5 little ways a dog can make you a better person
Just a few years ago I would have never imagined there would be a dog in my life. It was a Saturday afternoon, winter was almost over, and there I was with my wife and 6 year old daughter, toying with the idea of getting a pet, grow the family. It’s funny because we had no clue what we were doing. Actually, we had our minds set on a cat.
Personally, I have always been a cat lover. Cats are beautiful creatures: wild, elegant, mysterious, single minded, unpredictable. The French poet François Joseph Méry once said: “ God made the cat to give man the pleasure of stroking a tiger”. It really is marvelous if you think about it. And they pretty much look after themselves, so we thought: maybe we should give it a try?
We googled a few places and went to have a look. Just a look, ok? And then we would think it through. Carefully consider all the pros and cons, you know, I wanted to manage expectations…
I remember walking into the store and almost immediately my attention was drawn to this 3 month old tawny cocker spaniel. He wasn’t just adorable, as all puppies can be. He stared at me with “that” look in his eyes. He wasn’t moving or wagging his tail. He just stared, from inside the glass kennel, silently but powerfully speaking to me with his sheep’s eyes look.
I honestly believe you don’t pick a dog, it’s a dog that picks you.
Needless to say, it was love at first sight. I was immediately sold, and so was my family. He was the one, no doubt about it. Once we got him out of the kennel he started licking us from head to toes, jumping around like crazy, as happy as he could ever be. I knew there was no going back. And this is how we completely forgot about cats and ended up taking home this little furry (and at that time pretty smelly) living thing, which we named Biagio.
Little did I know I was going to pledge so much time, for so many years to come… to Biagio. And I have to admit, once the novelty wore off, I started somewhat regretting it. I was looking at how much taking care of him ate into my precious free time. Or at how difficult it was planning a holiday, or even a weekend away, because he just couldn’t be left alone. Stuff like that. Trivial stuff, of course, but still, annoying.
And I felt bad. I thought: how can I be so selfish and insensitive? I was looking at him like a burden.
Turns out I had to look at him from a completely different perspective to see, clearly, I could’t be more wrong. In fact, I think a dog is a blessing in disguise. Here’s why…
First of all, a dog keeps you fit.
I used to hate walking my dog. In particular, the inevitability of it: at least twice a day, no matter what, 365 days a year. What I didn’t realize is that I was adding over 2 km a day of walking to my physical activity: that’s about 20% of how much I move every day. So Biagio is allowing me to get off my comfortable sofa and get moving, go for long walks, catch a breath of fresh air, clear my mind, decompress. He’s effectively my personal trainer, the perfect antidote to laziness and stress.
Of course, I would gladly pay someone to walk him on my behalf sometimes, especially in those cold, rainy, miserable winter nights. But most of the time I now look forward to it. And by the way, sometimes he doesn’t want to go either. The fact we’re braving the elements together further brings us together, which is a great feeling.
Second, a dog keeps you humble.
No matter how important you think you are… high-flying Wall Street banker? Brain surgeon? Movie star? The President? It doesn’t matter. Taking care of your dog keeps you grounded. Giving him a bath, making sure he’s well groomed, picking up his poop or cleaning up after he’s been sick.
Maybe it’s because it’s basic gestures, manual tasks, if you mostly use your brain for a living. You roll up your sleeves and get your hands “dirty”. Definitely keeps your ego in check. I used to be quite picky, now I can’t help but smile. The look on the face of non-dog-owners when I pick up Biagio’s poop is especially amusing.
Third, a dog makes you more sensitive.
Dogs can’t speak, but they do express themselves and they do it in so many different ways. With their barking, their eyes, their posture, the tilt of their muzzle, their tail. Biagio even purrs from time to time (that’s hilarious). And their expressiveness is so powerful that it’s just overwhelming. Their response to cuddling, especially, is surprisingly “human”.
In a world that can’t stop talking and has little time or patience for listening, the ability to understand someone that doesn’t (or won’t) speak is priceless. Pretty much as it happens with a small child, you have to develop a whole new skill set. And this turns you into a more attentive, considerate, caring and generally more aware person.
Fourth, a dog makes you more sociable.
If you live in a big city, chances are you don’t really know anybody, especially your neighbors (ironically). That’s in part because you’re in a hurry most of the time and socializing is just not your main priority. But there is also an invisible barrier that somehow prevents us to interact and be at ease with strangers.
Dogs don’t have filters, so they either hate one another (and start a fight) or they immediately hook up. And dog owners follow suit. It’s magical. Of course, repeated encounters help that somehow. But the dog is the ultimate ice breaker. Before Biagio I knew nobody in the neighborhood. Now I hang out and have meaningful conversations with people I’d never talk to otherwise.
And last but not least, a dog makes you accountable.
A dog is a living thing you have to look after. It’s a huge responsibility but also a great learning opportunity for kids and adults alike. Kids get to understand the meaning and value of life, and get a great companion to play and grow with. Adults get somewhat of a dry run for actual, proper, parenting. Challenging? At times, yes. But really worth the effort, in my opinion.
Maybe you’re already really fit, humble, sensitive, sociable and accountable.
I certainly wasn’t.
Biagio was one rowdy puppy and he still drives me crazy at times, but when I look at him today I can’t help but ponder what a little, precious gift I received.
My furry blessing in disguise…