Grow old gracefully

Cooper has a dog neighbour called Millie who is a much larger dog; a Great Dane. But even though she towers over his smaller frame, somehow she’s not one of those Big Scary Dogs. Millie has a quiet, wise gracefulness that calms him and people around her.

Recently, Cooper had a dinner date at Millie’s and he immediately noticed her enormous bed. He thought it looked really comfy so tried it out and ended up quickly falling into a blissful nap. Millie didn’t mind. She knows it’s a nice place to take a rest and it’s good to look after her guests. Especially those younger ones who spend so much of their time dashing about.

When you’re a younger dog, your life is about investigating the world and having new experiences. Every new squeaky dog or pee-covered bush is a delight. As one’s age advances, a lot has become familiar, but that makes it wonderfully comforting. There is no need to dart around in circles to see absolutely everything immediately. It’s okay to move at a slower pace and explore more gently. A fresh new toy is fine, but it’s also nice to engage with a fluttering butterfly, wondering what it’s up to. In her younger days, Millie may have snapped at the dancing insect, but she now enjoys being mesmerised by its beautiful air aerobatics.

Her own health is key with the advancing years and Millie takes her water drinking seriously. She likes to take in big gulps and let it drain from her lips as she walks off, maybe wiping the drips onto a sofa cushion. Her owners don’t seem to agree with this method, but they don’t have her unwieldy lips to deal with, with their neat tiny mouths. They just don’t understand.

Millie sports on trend vibrant Harlequin black and white markings, but the body inside her fur doesn’t work quite as well as it once did. But that’s fine too. She doesn’t need to pelt across fields or leap up onto fences. She has noticed that because she’s bigger, sometimes when she’s out and about little dogs bark and yap at her, maybe trying to take her on. She just looks away. She doesn’t react to anyone trying to goad her, there’s just no need to engage in any sort of conflict. An easy calm life is the way. It’s perfectly lovely ambling along with her owners, gently taking in the sights. Their communal quiet reflection as they take an afternoon saunter is wonderful for the soul.

What can you learn from your dog?

Us humans, we do tend to dread getting older. But with age comes comfort and wisdom. It’s just a different time in our lives where we can slow down and be more in touch with the world that seemed a blur in our younger years.

Like our wise, older dogs: respect the additional years to your life and explore the changes with grace.

Love the winter

Cooper loves that he is covered in fur. As well as being incredibly stylish, his tri-colour branding is eye-catching and gets the lady dogs’ attention. But in winter he has noticed it has a more practical use. It’s colder at this time of year and it helps keep the chill away more than these poor naked hairless humans.

He has noticed that getting ready for a walk takes even achingly longer. He didn’t think it was possible to do yet more things before a walk began, but now there are hats and scarves and gloves and jumpers and big coats and an ongoing commentary about how cold it is and is Cooper really very sure he has to go out? Err, yes. Obviously.

Love the winterOutside there is an eerie mist in the air. He can’t see everything ahead (though obviously seeing is not the most important sense anyway) and when he inhales, there is a short sharp burst of icy air. It’s surprisingly, that’s for sure. He tastes the winter in his mouth and breathes it back out into the world as he pads on the frosty grass, making it crunch and crackle under his paws.

Now being outside in the winter is great… but… he doesn’t mind if the walks are that tad shorter and that the momentum is that little bit brisker. It’s almost as if it’s worth being outside just so he can come back into the warmth. And the best thing about winter is that actually everyone seems to be a bit too cold, and of course the best way to remedy this situation is to be in a Massive Pile. And that’s what Cooper tries to engineer. Dogs totally get it. But humans… they are all “what are you doing, stop trying to get under my blanket; stop using your big brown eyes and charm to manoeuvre into my lap; don’t put your freezing cold nose on the small of my back…” Blah blah blah. Such a strange species. He’s just trying to help them feel encompassed in warmth and comfort.

What can you learn from your dog?

Hunker down. It’s cold. Now is not the time to begin a running regime, it’s the time to curl up with loved ones and generate warmth together. You want their warmth and they want yours.

Pile on.

Do to for them

Cooper does not like being dressed up as a bee. Now, he’s not sure you quite get it, so he will re-emphasise. HE DOES NOT WANT TO LOOK LIKE A STUPID BEE.

But, wow, his owners just adore to dress him up in a dumb costume each year.

He could put up more resistance – after all he has many dreams about bravely and strongly fending off the house from an influx of evil cats and squirrels – but at the heart of it all, he loves his human cohabiters and it makes them so happy. He stands there, letting them put one leg at a time into fluffy cheap scratchy fabric as they giggle hysterically.

