
A pup named Will (his namesake is @apupnamedwill on Instagram, actually) has taught me many lessons and I look forward to every single one that has yet to come.
Humans and dogs aren’t too far apart when it comes to feelings and emotion; what is enjoyable and exciting. Dogs are just better at being full of life. We can learn far more from them than they will ever learn from us.
A dog can express more with his tail in minutes than an owner can express with his tongue in hours.
— Karen Davison