Relish your freedom

Bramble is a chocolate Labrador with a thirst for life. Today he has been brought to his favourite beach; it’s off season, with no one around, so he has lots of space to run and investigate. This is his beach.

He pads along with his owner towards the water’s edge until she is ready to let him off his lead. He looks sideways, far into the distance, and sees the untouched wet sand ready for his paw marks to stamp his identity all over it. She fiddles with his collar and his excitement rises. He thinks he sees a fellow dog in the distance and so once released he launches off into a fast run. He’s partly running towards a potential friend, but also he just loves how his body lurches forwards, trying out his leg muscles. He does love his cosy home, but, wow, this wide open space where he can move for ages in all sorts of directions.

Relish your freedomBramble eventually slows his run, coming to a panting stop. He looks out across the sea into the misty horizon. He feels the breeze tickling his floppy ears and breathes in the acrid smell of salt into his nostrils. Up above him he sees the seagulls lazily swooping around, up and down in haphazard patterns, occasionally making squawking cries to each other and at the world. This moment on his beach is a moment of absolute freedom and peace.

He looks back at his owner. She’s fiddling with her portable rectangle, her brow is furrowed. She sighs. She is often like this. He wonders why she always seems to be thinking about these bits of paper she gets piles of and then seems to need to give away. Why does she feel she needs to worry about inanimate objects? Bramble absently scrapes the sand with his paws, enjoying the feel between his toes. He feels rich. He doesn’t need anything other than these moments.

What can you learn from your dog?

Imagine you are on Bramble’s beach. Can you find that same level of freedom and peace? It’s not easy, is it? Your thoughts about all the things you need to remember, all those worries. And that ever draining bank account.

Wouldn’t you like to be at that beach more often? But, of course, work commitments, family obligations… And endlessly attempting to build that pot of cash towards retirement and then, maybe then, you’ll let yourself finally relax and have those beach moments. What a shame.

Your dog owns… nothing. He isn’t awake at 3am thinking “what if”. How can you find that inner calm?

Dip a toe into independence

Cooper’s life, until this point, has been largely steered by his owners. Obviously, he made the decision to chose to live with them in the first place, there’s no disputing that, but he’s been happy enough passively going along with (far too infrequent) mealtimes on their schedule, walks when they want and if he wanted to survey his domain around the garden outside, he would have to wait till they let him out. It was mildly annoying sometimes, but Cooper is a patient dog and generally happy with his lot.
A tall cheery man was recently invited into the house, smelling of sawdust and sweat. Delicious. Cooper was shooed away (as always, pretty rude), and when he returned later to investigate what had gone on, there was Something Different about the back door: there was a small Cooper size door within it. He cocked his head and eyed it up a bit suspiciously. Huh. Strange. He poked it with his nose and it moved, so he stepped back in alarm watching the opaque perspex clatter back and forth. A gorgeous smell of the outdoor world curled in through the gaps and headed for his nostrils and he breathed in the complex smell of the garden, fascinated how it had reached inside his home. Summoning up his courage and sense of adventure, he poked his head through the flap and it was true – there was the outside and he could move into it freely. He bounded out, ran around gleefully, and then back into the house. And then back out. And then back in. It looked like he could move between his home and his outside domain whenever he decided!
Dip a toe into independenceFor Cooper there will always be the time Before the Door (BD) and After the Door (AD). Before, he was happy enough feeling passive in his place in the world, but after, he realised he was now in charge of his movements in the day. He could make his own choice on whether it was the right time to go for a sniff. In fact, he could decide to investigate the garden smells all day long or not at all (which would be ludicrous, but it had become his choice). He could even traipse around in the middle of the night, under his own steam, with no one to tell him what to do. This freedom of having his own destiny was exciting and slightly scary. Nothing was as pinned down and certain anymore because he could now rely on himself to make this decision. But for Cooper, he felt that he had grown in this moment, swelling out his furry chest, and become a more self-assured and self-possessed animal. He liked it.
Now… how could he control meal times?
What can you learn from your dog?
We start off in life having little control over what happens and when: our parents steer us around and that’s the end of that. Then school and employment… we might still feel we are passively moving through our lives and are controlled by someone else. It feels safe but it can also feel like we are trapped. Our dogs happily put up with being told what to do, and so can we, in fact it can be nice not to have to think about it, but when we actively make our own choices, we can make changes, our own mistakes and explore different directions entirely. That’s when it’s our own life. All ours.

