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.

Life doesn’t always go as planned

Flint, the whippet has unexpectedly become a father. He fondly remembers going on a date, Lexie was a nice girl, lots in common: eating, sleeping, running and she had a cute butt. It was truly the full package. And the date ended up going… spectacularly well, shall we say? Yes, he thinks wistfully, that was a pretty good day.

He was keen to see her for a long-awaited follow-up date. He had hoped to maybe rekindle what they had previously, perhaps over a drink from a fresh water bowl. But no, things had changed dramatically: as he entered her home he saw she was surrounded by mini versions of herself. Wriggly, noisy little whippets. And these small puppies, well, they also looked suspiciously like him too. With a lurch he realised; he was their daddy.

Now puppies sure are cute, aren’t they? All waggy tails and filled to the brim with infinite joy. But five of them? All enthusiastically headed in your direction? Adamant to get your attention at any cost, whilst yapping away? Flint felt a headache coming his way as he backed into a corner. He didn’t remember a discussion about where the relationship was going, it seemed to have leapt several steps without his input. He was surely too young to be a father, he hadn’t travelled the world… all the way to that field he saw in the distance. And there were all those other things he wanted to spend his free time doing: chewing a bone, running around, napping. He didn’t want to change his bachelor lifestyle.

As the puppies eager faces stared up at him, he cocked his head to one side. Of course, there was the indisputable fact that he was fairly wise. He thought he had a lot to teach a new generation, actually. He was an absolute expert at relaxing and he wouldn’t want this envied skill-set to die with him; these offspring were his legacy to the world. Maybe, he pondered, as one of his children started nibbling his leg and one that looked the spitting image of him licked him on the nose, maybe it could be quite nice having these creatures in his life after all?

*What can you learn from your dog?*

Sometimes life throws us a curveball. There we are, planning away, moving towards a life we are trying to create for ourselves and Something Big will happen. Maybe it’s bad or at least will seem a bad thing in the moment, but it’s there and we have to roll with it. Maybe you have said it yourself, but you’ll certainly know someone who has said: “at the time I thought it was the end of the world, but actually it was the best thing that could have happened to me”. Redundancy, breakups… or an unexpected litter of puppies… you can deal with it, and it may change your life for the better.

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.

Own your mistakes and apologise

Every dog owner, I’m sure, has come home to a scene out of a disaster movie. That is if the disaster movie was about destroyed couch cushions, up-ended bins, ransacked cupboards and broken shards of vases.You open the front door. Dog is suspiciously absent. You walk into the front room to find yourself rooted to the spot in slack jawed amazement, transfixed at what’s been done to your property. You look around at the destruction and notice more and more things that your dog has decided are his to play with.Oh, and here he comes.

Cooper walks quietly down the stairs. He stays out of reach in case this turns ugly and he needs to run away to hide under a bed. There’s words… lots of words thrown in his direction. Wild gesticulation too (this is never good) and the words are getting louder and more annoyed. What can one do? He was left alone for a hundred years. Is he supposed to just go into standby mode until someone returns to keep him company? He had decided to express his distaste to the management of his home. Of course, what seemed like a good idea then, suddenly doesn’t seem the best right now. But what’s done is done.

Own your mistakes and apologiseHe slowly moves closer to the hallway, just beyond reach. He knows she likes it when he sits (she’s always banging on about how he should) and he wants to make her happy again, so he gently sits. He waves his tail sadly. This is his sorry tail wag. The words hurled in his direction become a little less loud and the hand waving eases off. She begins to move some of his creative destruction around. Time for the final part of his apology which takes the form of a pleading and intense stare. He channels all of his charisma into looking as pitiful and – honestly – as pretty darn cute as he can. Can she resist this combo? He turns up the tempo of his tail wagging, just a little. The words have stopped and she stares at him. She sighs. Oh, this is a good sign, he knows it’s okay now, and he approaches her to apologise properly. She strokes his head and whispers words and he knows he is forgiven. Phew.

He has learnt his lesson and will definitely never do this again.

 

What can you learn from your dog?

Dogs have apologies down to an art form and are happy enough to own up to a mistake and take what’s coming if it will make us happy again. It can be hard for us humans to own up to messing something up and apologising. Yes, we did leave the kitchen in an absolute tip. No, we didn’t get that essay in on time. Your dog would own his mistake. Apologise. Don’t make excuses: this was on you. Do you know, you might just get a bunch of respect for it, and if you’re lucky have your hair ruffled in forgiveness.

Learn from your nemesis

As well as having a best friend, Cooper has a nemesis. Here’s how it went down.

There he was, minding his own business on his usual walk, rounding the corner to the front of the local shop. That’s when Cooper saw a dog tied to the railings outside, waiting for his owner. Obviously, being the friendly fella that he is, Cooper bounded over to say hello and sniff some butt. This dog, though, was a big dog. Maybe Cooper didn’t twig because this dog was sitting down hiding his true height, or maybe he just wanted to say hello so badly and share butt sniffing he forgot his own cautious approach rules. The other dog didn’t like being approached by an over-exuberant dog and took it pretty badly having his personal space infringed. He nipped our hero on his side. A surprised shriek and Cooper was running back to hide behind his owner’s (metaphorical) skirts.

Cooper had meant so well. He was being friendly and was properly wagging away to show his good nature. This was a completely unfair and unprovoked assault! Cooper had found his nemesis.

