5 lessons from dogs

14034861_10153959771116676_2659613395055749824_nIt was a sunny Saturday a couple of years ago when we decided to drive around to the local dog pound ‘for a quick look’.  Yep.  We all know how this story ends.

We walked into the RSPCA and toured casually past all the kennels… until we saw him.  The last from a rescued litter of six, a little Rottweiler cross Kelpie, lying in the middle of the floor belly up, fast asleep.

The love was instant.  The kids barricaded the kennel, blocking anyone from stealing him, while I went to do paperwork and hand over my credit card.  And so begun an adventure that nobody could have prepared us for.

Charlie, as we named him, has not exactly been the best behaved dog on the planet…. and we’ve been pretty useless at helping him to change.  He was kicked out of puppy school for being too disruptive to the other puppies.  He has chewed through every single left shoe that we own, wrecked our furniture, broken fences and doors, eaten entire pizzas off the counter, killed all our childhood teddies and claimed every bed as his.  And somehow, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here- in my opinion- are the top 5 reasons why all kids need a dog:

1) Someone to care for

Just as we care for our little people, it is great for them to have someone to take care of too.  In our home, we made the decision to divide up the tasks- someone does the food, someone else the water.  Two other kids pick up chocolate treasures in the backyard.  I vacuum the relentless piles of black hair from every crevice of the house.

Many kids grow up with a sense of entitlement.  Scooping up dog poo helps balance that out.

2) A friend

Many a night one of my sons has taken off to his room in a sulk, told off for some misdemeanor or small family crime.  More often than not, I will later find the offender, curled up in his bunk bed with Charlie who is only too happy to sulk in sympathy.  I’m certain that Charlie holds all the family secrets and has heard many a mutinous plot against my unjust dictatorship.

It’s amazing what a great listener a dog can be when he’s getting scratched.  I’m glad the boys have a friend like him.

3) Exercise

Having a dog forces you to get out.  Even if we’ve had a big day at work and school, and everyone is tired, those puppy eyes are hard to refuse.  The boys and I have gotten into the habit of taking a ‘family’ walk with Charlie.  They ride scooters and bikes, while I work my biceps against Charlie.

It’s a habit that started as something that ‘we did for Charlie’, and it has grown into a special time of connection that we do ‘for us’.

4) The habit of sharing

Ok, so I’m sure all the disciplined people of the world will cringe to read this, but when it comes to sharing food, there’s nothing more persuasive than those eyes.  You’re hoeing into your salami sandwich and you just know the world would be a little better if you shared.

I’ve seen my kids share ice-blocks and twiggy sticks with Charlie- and as long as it’s not at the table, not bad for him and not too often, I can’t help but see the sweetness in giving up a little bit of something you enjoy, for someone you love.

And it’s not just food.  It’s couch space, bed space, any area next to your feet ….your favorite teddy that is now a mangled mess.  A dog helps a kid understand that they may not be the center of the universe, and that there’s always enough to share.

5) An example of unconditional love

You walk in the door, and regardless of whether your dog has been lonely, hungry or barking fearlessly at a stick all day, he will greet you with joy.  It doesn’t matter what kind of day you’ve had, your puppy always makes it better.  The kind of frenzied backflips and affection a dog gives you when you return, is the closest you and I will ever get to feeling like rock stars.  A dog’s love is pure and unconditional.

This last week, when Jack was home recovering from his operation, I am certain that Charlie knew exactly what was going on.  He stayed beside Jack constantly, watching back to back Indiana Jones from the couch as my boy rested.  In the evening, Charlie slept on the floor next to him, watching over him without crowding him, but waking to sniff and check on him through the night.

It’s this stuff that makes all the chewed shoes in the world worthwhile.  A list of five reasons, suddenly feels too short.

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