Relax how you like to relax

Chilling out come in many forms. For Cooper, he likes to go for an ambling walk, no time pressure, just a nice lackadaisical stroll with lots of nice scent-laden bushes to sniff. He connects with nature and breathes out any anxiety and sniffs in pure happiness and peace.

Other dog friends find a good bone chewing is an excellent way to de-stress, or creating a number of gorgeous holes in a flower bed.

Flint is Cooper’s whippet buddy and is truly an expert in relaxing. When Flint relaxes he absolutely takes it to the next level. After an energising run across fields (away from an owner laughingly trying to call him back), he returns on his own agenda to his home and thinks he would fancy a nice recuperative snooze. He has his bed, of course, but he thinks it would be good to try out this nice new rug, set out in the downstairs hallway. Convenient.

Relax how you like to relaxNow Flint… he really likes to commit to relaxing. Relaxing is about letting everything go, allowing yourself to go to a place of beautiful calm. Whippets and greyhounds do this by roaching. Whereas Cooper likes to sleep in a tight, neat little circle, Flint has a different way of sleeping. He likes to lie on his back, legs splayed in every single direction. His body arcs back on itself and his head arches stretching to one side. To an outsider, it looks weird and uncomfortable, but Flint finds this position wonderfully relaxing. His body completely un-tenses and he is at one with the rug, the floor, the earth below all the way down to the core of the planet.

He is at one with the world.

What can you learn from your dog?

What do you do that takes away all your stresses and worries? Some people go for a long run or sweat it out piling on the weights at the gym. Maybe knitting on the sofa calms you, or fighting it out in a multiplayer computer game. Or how about literally doing nothing, staring into space and letting it all drift away. Your friend loves spa days and spending a whole day being massaged and reading magazines by a pool. This sounds horrendous to you and you’d like to cook a new recipe and share with friends.

It doesn’t matter if folding laundry is the thing that makes you at one with yourself. Relax your way.

Different is good

Cooper has a guest over for dinner. He loves Sundays as there always seems to be a wonderful meat-based centrepiece and, oh, the many trays that need help being cleaned with his efficient tongue. He feels needed and his belly gets full. Perfect! And there’s definitely enough to go round for a dog buddy, especially when they are on the smaller side with a smaller appetite.

Different is good

Stella is a miniature pinscher. She’s pretty small. Yes, she knows she could fit in a handbag, but that doesn’t mean she wants to sit amongst your discarded tissues and half used lipsticks. No, she doesn’t necessarily want to be constantly told how cute she is (she knows already, of course she is, that’s not up for debate). She may also be young, but that doesn’t mean she appreciates the cutesy baby talk.

Being smaller than other dogs and – in fact – most things (though not spiders, she can boss those around) she’s found that there are certain assumptions about what she’s like. But she doesn’t want to be defined by her size. She does need help getting onto sofas and up flights of stairs sometimes, but she is not helpless.

Cooper is three times as big and, well, she wouldn’t say he was a bit scary, but, three times is three times. He could squish her if he wasn’t looking where he was sitting. Sometimes bigger dogs try to play with her as if she’s the same size as them. They bat her with a paw playfully and she ends up halfway across the room. Thank goodness she has her bark; she needs to use her voice to stand up for herself. She needs to explain – yet again – that people and dogs should be mindful of her stature. She is there! She may take up a smaller footprint, but do not dismiss her! She cannot make herself physically bigger (and she wouldn’t want to, she can get into all sorts of interesting gaps that other dogs can’t) but she can convey herself as larger by projecting her personality, speaking up when there is injustice based on her smallness and giving those around her some well-placed attitude.

She may be small but you will respect her.

What can you learn from your dog?

Some of us are born a little either side of the average. We may be small like Stella, or imposing like Cooper’s neighbour, Millie the great dane. When you don’t fit the physical norm, sometimes people make assumptions or jokes that you have heard many times before. Leverage that difference and tell them to knock it off.

And you know what? Average is average whereas you are wonderfully different.

Zig Zag

Now Cooper is well aware there is an optimal route between A and B. If he were at position A and there were a mysterious cat at position B, he would launch like a rocket between the two points, perhaps breaking the sound barrier in the process. He knows there’s a fast way to get over there, but… is that usually the most interesting way to get there?

Zig ZagFor Cooper, he likes the scenic route. Because the world he is in has haphazard smells all over the place, it’s important to take a zigzag route to best find as many of them as possible. Does a rabbit take a direct route? No. Does a hedgehog? Nope. Foxes? Never. Well then, he has to replicate these woodland creatures’ movements to track the routes they have been and investigate their goings on. To outsiders it may seem like he is dawdling and that he has no plan. Oh, he has a plan.

