We resisted having a dog in the family for years, many of which were populated by the kids pleading that only a puppy would make their lives complete. When we finally relented, it was as much as anything to substitute the outgoing child, which was a bit unfair on him, given that he’d led the lobbying committee for many years, but at least has meant that we still get home visits. With the trauma of #2’s departure still leaving something of a gap, Mrs E has already placed her order for dog 2, thereby creating a precedent that will mean four large animals cluttering up the place by the year 2020, and, by my current calculations, a need for me to stay in gainful employment for at least 5 more years than previously planned.
Go on then, ask me if I mind. Because I don’t. Having a dog about the place, even one who spends 20 hours of each 24 in a state of blissful snoozing, is an absolute delight.
One of my failed get-rich-quick schemes was to author a book on life lessons learned from running long distances. See here for a suitable diversion. Anyway, just in case others have cornered the market in the whole run/philosophy/life market (and they have), I’m developing a different idea in this blog, which we’ll ruffly entitle ‘Things That You Learn From Living With A Dog’. It also gives me a contrived opportunity to post a number of pictures of Luna, a dog so impossibly attractive that every photograph will just make you go aaaaahhh:
1. Clearing up is easy
One of the things that put me off any sort of dog ownership was the prospect of following the dog around the park, picking up the output of its bottom. In reality, it’s really straightforward. Luna waits until she’s in the park, squats down slightly awkwardly, and produces something that’s quite easy to bag up and put in a bin. And, she’ll politely wait for you to complete the process before continuing the walk. Sometimes, by making it easy for all parties concerned, the most unpleasant jobs become, well, a walk in the park.
2. Always wag your tail
Every time I see Luna, she wags her tail. And I think this is because she’s genuinely pleased to see me. I might be saying good morning to her at 5am, and she’ll wag her tail while keeping her eyes closed. I might be home from a couple of days away and off the back of a horrible train journey, and she’ll wag her tail while trying to wrestle me on the sofa. I might be back from a run and she’ll wag her tail while trying to lick all the sweat off my legs and neck (this is just as repulsive as it sounds, but also slightly moreish). And when anyone else meets here, the default tail position is wag. I guess the point is that she starts off pretty much every part of her life as happy, and very rarely is she disappointed. Do you know anyone like that in your life? I’ve just been thinking about it, and I reckon there are about two people who I’ve ever met who have been unrelentingly positive, and I really wish I’d managed to spend more time in their company.
3. Say good morning
I have a friend who grew up in a small village in Norfolk, , and moved to the bright lights of Norwich when he was 18. He couldn’t understand why, when he walked along the street, no one ever replied to his cheery ‘Good Morning’. Luna’s lucky in this respect, in that her ‘Good Morning’ greetings are normally responded to a bit more enthusiastically. Most dogs say good morning right back, although she does find the French bulldogs and the Jack Russell’s a little, well, over-friendly; it’s never seemed right that the friendly barked hello is followed up by a rush to smell her bum, but you probably shouldn’t be too judgemental of other cultures. Anyway, she’ll never ignore you when she meets you, and that’s almost always a good thing.
4. Emotions don’t have to be complicated
Luna spends 95% of her life in a happy place. There isn’t much more to her emotion than that. The 5% that isn’t happy might be tired, or cross, or hungry, but not much more than that. There isn’t any deep analysis of this 5% to discover that she has a deep-rooted fear of cars, or a genetic disposition to obesity, or a reluctance to commit to happiness based on previous relationships. She’s just happy or she’s not, and when she’s not, she’s not for long.
5. Eat when you’re hungry
Luna has two walks a day, and after each one she comes back and has a meal. There’s a fairly amusing bit between walk and meal when she outlines what she’d like to eat, how she’d like it presented, and exactly the level of hunger that she’s experiencing. At least, that’s what we assume, from the animated rrooorrr rrooorrr noises that come out from her when she gets in the door. Then she eats an unappetising mix of dry biscuits and water in about five seconds flat, has a sniff round the kitchen floor to see if there’s any pudding, and takes herself off to bed to sleep off the walk and the meal. And that’s it. No mid-meal snacks, other than the odd stick on a walk, no begging for food, no hunger pains, no munchies. Just eats the food she needs when she’s hungry, and looks pretty fit on it.
6. Play !
I read somewhere a while ago that dogs are the only animal that continue to play into their adulthood. Now that Luna is knocking on the door of 2 years old, she’s what’s called a ‘mature dog’, which makes her sound like a middle aged librarian. Unlike most of us middle aged librarian types, however, she’ll play with us, or other dogs, really naturally. And by naturally, I mean without any sense of self-consciousness, she’ll just boing into life, run around a bit with another dog or a puppy or a person, just for the sake of the play itself. Compare that next time you see an adult in your life trying a bit too hard to play with a child.
7. Her never changing moods
One of us might be late home, we might be a bit late with the food, we might ask her to go out for a wee in the garden when it’s raining, and Luna might not be overly impressed with this. Whatever happens, it doesn’t hang around festering for her to bear a grudge. She’s still pleased to see you the next morning. Life goes on, y’know.
8. Run properly
I really, really, want to be a good runner. I’ve realised that ‘good’ has actually started going in the wrong direction, and I wish I’d had Luna to instruct me when I first started out. My normal runs are: get changed, get out the door as quickly as possible, slog round until I’m exhausted, come home, whine a bit about feeling knackered, shower. I started running with Luna a few months ago and her approach is very different. Stretch, walk for a bit, then one mile easy trot, off lead for three miles, at which she’ll walk, run, run fast, sprint, and probably cover 5 to my 3. She’ll run at whatever pace suits her, unless there’s a squirrel involved in which case she’ll go for what us runners call VO2 max. And she’ll really enjoy it. Back onto a lead for a one mile cool down run home, before rroorr rrooorr conversation and food. She just does this naturally, and enjoys it, and for her training partner, it’s definitely the best run of the week.
9. Be mindful
If you hang around psychologists, or cod-psychologists, or life coaches, or new age Chelsea Buddhists, you’ll be familiar with the concept of mindfulness. You can spend a lot of time and effort learning about this concept, and without belittling it too much (oops), it basically revolves around being ‘in the moment’. By understanding your current state, and the senses that allow you to exist in this state, you can appreciate more and be more prepared for the next part of your life. I’m a big fan of this myself, but through the eyes of a dog, it feels even simpler and more relevant. Luna spends almost no time worrying about her pension plan, where the next meal might be coming from, or the appalling state of the world around her. She gives hardly any thought, as far as I know, to the dog that recently dissed her in the park, or the fact that her mother might have kicked her in the head when she was trying to feed. If you watch her outside, with her ears lifted, sniffing the breeze, scanning the field for rabbits and squirrels, with one front leg up, desperately pretending to be a pointer, then she’s the absolute embodiment of being ‘in the moment’. You don’t need six weeks of mindfulness training, you see, you just need to go for a walk with a dog.
That’s the book, in a nutshell. Let me know if you want one for Christmas.