Updated: Oct 16
All my life, I’ve grown up surrounded by dogs (and cats). My first dog was Sailor, a beautiful German Shepherd my father found stranded in an empty home. Sailor became our protector and there are pictures of him sitting under our prams when my brother and I were babies.
Our menagerie of dogs came and went as I grew up and my first dog when I became an “adult”, was a German Shepherd called Tango. Then it was another German Shepherd called Cash (does anyone remember the Tango & Cash cop series?). These two dogs tried their best to keep me stable but I think it was challenging for them at times!
What makes our dogs such beautiful, incredible beings? No matter what's happening around them or us, they’re there, silently, loyally protecting us and always only ever showing us their love. And, doing their best to keep us in balance.
Every dog that has passed through my life only ever showed me pure and unconditional love. I never doubted it and that love was my source of comfort on many an occasion. However, it was my last German Shepherd, Tatu, who journeyed with me in my last seven years of figuring out who I am and his presence taught me a lot about myself.
1. Unconditional Love
How often have you heard the words “unconditional love” and wondered what they really mean? Is it even possible for such a thing to exist? It took me many years to unpack those words and I finally came up with my own definition of unconditional love (with thanks to the Osho Zen Transcendental Tarot):
“It is a love that has no expectations or demands. There’s no neediness and no desperate desire to change someone else into something you want. It’s a pure acceptance of others and yourself, exactly the way you are. It’s about connection without urgency. It’s true compassion for all living and non-living beings.” - Osho
My dog was the epitome of unconditional love. All I ever felt from him was pure, unconditional love. I never felt judged, scorned, ridiculed, or abandoned. Tatu showed me what unconditional love was and I aspire to achieve that level as a human being.
2. Living in the Moment
One of the principles of shamanism is “NOW is the moment of power”. When I first heard those words, they resonated deeply with me, and ever since I’ve strived to live in the moment. It’s not easy but I would marvel at watching Tatu because it came so naturally to him (as it does for all animals.)
My dog taught me to live in the moment as much as possible. Watch how dogs find joy and happiness in everything they’re doing at the moment. Being present, in the NOW, is a powerful lesson.
Instead of clinging to the past and fretting over what I could have done or should have done, I’m learning more and more to be present today. And, worrying about tomorrow can be so pointless when today is all we have. So, live today and be present – just like our dogs.
PS: If you want to learn more about the principles of shamanism read Serge Kahili King’s book, "Urban Shaman."
3. Connecting With Others
It would always amaze me how my dog could instantly connect with anyone who came to visit. He was always so excited and exuberant no matter who was at the door. He loved connecting with others and did so with so much unconditional love.
But, what my dog also taught me was how to stay connected with others through loving and spending time with him. Dogs love to get our attention just as much as we love to get it. By connecting with our dogs, we’re giving AND receiving.
The same applies when we connect with others be it our family, friends, work colleagues, the teller at the bank, or the Uber driver. By being open to making someone else feel special, connected, and appreciated, you’re sending out the good vibes.
4. Finding Balance
Have you noticed when your dog isn’t well, he’s out of sorts? We know it’s vital to feed our dogs well, give them plenty of exercises, stimulate them with love and attention, and also let them sleep when they need to. When a dog’s needs are met, he’s in balance. The same applies to us.
We get so absorbed in our daily lives – in fact, it demands it of us to work crazy hours, look after the family, and keep up with the Joneses. Life as a human being can be exhausting! And, it doesn’t take long before we’re out of balance.
By learning what our dogs need to maintain a healthy balance, we could do the same for ourselves:
Eat a healthy diet
Find time to exercise
Take time out for some loving
Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night
While it took me a long time to connect the dots I did learn that what Tatu needed to keep in balance was what I needed as well to keep my own balance on an even keel.
I was checking out some doggie products on Amazon and found these if you want to treat your dog to a special bed, a really cool dog food bowl, or a leash for those daily walkies.
5. Be Happy
It was Tatu who taught me about finding joy in the simplest of things. Watching him bound with joy when he got a new bed was a delight to behold. His new bed seemed such a simple gesture on our behalf but for him, it was like Christmas all over again.
Whenever he got nibbles of chicken pieces, Tatu would go into total ecstasy. No matter how small those chicken pieces were, you could see him grinning from ear to ear with every morsel. He was so happy when we cuddled with him, when the kids came to visit, and when he could run around our new small garden.
My dog taught me to be happy during the most ordinary moments of my day. He showed me how to find joy in the simplest of things. It wasn’t about waiting for that holiday to the bush, or the birthday party celebration to find some happiness. Being happy could happen anytime, at any moment.
6. Feeling the Sorrow
It was Tatu who taught me about feeling sorrow. His passing left a huge hole in my life and it was the first time I felt safe to let go. To let go of all that painful sorrow that comes when we lose someone we love so deeply.
When my dog died, I thought my world had come to an end. He was my soulmate, the one who never judged, the one who loved unconditionally, and the one who taught me so much about myself. How was I meant to go on?
But, his passing gave me the strength to move on so I could share all he has given me. Through his passing, I was able to release all the sorrow that had been building up in me for years.
The sadness of two marriages breaking up, the loss of a beautiful niece too young to die, and the heart-wrenching journey of watching my brother and his family deal with another loss when their son passed away in 2021.
My dog’s passing gave me permission to feel the sorrow I’d held onto for way too long and I was finally able to release it. It didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took the year (there’s a theory behind the year of mourning, after all) but he was with me all the time. That gave me the strength to carry on.
7. Learning to Trust Again
It was another dog that showed me how to trust again. I wasn’t sure about loving another creature again after losing Tatu. But, two years ago we adopted a rescue dog and what can I say? Love truly conquers!
This crazy dog is a combination of all the dogs I've known. And, he’s showing me that it’s safe to trust again – especially myself. His innocence, pure acceptance of all that is, and his own courage to trust again tell me it’s all going to be okay.
Learning to trust again means being vulnerable. Our rescue dog has taught me this. A wise lady once said:
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage.” – Brene Brown
Watch this beautiful video demonstrating how dogs show us love.
Dogs are deep, intuitive creatures. They don’t question where they are and what’s their purpose. They know. Dogs teach us so much about ourselves and how to find our own balance, love, and happiness. We just need to be open to the lessons.
Dogs teach us loving-kindness while still being loyal and protective. They teach us about serving others in the same manner. Dogs teach us about compassion and a deep understanding of others. They teach us about loyalty.
Embrace your dog and be open to learning from them. They’re your true and loyal friends, after all.
This post was updated on February 8, 2023.