Sometimes his owners get a bit frustrated with him, yanking on his lead if he is still connected to them, or calling him back to them (good luck with that). They seem to think that that the walk part of their day is a chore. Something to tick off of a list. Errr, no, it’s the whole point of the day.

The zigs and zags are the adventures. Within a zig he finds out that there wasn’t just one rabbit scurrying about earlier, but two. During a zag he found a hidden mound of squished manure that was begging for a good sniff. Imagine if he had missed out on these?!
What can you learn from your dog?

We are always rushing to our destinations. Which is the fastest choice of roads… would a train be quicker… if we leave at a certain time, can we miss the traffic. We want to blank out the travel and simple relocate ourselves to the place we are trying to get to. Could you add a little zig into your commuting routine? Could you zag on the way back from a school run?

Take the scenic route by zigging and zagging and discover something.

Get on with it

There’s a certain amount of song and dance involved before announcing an interesting thing and the interesting thing happening. It drives Cooper just bonkers. This is how it typically goes:

1. Owner says the “walk” word – woohoo!
2. Owner then thinks he will go to the toilet for simply ages
3. Owner looks for a hat
4. Owner looks out the window to see what the weather is like and then selects an appropriate coat
5. Owner ponders which shoes to wear
6. Owner finally puts the shoes on
7. They have laces, whatever the point in those are, so this takes an excruciatingly long amount of time
8. Owner changes the hat for another one
Get on with it9. Owner rummages through pockets to check for poo bags and dog treats (this latter part is an acceptable delay, but only just)
10. Owner takes keys from the hook, puts them in one pocket, then puts them into the other while muttering to himself
11. Owner decides that maybe he will just have a quick glass of water. This is out of an extremely inefficient glass rather than a bowl so takes a ridiculously unnecessary amount of time
12. Next is the lead, which is clipped onto his collar. This always takes a few goes and is nothing to do with the fact that he won’t sit still
13. Owner calls up the stairs a string of boring walk-less words to the other owner
14. They go out for a walk

This is how it should go:

1. Owner says the “walk” word
2. They go out for a walk

When Cooper wants to do something, he just gets on and does it. He doesn’t understand what all this procrastination is at all. Decide and do. No wonder humans need to live 90 years, they take nine times as long to do anything.

What can you learn from your dog?

Whether it’s preparing to go out, or sitting at a desk spinning a pen around in your fingers as you ponder beginning that big report, there is an argument to be made for just getting on with it. Procrastination and wasting time before you do the thing you need to do is just pointless filler time. Take a leaf out of your dog’s book: decide and then immediately do. Get on with it.

Respect your bed

Time for a mid-mid-afternoon nap. There are many places throughout the house that suit nappage, but Cooper feels in a blanket-ey kind of mood today so he makes his way into the lounge. Jumping onto the sofa he sees that his blanket is not in the right position AT ALL. Who left it like this?! Incredible.

With soft little whines, he coaxes the blanket to be flatter: over there a bit, no, more like this; he manoeuvres it into place. He surveys his work. Yes, that’s better. But how to get comfortable within its blanket-ey embrace? Making urgent little noises now (after all, nap time is now overdue and this process is eating into valuable chasing dreams time), he gets into the centre of the blanket and moves clockwise, stamping down any imperfections as he goes. Around once: creases begin to straighten. Around twice: the puffiness is squashed out. And around once more to catch any possible mid sleep irritations that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Pretty tired from his pre-sleep bed readiness exercise, he realises he’s been in a circle three times in one direction. He makes a quick, tight turn anticlockwise for luck. And… slump. Sleep may now happen. 30 seconds later and impressive snores are coming from within the perfectly curated blanket.

Respect your bedWhat can you learn from your dog?

Can there be a more wonderful feeling than slipping into a newly made bed? Crisp sheets, cool to the touch. A plump pillow. The smell of the fabric softener. Whatever else has happened that day, you have reclaimed your night because you are just going to sleep so, so well. Snore like a content blissful beagle.



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Get help

Cooper thinks it’s great being covered in fur. Not only does it provide insulation when it’s a bit nippy, but it looks pretty sweet and people do love to stroke you. Which is nice. He doesn’t mind being covered in fur at all, apart from one thing: it can get darn itchy.