BeegleOf all the costumes, why a dumb bee? Bees are strange colourful flying snacks that aren’t tasty at all and hurt to eat. They seem to be followed by an impromptu trip to the vets, which is fun as he gets to have a fuss made of him (as he should), some tasty treats, but then they seem to pinch his neck for no reason at all. But then there’s another treat, so he guesses it’s okay? Bit weird though.

They finish off their dressing up antics by tying a ridiculously humiliating bow under his neck to keep a bonnet with antennae over his ears. If he could, he would roll his eyes and shake his head, but he is not a petty dog, he lets them get on with it and stands there so they can point their portable rectangles at him and flash light at him. He poses until their laughs subside and then wanders off to the garden to go roll in a seriously large amount of mud.

What can you learn from your dog?

We don’t always totally enjoy every moment with our families and people we are obligated to be with. But if your Aunt gives you a hideous jumper, smile, enthuse and throw it on. It’s an hour of your life, but it’s heartwarming for them to feel appreciated. They love you and they don’t always get that you are not on the same page as them. Sometimes their affections are misguided but, hey, suck it up.

Be loving… and do it for them.

Help your friends feel comfortable

Cooper just adores to meet new dogs on his walks. He bounds over to canine strangers and wants to say hello, engage them and hopefully play. He knows he is a bit bolshy with his intentions and – over time – he has learnt that not everyone appreciates his forceful approach.

Jasper isn’t like feisty Cooper. He likes the quiet. He likes peace. Noise makes him agitated and he gets jumpy if something happens unexpectedly. He sees other dogs proudly wearing their colourful collars and wonders why, when he has to wear his, he finds it so itchy and uncomfortable.

Help your friends feel comfortableSometimes all his senses become overloaded and he can’t deal very well with how he is feeling. He barks or lashes out because he’s confused and scared. Luckily his owner understands how he feels and gently helps him with soothing words, removing noises and turning off bright lights. He also enjoys and feels calmed by getting stroked nice and firmly because being lightly stroked feels tickly and unpleasant.

This is who Jasper is, so he seeks out a calmer world and avoids things that make him feel stressed.

But just because Cooper and Jasper have different preferences with interaction, doesn’t mean they can’t be friends. Cooper understands he needs to be less barky and full on, so as not to make Jasper uncomfortable. They spend time together not playing the active and loud Chase Me game, but in more sedate pursuits. They like to amble through the sides of the large field hunting out woodland smells and debris. Nothing wrong with that.

In fact, Cooper thinks it’s quite nice to have a change of pace.

What can you learn from your dog?

We are all different and it’s great to have a variety of friends. If you’re the sort who loves loud, busy gigs with loads of buddies, keep a beady eye out for those who turned down the invite. Would they appreciate a one-on-one lunch time meet up instead? We have more than one gear, so move up or down to meet your friends’ level and enrich your life with those varied experiences.

Endorphins make you glow

Cooper is snuggled up in his bed. Inside its depths, as well as a half chewed cushion spilling its white fluffy contents, there’s a beige tatty blanket covered in lots of his hair. It’s a pretty classy affair. It’s cold in the house and he knows he has to curl in the tightest circle simply to keep alive. It was dark when he was stirred for breakfast and he doesn’t understand why he’s suddenly being fed in the middle of the night. But, well, it’s food, so it’s sort of okay. He starts to nod off, his belly nicely full, when he hears his name being called.

Endorphins make you glowSeriously? They want to go for a walk now? He pops his black, shiny nose into the arctic conditions of his home and thinks about how much colder it would be outside. He loves a walk, of course, but does it have to be when he’s barely awake and cold? His name is called again and he considers his dilemma. He is very cosy where he is but these humans are irritatingly persistent once they get started with one of their absurd ideas. He’d love to just stay where he is, it took simply ages to get into this perfect resting position. But… those outdoor smells… and it is his calling to investigate them… he really should check on them. If he doesn’t, then who will? They would go un-smelled. And his tubby body, already at the very peak of physical perfection, could do with a few dashes across the field to keep those leg muscles in tip top condition. He slightly grimaces thinking of how cold the grass would be on his delicate paws, but he is not one to shy away from a bit of discomfort. He unravels his body and slowly gets up, ignoring his name being called more and more insistently. He’s coming, wow, seriously chill out.

Back in his bed again, post walk, he is happy to concede he was glad he went out for exercise even though he really didn’t want to. He stretches his limbs out in four directions and yawns widely. He feels a faint hum throughout his body, the after effects of all that dashing about. He quickly drifts off, feeling warm and tingly

What can you learn from you dog?

