12 weeks ago I took a leap into the canine world and welcomed a Yorkshire terrier puppy into my life. I didn’t enter into the arrangement lightly. It has been 16 years since I owned a dog (also a Yorkie) and when he died my heart broke into too many pieces to even consider another for quite some time. Then when I was finally ready emotionally, I was working in a job that required a considerable amount of travel and having a dog just didn’t seem plausible. Until, in a light bulb moment, I realised that the obstacles I had been identifying were of my own making. It wasn’t a matter of “I can’t have a dog”, but that I was “choosing not to”.
And so overnight I went from the person who could sleep in until, well… whenever, have long lazy brunches, spend hours writing without interruption and get massages at lunch-time, to living a completely puppy-centric schedule. And loving it 🙂
Sherlock has quite the personality. Weighing in at 700 grams when I picked him up, he has now beefed up to a whole 2.1 kilos and become ‘the’ dog on the block. Known to every person and dog (as well as a few cats) within a 4km radius for his waggy ways and party tricks – such as ‘fist bump’, ‘weave‘ and ‘pat-down‘ (go on, click on those links – it will make your day).
It’s not all just tricks, walks and toilet training though, Sherlock is full of life lessons for his human (i.e. me). Every engagement is a reminder that there is more to life than we will ever fully understand. Having Sherlock has reminded me that the more I fill my day with chatter, possessions, Netflix… the more I am missing out on the pure joy that is to be found in the seemingly mundane, the ordinary, the real, the… dare I say… dog in us all.
And so, while I am only at the start of this journey with my four-legged companion, here are eight principles Sherlock reminds me to live by every day:
- Live in the moment. Nothing else matters. There is only the right here, right now. For Sherlock that often means plonking his butt down on some patch of grass and lifting his nose to the breeze when we are mid-walk. He can sit there for endless minutes, smelling all the things, with the warmth of the sun on his back and nowhere else to be. This was, at first, incredibly frustrating for his human, who has other competing schedules (read ‘work’). Until one day, I too tilted my head back to see what he was looking at, which opened my diaphragm and allowed me to breathed deeply… and witness a cloud floating by in the shape of a dragon, hear the baby magpie chirping for a meal and smell Spring and… Nothing. Else. Mattered.
- Leave your baggage at the door. Dogs are great indicators of our mood. Before I had even brought Sherlock home that first day, I was making myself sick with worry about leaving him at home all day. For the first few weeks I turned myself into a pretzel ensuring I gradually introduced him to the idea of being alone – increasing our time apart slowly and ensuring he was tired and occupied (or asleep) when I left. I would rush home, my stomach in knots that he might have been fretting, dirtied his bed or (as ridiculous as it sounds) somehow died because I wasn’t there. But I also had a very clear image in my head of the dog I wanted Sherlock to grow into – and an anxious, neurotic, barker wasn’t a part of that picture. So I made the critical decision to leave any negative emotion I may be feeling at the door when I arrived home. I would adhere to principle number 1, and just be in the moment. That snuggly moment when, as it turned out, he had been sound asleep and was ever so pleased to see me… rolling over and stretching, letting me rub his soft little belly. By doing this I also the learnt the broader value in quarantining my emotions and not letting stand-alone event such as the traffic, the ugly conversation at work, the impending deadline… have an impact on the rest of my life.
- Appreciate the small things. Everything is amazing to Sherlock. Everything. The floret of broccoli he tosses and chases around the floor, before rolling it in his mouth in appreciation of the taste and texture. The wind in his face, which causes him to stop in his tracks… Every. Single. Time. The birds soaring overhead. The butterfly. The smell and crunch of a leaf. We are born innately curious about life… at some point as adults we relegated our thirst for knowledge and the appreciation of how things move, smell, feel to our childhood. Perhaps it’s time to unleash the inner puppy…
- Praise is essential to our well-being. Sherlock will pretty much do anything when I ask in a nice voice and back up the behaviour I am seeking with praise. I’ve never been one for scolding or shaming, but to see the immediacy of my actions is a brilliant reminder of the power of praise. Sherlock loves to please me, help me, respond to every opportunity I give him to be useful. The exchange makes both he and I feel good about ourselves. But it’s not just Sherlock that needs praise, it’s all of us. Praise connects us to our value – reinforcing our confidence and self-esteem which in turn fuels us with the energy required to do the same for others.
- Everybody wants to connect. I am amazed at how many interactions Sherlock and I have with the broader community in which we live when we are out walking. He is a conduit between me and the wider world and in as much he is reprogramming my understanding of social interaction and breaking down what are often the self-imposed barriers that we as humans have created around communication and engagement.
- Five minutes of madness is essential to our well-being. There comes a point in every night when Sherlock loves nothing more than to fly around the house, tail tucked under like a rabbit, ears back, legs spinning. His destination is joy. And then, after five minutes, give or take, he simply stops, finds a comfy spot in the house and continues with his bone chewing, toy nibbling, tail wagging ways. All I can think is that the last of his energy has been used up, he has shaken off the day and is now ready for bed.
- Try, try again. Sherlock simply never gives up. When we do our training sessions he (and I) persist with patience until he understands what I want and then delivers. Sometimes he stumbles, trips over, goes over instead of under, drops instead of sitting and waving his paw… but he carries on, perfecting the moves, enjoying the experience. He doesn’t stop to berate himself, he doesn’t appear to have any doubt that he will work out what his human wants, he doesn’t get frustrated or snap and snarl. Imagine if we all lived like that… All. The. Time. If with sheer determination we kept on trying, because we believed in ourselves and others whole heartedly…
- Nothing tastes sweeter than unconditional love. Sherlock has no limits or restrictions on his love. He hears ‘no’ a lot as a puppy (because, you know… chewing, biting, destroyer of toilet-paper…) and yet he continues to come to me for cuddles, brings me toys, welcomes me with joy, snuggles in my lap at the end of the day. He doesn’t carry a grudge, doesn’t remind me of my flaws or roll his eyes, he is a bundle of fluffy, loving acceptance. And in return, I give him the same. That small puddle in the hallway (in the early days) is not the sum of who he is or our relationship – it was just one moment (see Principle No.1) and we can always try again (see Principle No.7), rather the enduring aspect is the love.
I’m not suggesting a dog is a substitute for human contact. More that Sherlock is a life enhancer. On the days I bring him into the office the entire vibe changes – the conversations are richer, people are visibly more refreshed, they work harder to ensure they have time to accompany him on a break to the nearby park. But what I notice most is that when Sherlock is in the room, just doing his waggy, doggy thing, is that everyone is living the eight principles above without even being aware of it – they are present, they have left their baggage at the door, the small things are full of wonder, there is flow, crazy joy, a willingness to keep trying and encouraging others and love.
The key now is to harness that across the entirety of our lives…
P.S. you can follow Sherlock’s adventures on his way to being a therapy dog on Instagram at a_yorkie_called_sherlock and if would like an office visit, just let me know 😉