Learn from your nemesisHaving a best friend means finding someone who builds you up, has the same sense of fun and makes you happy in yourself.. Finding your nemesis reminds you that not everyone is worthy of your time: they hurt you, don’t have the same values and are unpleasant to be around. It’s a lesson to be learnt, for sure, and Cooper has sworn to follow the official cautious approaching-a-strange-dog process to the letter from now on.

Now, each time Cooper turns that corner round by the shop, he rushes to the spot where he was outrageously attacked and where a little piece of his innocence was taken. He wants to meet that dog again. Very badly. He has a lot to say.

What can you learn from your dog?

Sherlock Holmes had Moriarty, Harry Potter had Voldemort and like it or not, these relationship shaped them. It would be pretty hard to get through life getting on with absolutely everyone and there will always be those who take issue with our fundamental selves. What can you do about that? Sometimes it’s someone we are related to who seems to always rain on our parade, or maybe it’s a colleague who continually undermines our efforts.

Whoever it is, rise to the challenge. Don’t change yourself: become an even better version of yourself.

Face that fear

Cooper is out for a night-time jaunt. His eyesight isn’t the best so the darkness doesn’t bother him so much. With his nose to the ground it doesn’t really matter what is around him, visually anyway. It’s pretty late and the roads are quieter than usual. There probably won’t be any fellow dogs around tonight; they’re all behind closed doors, tucked up and snoring away. That’s fine, all the more smells for him. And cats. Oh, there are always cats around at night. Awesome!

Jaunt

He pads along, happily alert, down the pavements. The world is quieter so he can keep an ear out for noises such as a ruffling under a bush or a distant howl. There’s not much going on this evening, but that just builds the suspense. Something is out there, somewhere. Lots of things. Wow, it’s great being a dog.

He scuttles around a bend; he’d know the route to the field blindfolded and often walks it in his dreams. There are the usual obstacles and points of sniffing. The strange drain that always needs a good inspection. That car that sometimes has a tabby underneath. That bin that always seems to be overflowing and, if he’s lucky, a sandwich wrapper will have tumbled to the ground.

Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye he sees something up ahead in the alleyway. Something that moves unnaturally. He stops dead in his tracks causing his owner’s arm to yank backwards, clutching onto his lead. Well, it’s her own fault for restraining him with a tether. Cooper’s eyes are alert and his ears prick up. What the hell IS that? The moon illuminates a strange blue peculiarity floating next to some railings. The wind picks up a little and he hears a rustling coming from it. But not like a hedgehog scampering through leaves. No. Something more alien. Something wrong.

His owner is trying to drag him onwards with the annoying leash. Doesn’t she see that he is trying to save him from something unknown, suspicious, that in all likelihood could kill them both where they stand?! She is so clueless. Does he always have to save them from the many perils of the world while she slumps along the road? With all his feet planted firmly on the ground, he is steadfastly going nowhere. He sniffs the air and ignores the barrage of words thrown in his direction. Louder words. Blah, blah, Cooper, BLAH. He dismisses them, obviously, since he has a more important task: sniffing the strange thing’s intent. But the smells in the air don’t give up any clue as to what this abnormality could be. And, dammit, if he isn’t being dragged, neck first, towards it now. She really will be the death of him.

Alien

The wind swells and the blue glowing weird rustling thing lifts into the air. WHAT. THE. HELL?! And it’s coming towards him! “AwooowooowoooowooWOOOWOOOO”, calls Cooper into the night – attempting to show the thing who’s boss. But it’s still coming for him! For them both! He can’t believe he’s going to die in an alleyway. And with an empty belly. This is just the worst. And still his owner pulls him onwards, towards their doom! What is this damn thing? It moves in such strange patterns, like it’s not in charge of its own body. Moving where the wind’s whims takes it. There are two bits on top that look like ears, maybe? But with holes in them. Where are its eyes?! For crying out loud, everything needs eyes! How can he see what its intentions might be without eye contact? Barking and trying to pull backwards, trying to save himself from the impending certain doom, the item still moves forward towards him. But wow: his owner up ahead, with no thought of her own self-preservation, makes a swoop at it in the air. She’s so brave! Brave or stupid, anyway. His own barking is definitely helping so he doubles down and barks louder and longer than before. His owner wrestles the thing from the wind, grabbing it by its neck. Neck? Screwing it up and strangling it. It’s such a battle! And she’s winning! She grapples it to the ground, saying all sorts of words (some of which he suspects are those bad words she shouldn’t use). She is victorious. The thing lies on the ground. Dead. No longer able to terrorise very brave dogs. She swoops its still corpse into the nearby bin.

Now that the thing is no longer living, Cooper jumps up to the rim of the bin and takes a gentle sniff. It doesn’t really smell of anything. Huh. He leaps back down and moves on, his mind reeling from the Battle of the Thing and the glorious victory he orchestrated. He will remember this day forever. Forever and ever.

What can you learn from your dog?

Fear of the unknown is one of our basest instincts. It’s good to be wary and approach with caution, but how many times have you said after an event you were scared of that it wasn’t anything like as bad as you had imagined. Your dog wants to address the fear. To tell it who’s boss. Maybe even tackle it head on. Can you approach your worries with your analytical head and cut them down to size?