Sometimes it’s cold out there and sometimes you’re not feeling it, but if you can coax yourself to pull yourself to the gym or out for a run, you’ll tap into those wonderful endorphins. We all know it’s easier to be motivated when it’s a gorgeous day and we wake up rested, but where it counts is those gloomy days when it’s harder. The more yeses you can manage when you want to say no, the more of those wonderful energising endorphins you can collect.

And you can always go back to bed afterwards.

Protest what’s important to you

Cooper has a lot of things to be vocal about. “Where is his dinner?”, “Isn’t it about time for a walk?” and “How dare that cat come into my garden?”. But what about the bigger issues? Things that go way beyond the world of a small dog living a simple life in a house? What does he feel an actual Protest about?

Cooper doesn’t know about his animal kingdom buddies stuck in laboratories, enduring animal testing. He just wouldn’t be able to fathom how that sort of situation could come about. He doesn’t love being stuck in a house or restricted by a lead but he really wouldn’t like the idea of being caged or tethered in a medical facility. He would be absolutely affronted.

Sometimes one of his owners wears makeup and Cooper finds the idea quite bewildering. Animals have no interest in painting their faces strange colours. He can’t imagine why these products would be tested on his fellow furry friends to check if they were safe, it really seems a bit unfair. Something inside him decides that he needs to make a point and the best way is to make a proper visual Protest.

Protest animal testingAh, his foolish owner who leaves her possessions just close enough to the edge of high up places. Oh, she thinks she is being clever, stacking them a bit further back, but he has such reach. And with a long tongue added into the mix, he has an extra few inches to be able to get to things. He leaps up to see what’s up here. His tongue inches the first item, a long black shape, to the edge. It smells weird, but the container looks quite fun to chew so he grabs it and takes it to the nice beige rug to give it a munch. As he mangles the object, the black viscous contents start to spill from the container and he ponders that the colour definitely adds a little something to the boring floor covering. Right, what’s next? He sees some shiny tubes which seem to come in an infinite variety of shades of red. Surely just one of these would do? But no time to question insane human logic, he chews each one up and adds bright vibrant shades to his artistic masterpiece. Beige powder and pink powder are next. These tickle his nose as he chews the boxes open and make him sneeze, so he tosses them about his portrait to add depth and atmosphere. He gets up to survey his work. Impressive. Big improvement to the carpet and an important Protest message.

Now destruction is not a clean way of protesting but he thinks it gets his point across well. He Does Not Approve. His owner won’t be happy, but you can’t make an omelette without cracking some eggs (and then throw away the omelette and just have sausages instead). She will look at her broken possessions and she will need to make the choice as to how she replaces them.

He hopes she will choose with some thought to his fellow creature-kind.

What can you learn from your dog?

Do you feel strongly about something? Your dog would protest an injustice, so use your own bark to join others and see what actual changes you can make to the world. Whether it’s international women’s rights, issues with the local tip or animal testing – if it touches you in a personal way, you could do something. You know indignant social media rants only go so far: what could you do that was real?

Revel in silence

Cooper sat patiently, with his head cocked at an angle, as his owner held aloft one of her rectangles and read some words from it to him. Sometimes when there are a stream of words in his direction they can be a bit loud and shouty, but, this time as she gesticulated as she read to him – creating a little bit of miniature theatre to entertain him – these seemed like soft words.

Not that he understood any of them.

Revel in silence

It’s quite relaxing being read to by a human. Dogs don’t have much of a vocabulary. I mean what is there to say? A bark has all sorts of intonation, force, volume and pitch to convey all sorts of expression and emotion. But these humans seem to constantly natter, what could they possibly be going on about? Do they just invent new and more complex things to talk about to fill the silence?

Cooper wondered whether there were other dogs out there that had their owner’s read to them. As an only dog it was quite lonely sometimes (only sometimes) and humans didn’t always totally get him and his extremely clear way of conveying his needs and wants. It would be nice to be part of some sort of club. Likeminded high thinkers like himself could consider the important matters of the world: why were there not more walks; why were food bowls filled with such insultingly small amounts and which sticks were the best sticks. Naturally he would be head of this group: his obvious candidacy as an Alpha had been shockingly overlooked in his own home. But then his owners did have insecurity issues so he only made a bid for power every evening or so. Which was hardly ever.

Cooper let his owner’s words sweep over him and settled into lying down, gently closing his eyes.

She really did go on.

What can you learn from your dog?

