Why I Aspire to Emulate My Dogs

We have two super happy dogs as part of the collection of loonietics that we call our family. You just have to look at them and their tails start wagging. We are all trying to chase happiness and fulfillment as the ultimate goals behind working towards FIRE. These two beasts seem to be living it out. I used to think it was because they could lick themselves anytime, any place. But really, it’s just that they have it together and we could learn from them.

When looking at the RE-focusing aspect of my own version of the pillars of FIRE, I aspire to emulate my dogs.

Mindfullness: While we are often focusing on the future, recycling a series of dreams, worries and concerns, my dogs are living in the now.

I used to scoff at “mindfulness” because I had visions of a bunch of Hollywood types running around in the desert trying to find themselves or some gurus sitting still while birds perch on them.  What has changed my mind has been both experience and science.

Mindfulness is loosely defined as a psychological process of paying attention to your present moment thoughts and experiences. Achieving it could be as simple as pausing to enjoy the sensory stimuli around you like the heat of the sun on your black fur, the smell of freshly dug dirt, or the wind blowing in your face while driving with the windows open. It can be pausing to savour the moment of being with good friends and loved ones.

There are also more formal methods, with meditation and yoga being the prototypical ones. These have actually been studied and a growing body of evidence supports their effectiveness. My dogs don’t do science, so we will explore the science in detail in another post.

Being mindful will also help you to be more in tune with the emotions of others.

This is a critical skill both for your personal life and if you deal with other people. This is particularly important in fields where emotions can run high like in healthcare – but it also applies to your personal relationships as well. The closer the relationship is, usually the stronger the emotions are.

Be mindful of the language, tone, and body language of those around you. My dogs know very few words, but if someone in our family is upset, they are there like glue providing extra emotional support. The golden retreiver is really purpose-built for this role with his squishy stress-ball like head and tear-absorbent fur.

Make sure that your love for your pack is unconditional.

Our golden loves all of his pack-mates, even those he would normally want to eat.

Dogs love unconditionally and accept their pack-mates for who they are. We strive to do this as spouses and parents, but it is not easy. My wife’s love for me (fortunately) is not conditional on me putting the laundry on the floor on my side of the bed into the hamper, but it may help [done, dear;)]. It would be a good thing for me to do, and she does supportively encourage me to improve myself. How we do this, is particularly important for our kids.

We all carry scripts of what our childhood was like, how we were raised, and how we dealt with growing up. It is easy to be supportive when our kids have a very similar personality or disposition to us because they follow those scripts readily. We need to be careful to be equally supportive when our kids approach things differently. They need our unconditional support to help them develop their own unique strengths and find their own paths to success. This builds a strong dependable pack that raises resilient independent children.

Make sure your affection is unequivocally communicated.

It doesn’t matter what they are doing (except perhaps begging for cheese) – when one of us comes through the door to the house, the dogs run to greet them. The bad stuff that happens at work is easy to check at the door when the first thing you encounter are two beings so ecstatic to see you that their whole bodies shake and wiggle, while they press their heads up against your legs and look up at you. Physical contact communicates affection. Don’t forget this and don’t neglect it.

Prioritize spending time with your loved ones.

Another part of making sure your affection is unequivocally communicated is by prioritizing to make sure you spend time with each other. When they aren’t outside hunting mice, my dogs are predictably with one of the other family members. Our black Lab invariably finds a spot near my wife and I to lay down and hang out while we go about our day. Our golden retriever is usually found snuggled up on the couch with whomever is sitting there.

Conserve your energy for the hunt.

Our black Lab has the ability to completely relax her body and mold it to become one with most pieces of furniture. It is easy to construe this as laziness. However, when outside she is a ball of energy. I have seen her sprint faster than a deer – she chased it across our field, but didn’t know what to do when she caught up to it, so just kept going beside it. She also has endurance and can spend hours hunting and digging for mice in the fields around our house.

Sometimes it is easier said than done in a 24h/day professional world, but get enough sleep. It will make the time you do spend on tasks more efficient and effective. You can’t get more time in a day, but you can make the most effective use of what time you have.

There is a time to relax and a time to turn on the afterburners. Be sure to do both.

Exercise daily and enjoy it.

These two do Crossfit workouts everyday and love it. The fresh air and feeling of running around flat out energizes them. It is part of our habit too. Every morning after breakfast, as well as every afternoon, it is walk time. The dogs play extensively outside on their own, but still expect the whole pack to patrol the perimeter of our territory twice per day. They are like live-in personal trainers that don’t take no for an answer.

Play with sticks. You don’t need fancy toys. Use nature as your toy box whenever possible.

When these two play, they play hard and the toy eventually will be broken or gutted. More complex toys just make a bigger mess and usually don’t last as long. Their favourite toy is whatever stick they have found. The beauty is that whenever it breaks, no problem, just find another one. The fancier the toys that we own are, like luxury vehicles for the adults, or complex radio control drones for the kids, the more components they have to break and the more costly the repair. I haven’t seen a strong correlation between the cost of the toy and the pleasure derived from it.

Another aspect of this is that we should use the natural environment for our toy box a much as possible. My kids build forts out of branches and set up shops that sell various rocks they have found for hard currency like pine cones. I’ve watched my son painstakingly make a “sword” by carving and polishing a branch with a rock for an hour. It went up for sale in his weapons shop (a large rock displaying his wares). There is a significant body of literature showing that kids who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors.  The evidence is similar for adults in terms of mood, physical health, stress reduction, and resilience when faced with new stresses.

It’s not easy being a dog.

I am trying to be more like my dogs. Now that I work less than I have in the past, with FI giving me the breathing room to reflect and RE-focus on these aspects of my life, I think I am making headway.

It is a work in progress. There are setbacks. When those happen, I remind myself of another lesson from my dogs. Perseverance.

Apparently a chipmunk thought this downspout would make a good escape route.

It underestimated my dog’s perseverance. Of course, the corollary is to not be so singularly focused on a single task that you miss the chipmunk sneaking out the other end. I would like to envision my other dog laying at the other end of the pipe with his mouth open waiting, but he’s honestly not that smart. Loving – yes, killer instinct – nope.

The other cautionary note from this tale – don’t hurt yourself trying to persevere when there will always be another chipmunk.

It usually pays to pause and RE-focus. Having financial independence makes it easier to do that by removing physical hunger for the chipmunk from the equation. My dogs are well fed. But let’s face it, there is a lot of fun in the hunt whether it is in life or in your career. Focus on that aspect and enjoy it.


One comment

  1. Dogs are a big commitment, but they really have given us so much. Our previous dogs did influence us in our housing. The big issue for travel for us was that the kids always wanted to go home around day five because they missed the dogs – we ended up getting a motorhome to travel and bring them along.

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