On reflection, Cooper supposes that when he crawls through long grass he gets gubbins stuck in his coat. Maybe tasty little bugs, but maybe ones that nibble at him. Maybe it’s just bits of twigs or leaves. Whatever it is, it’s really irritating. Now with four feet with claws that’s a lot of scratching ability. The thing is that Cooper can probably only get to about 75% of his surface area. And where does he often get itchy? In the places it’s hard to get to, of course. He can’t get at the top of his head. Behind his ears he can get to, but he can’t really and truly get in there and get a good satisfying scratch going on. Whole areas of his back are also out of reach, and the bit above his tail? Damn, that has some dense hair that needs a really good go but he can’t reach it at all. What terrible design! Whether it was God or evolution, or aliens (he suspects probably aliens), they really didn’t do very well to minimise the problem of itching. So he has his solution. Them.Cooper asks to be strokedIt’s been quite the art trying to explain to either one of his owners where he needs to be scratched. He finally got them to understand by just backing into them on enough occasions that they tried a number of things to see what he wanted. It was great – he got a walk and some treats and some stroking, until they finally realised what he needed. It was pretty obvious but
they’re not geniuses by any stretch of the imagination.

Once they understood he needed a good solid scratching he had to guide their fingertips to the correct spot. Now, they don’t have useful claws like he does, they have flimsy little wannabe claws, but they are longer and bigger which means they can really go to town once they’re on the right track. Trying to explain location on one’s body through movement and little growls, purrs, and moans is tricky, that much is true. They reply with their words which, yet again, don’t contain any food words so are largely pointless. He really should learn some more words at some point, but who has the time?

Having an owner scratch behind one’s ear is a blissful experience. It’s all flaps of skin and goodness knows what debris from sticking one’s head in places to investigate. If they only knew the sort of dirt they were scratching off him. Cooper closes his eyes happily and raises his head up to the sky, trying to encourage them to finish off with a neck scratch. Purely for pleasure.

He likes to think he’s an independent animal, looking out for number one, but, hmmm, with scratching he is always going to need some help.

What can you learn from your dog?

Of course you could do everything yourself. But are you 100% excellent at every little thing you do? No. Is anyone? So if you just suck at dusting, get that cleaner in to help. If you can do your expenses at work but you just hate it, get that colleague to help in exchange for a week of making her tea. It’s okay, even your own dog and his enormity of self-assuredness is aware that it’s fine to ask for help. And the helper probably enjoys helping too.

Ask for what you want

It has been a pleasant afternoon of snoozing for Cooper. After lunchtime the sun hits the back of the house providing a perfect place to curl up and soak in the rays. A big, wide yawn, and then a quick bit of dog yoga – moving into the position for downward facing dog, followed by a cat stretch – he looks around to see if anything has changed during the time he’s been asleep. Has a cat wandered around his domain in his absence? He sniffs the air to see if maybe his food bowl has been re-filled. Ah, sadly not.

Hit with a small pang of loneliness, he goes off to search for his owner. There she is, sitting at the desk in her office, where he left her before his sleep. Cooper stares intently at her for a while, wagging his tail. Eventually this gets her attention and she swivels in her chair to face him. She says a bunch of words at him – none of which are “food” or “walk” – so he intensifies his wagging. Padding closer, he shoves his head into her lap and pushes his nose under her hand. She’s not getting it, so he pushes his head again until she finally understands and strokes his furry crown. That feels pretty good, he thinks, as he closes his eyes happily. He gives the hand a little lick as a reward to his owner for correctly identifying his intent.

Cooper side sitting

Cooper may understand some of the words said to him – the important ones – but his voice box doesn’t work in the same way as humans ones do and he has to choose a different way to communicate. He doesn’t think that being unable to articulate a thought verbally is a handicap though. It just means he has to rely on communicating more physically to be as clear as possible about his needs. Not a terrible way to operate. It’s pretty darn clear.

What can you learn from your dog?

You’re at work and that girl (the one you just don’t like) receives a delivery of flowers from her boyfriend. This annoys you more than it should and not just because she’s squealing in delight so everyone looks over. Why doesn’t *your* boyfriend send *you* flowers at work? *You* might want to be the person receiving the flowers, squealing and annoying people. But then again, in fairness, you haven’t told him clearly just how much you would love this romantic gesture. You’ve hinted. You’ll mention this girl today. But you haven’t said in black and white terms how much you’d be tickled pink by his thoughtfulness. What would your dog do? Your dog probably isn’t that interested in bouquets of roses, but he does have to be completely upfront about what he wants. When he sees you eating sausages and (obviously) also wants them, he stares at the sausages, at you and then licks his lips. Back and forth, back and forth. He couldn’t be more clear!

Ask for what you want.