5 Life Lessons I Learned from My Dog

Toby has taught me more than anyone over the past eight years (other than my wife). And he hasn’t spoken a word.

Toby is our dysfunctional mutt we rescued eight years ago. He came from a very abusive home, so he had difficulty acclimating to a new environment. Toby quickly took up with Keely, our dog-whispering daughter, and soon after that with my other children.

But the little fella struggled with me. When I walked into a room, he would exit — every time. I couldn’t get within 10 feet of him. As long as I was in the room or moving around, he was on the move.

But now we are best of friends, and he follows me around. How did it happen, and what did I learn through the process?

Love Is a Decision

I had to decide that Toby was worth the effort, and as one who struggles with rejection, it was a tough decision. He didn’t need me. Toby would flourish in our house. I had three eager kids ready to love that ugly mutt.

I wanted to win Toby over. Don’t ask me why. It wasn’t easy. He rejected me and avoided me for years — yes, years. But it was worth it. I think about the unlovable people in my life and how they might benefit from my decision to love them.

Love Is Hard Work

Love is blind. Love at first sight. All you need is love. These expressions may be true, or not, but I know one thing — love is hard work. Toby has taught me that (if 30 years of marriage hasn’t). After I decided to love him, I took him for walks every day — after one of the kids got him on the leash. His love for walks allowed him to ignore the man at the other end of the leash. During these walks, I took the opportunity to pet him and talk to him in a quiet and calm voice. And he got a treat at the end. Other times I would ask one of the kids to hold him while I pet him. It took tremendous effort to convince Toby that I’m not the same asshole who abused him as a puppy.

Love Is Sacrificial

I didn’t want to take Toby on walks every day. I’m lazy, and a walk cuts into my nap time. But as I mentioned, Toby LOVES walks, so I had to start a new habit. Walks and treats seem to be the only things he does enjoy. Toby isn’t playful. He doesn’t bound around the house looking to play fetch or tug of war. He mopes and lays around. We think cats raised him. But he does go ballistic when he sees me put on my shoes and hat and go to the front door.

So, knowing how much he loves going for a walk, how could I deprive him of this joy? Love makes sacrifices.

Love Needs Attention

Toby and I are eight years in now, and we’ve taken long strides in our relationship. He once avoided me at all costs, and now he’s camped in my home office all day with me. When I walk out for a minute and come back, he’s sitting in my office chair — every time. And every time, he knows I’ll make him get down. So, why does Toby do it? He wants attention, like the rest of us. He wants his head and ears rubbed for a second. And I oblige.

The gesture cost him more effort than it does me.

Love Is Blind (and ironically at first sight at the same time)

It feels like I’m cheating to use this one, but it is true when it applies to dogs. As I mentioned, for no apparent reason, Toby immediately bonded with my oldest daughter, Keely. Eight years later, she still walks on water. I’ve put in all the hard work to win his affection, and she does nothing.

I feed him,

walk him,

give him treats,

pet him,

let him outside 42 times a day,

and sit with him every evening in the recliner. Yet, when she walks into the room, his stubby little tail starts wagging, and he abandons me. It’s hardly fair and causes my rejection issues to flare up. But love isn’t the easiest concept to grasp, yet it holds the highest rewards.

Toby and I are the best of friends now. He is a constant companion, and it’s oddly comforting to hear him snoring behind me as I type this line. I enjoy our relationship, and Toby is a good teacher. The greatest lesson could be that there are humans in my life who deserve the same efforts.

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