There are so many valuable things I learn from animals every day. Some lessons are more expected, some more subtle. But everything they teach me has no doubt made me a better person. Recently I was reflecting on a shelter dog who my husband and I were fostering in our home years ago when I was just beginning my studies as a dog trainer. Milton was a very stubborn pup, especially on walks, and he could be quite reactive when he didn’t get his way. And I’ll admit it: I grew impatient with him. I was on the verge of reacting, too, frustrated that I couldn’t figure out how to quickly and effectively train him to walk well on a leash.
One day after a particularly challenging walk where Milton pulled hard at times, protested the walk and stopped dead in his tracks at other times, lunged after other dogs, and yet insisted we meet every cat, I had had enough. “NO,” I yelled at Milton. He looked up at me with his big brown, apologetic eyes and I felt immediately guilty for my outburst. Not because I had hurt his feelings – I knew it didn’t exactly work that way for dogs, although they are sentient beings who do understand our energy. I felt guilt because I failed to insert a moment before my scream where I would choose to do what would is best for Milton.
I was traumatized that I had shouted at him, and I obsessed about it, to the annoyance of my husband. I was ashamed that I had lost my patience and was unable to keep my cool. As a student dog trainer, I knew that anxiety and frenetic energy would only make the matter worse. I found myself sitting next to his dog bed desperately trying to apologize to him! He just looked at me with those same beautiful eyes. Nothing could shake my disappointment for yelling at him. I hung my head embarrassed that I had succumbed to an inefficient way of dealing with his leash behavior, especially when I knew better than that! So who’s behavior were we looking at here?
The next morning when we leashed up for our walk Milton came bounding to me excited. He had already forgiven me. It hit me like a ton of bricks: these incredible pets whom we share our lives with teach us a whole lot about actions speaking louder than words. They do not understand what we say, how much we apologize. It’s what we do that counts to them. And those actions add up. We cannot rationalize them away. And because of this very fact animals make us better, more mindful, closer to being the people we want to be. Milton came into my life to be the first who would fully teach me this lesson, although sometimes, to my own dismay, I have to learn it again. Being an imperfect human, I try to use my words when it is my behavior that my pets learn to love me by. Imagine if we all lived this way – unable to justify, unable to intellectualize, our respect and love for one another based solely on our actions.
I thank my pets so much for teaching me this lesson, and I thank Milton, who did finally learn to walk well on leash! These wonderful animals – because they require me to be present and thoughtful I’m just a littler closer to being as good as they are.
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