I used to have a golden retriever guide dog. She taught me a lot and we had many happy years together, as well as a lot of adventures! We could both be stubborn and things weren’t always easy, especially at the beginning as we were getting to know each other.
She was with me through relationship break-ups, job changes, house moves, and all the normal stuff in between. We went to weddings, funerals, the theatre (not her favourite place because of a large stomping rhinoceros), restaurants, bars, and wide open spaces.
She loved to bark at logs that were twice her size because they were too big to carry! She travelled on trains, tubes, ferries, trams, and in the car. We were a team, and here are some of the things that I learned from her.
- There’s nothing more satisfying than going for a long walk with the wind in your fur! Nature is wonderful if you take the time to get out there and explore it! Listen to the birds. Stop thinking about all the things that you need to do, or that are stressing you out. Take some time to enjoy the sounds and smells, and appreciate the world around you.
- Every day is a new day. She greeted each new day with such enthusiasm, much more so than I can ever manage first thing in the morning. Dogs don’t think about the rubbish day they had at work yesterday, or the challenging things that might be coming up. It’s good to learn from the past and plan for the future, but dogs definitely know how to live in the moment and enjoy the small things.
- Following your instinct can get you into trouble – think huge muddy pond! Might seem like a good idea at the time, but instincts need to be balanced out with the facts!
- Don’t be afraid to show your happiness and to celebrate the good things. I just have to think about that big swishing tail and the sound she always made when she was pleased to see me or someone else. I generally have an understated kind of enthusiasm, and don’t wear my heart on my sleeve like a retriever. But if someone made you happy, let them know it!
- Sometimes no words are needed to show that you care. If I was sad, she would often come up and put her head on my arm or just sit close to me, as if to say “I’m here. I can’t offer you advice, but my big silky ears can listen, and I am here with you!” Don’t draw back from people just because you don’t have all the answers, or you don’t know what to say to them because you haven’t experienced what they’re going through.
- Following on from that, you might be able to kid everyone around you and convince them that you’re ok, but you’ll never kid a loyal four-legged friend. They know when you’re hurting or just having a rubbish day, and they want to help. I can’t do that, and neither can most people. So you have to give them a hand and let the trusted ones in behind your protective walls sometimes.
- Teamwork takes time. Some other breeds can be won over more quickly with a tasty snack, but a retriever’s heart has to be won over. They’ll be your most loyal friend afterwards, but they need to want to work with you and that can take a bit of time till you both understand each other. Friendships take time too, and you have to work at them and invest in them if you want them to grow.
- Sometimes you just need a good shake when you’re happy to be done with something, or when your fur’s full of rain! That’s a great way to get a seat on the train too! Ok, so I’m not going for the wet dog shake, but I could do to let my mask down sometimes. Also, sometimes you need your own space!
- Don’t take any nonsense! One of the other guide dogs was trying to get too friendly in the dog run, so she peed on his head! That’s my girl!
- Sometimes the shortcut is the smartest idea. She used to indicate where the taxi stand was if we were coming back from work and the weather was bad! As if to say “it’s snowing – let’s take the easy way home!” I don’t think she was lazy, because she actually enjoyed her job and wagged her tail when the guide dog harness came out. Maybe she just knew that I’d be more happy to get a ride when the weather was bad, and it certainly doesn’t do any harm to treat yourself once in a while! In other words, give yourself a break sometimes!
So, what lessons have you learned from four-legged friends?
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