We humans, we sure love our drama. And then we love to talk about it. What are we even talking about half the time? Have we already told that not-even-that-exciting story to a few other people? Do we need to keep asking everyone questions? Can we just stop and be quiet and still?

The silence needn’t be so scary and it could even be comforting.

Live until you die

Cooper’s seaside holiday buddy is a springer labrador cross called Chester. Cooper is a young dog and Chester was his first friend who was just that bit older. He didn’t like to ask, being a super polite fella, but Cooper could see that Chester had grey bits around his muzzle and his eyebrows were a bit wild with sprouting hairs. When they played, Chester would give it his all but his legs didn’t seem to want to go as fast as he wanted them to and he couldn’t always keep up with spritely Cooper. But that was fine, there are all sorts of speeds in the world, and it was just a matter of slowing down so Chester could catch up.

Now, Cooper can’t really be bothered with balls, he doesn’t see the point at all, but Chester’s absolute favourite game has always been playing fetch with a tennis ball. He would calculate incredible mathematics of projection and run at full speed towards where it was beginning to fall. Obstacles were a total inconvenience: mounds to be leapt over and bushes to push through the middle of. He could barely feel the bumps on his intense pursuit.

With the years, he still wanted that ball, but he started to be a little more measured in his quest. Going around rather than leaping over or pushing through things became the way.

Live until you die

His owners were particularly clumsy, they were always hurling endless balls far away. But he didn’t question their strange human foibles, he would just get on with bringing those balls back. His idea of the best day ever would be to get onto a tennis court and dart around to help collect all those lazily-dropped balls, bringing them back into a tidy central place.

Recently, Chester was out on his usual walk with his owner. He ran after his ball in his favourite field, excited and happy, his little heart dancing with glee. He grabbed it in his mouth, tasting the familiar rubber and furry cotton and turned to rush back. He saw his owner, waiting happily to receive his ball. This was the best! But as he made his journey back, he noticed his legs were slowing down a bit and his heart was aching in his chest. Was he imagining it, but did it seem like everything was clouding a little in his field of vision? Could he get back? Everything felt so heavy. Could he have a lie down? Just for a little bit?

Chester didn’t make it back that day, but he did get that ball. He always got the ball.

What can you learn from your dog?

Live.

Keep going. Hang onto life with all your might. How marvellous to die doing the very thing we love the most. So keep doing what you love: climb mountains, eat your favourite crisps on the sofa with friends or create the largest crochet blanket in the world. Then, one day, at the age of 104, you’ll be smiling – while really living – and you’ll pass on.

Live your life until your very last moment.

Chase your tennis ball

A few years ago, Cooper went on a holiday to the seaside with his buddy Chester and their owners. Chester is a springer labrador cross and it soon turned out these two guys had quite different priorities. Cooper tried to share his deep interest of sniffing every bit of sand dune, seaweed and salty-smelling debris. But Chester had no interest. His biggest interest was the tennis balls his owners threw for him. Now, let me be clear. Chester didn’t like tennis balls. He didn’t love tennis balls. He was OBSESSED with tennis balls. He woke up in the mornings thinking about them, he would keep a beady eye out all day in case there were some lying about the place and when he snoozed he would see and chase them throughout his dreams. Cooper’s raison d’etre is to investigate all the smells, whereas Chester’s own passion and very reason for being is to chase and bring back tennis balls.

Chase your tennis ball

There is just something so special about those wonderful, bright spheres that just enchants Chester. They play with all his senses. The colour of them is a weirdly unnatural fluorescent yellow but that does mean they can be easier to track down when they are lobbed into undergrowth. Very handy. The smell of a ball, that glorious, intoxicating rubber, and the fabric covering which tickles his nose. They are sort of furry, but not fur like his own lovely black hair. He adores the fuzzy taste against his long wet tongue and especially how balls don’t fit quite perfectly in his mouth and want to escape. The not knowing whether that one wrong move – trying to get a better purchase while carrying the ball in his mouth – could mean it would tumble out and roll into the long grass. Such a tease and challenge.

When Chester didn’t have a tennis ball in his mouth he felt like something was missing. There was a hole in his life. And you would think that carrying a ball around meant that Chester couldn’t smile with happiness, but no worries there: his whole body conveyed his just absolute perfect joy.

What can you learn from your dog?

Your passion is your driver.

It’s so important and it’s who you are. If your passion is collecting tennis balls that have been abandoned – good for you. Maybe you adore to sculpt cows in bronze or you obsess about running a marathon on every continent. You can have that fire to end all wars… or to complete your vintage lego collection. Whatever it is, it’s the very essence of who you are.

Chase your tennis ball.

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.