The world is a different place when you have a dog. Strangers approach to talk. People greet you and smile. Walks are punctuated by stops for conversation and new encounters. A whole community of fellow dog lovers opens up and welcomes you in. You are no longer invisible to, or isolated from, your fellow humans. The presence of the dog draws you together, a reason, or an excuse, for contact.
Dogs have always guided us. In mythology, they are liminal creatures, guarding the threshold to the home or the borders to other worlds. Hecate is accompanied by dogs as she escorts us on our journey from this world to the next. Dogs represent companionship and loyalty, but they are also the untamed, howling creatures that attend the fearsome wild hunt as it tears across the countryside.
I’m a different person when I’m with my dog. Up at dawn, into the still-slumbering world, I’m able to see the town as it’s tinged with sunrise and hear the morning calls of the birds. I rediscover my neighbourhood, walking streets and open spaces I haven’t frequented for years. I fully experience the changing of the seasons, as darkness gives way to light, flowers begin to pepper bare grass and barren branches burst into blossom. My favourite beauty spots are seen anew, through the eyes and nose of my puppy, as he discovers grass, beach, sea for the first time.
My dog lives fully and in the moment. When he wakes, he is completely awake and excited to meet the day. He is curious about every sound, every smell, every view. He greets places we visit every day with the same enthusiasm as if he’d never been there before. Everything is a potential toy, whether it’s a ball or an old sock. My dog is a perfect example of not judging a book by its cover. Every person, and every dog, is a potential friend, including those that I would be tempted to avoid. He doesn’t know what a grudge is, greeting everyone in the same excited way, even if they’ve ignored or snarled at him before. Every morning and every time I return home, it’s obvious how happy he is to see me. And when he finally gives in to sleep, he surrenders to it entirely, twitching and mewling and barking through his dreams.
When I’m with my dog, I don’t worry about the usual things that concern me. When I’m with my dog, I don’t dwell or plan, or become anxious. When I’m with my dog, I’m focused on nothing but him and the environment we’re in, watching him play, or sniff, or discover new things. Being with my dog is like a walking meditation, when the world becomes clearer and more present.
Since our dog came to live with us, seven months ago, he’s given me the gift of acceptance. He dispels the need to be more, do more, have more. Since he came, I’ve changed almost without noticing. I’m content simply to be with him, to experience life with him. He helps me to value simple pleasures. No matter how tired or pressured I am, I’m forced out of bed, or off the couch and out into the world. My dog refreshes me, giving me a break from the person I sometimes have to be. He encourages me to do more than exist every day.
To live like a dog is to start each day enthusiastically and with curiosity. To find pleasure and excitement in every simple thing, whether or not you’ve done and seen them before. To accept and embrace friends and strangers alike, without pre-judgement. To live with a dog is to walk alongside a creature who can teach you to recognise that life, at its simplest, is about being where you are and cherishing it.