Backstory: My dog is my longest relationship, for over 13 years we have been together through 2 girlfriends and 2 marriages, 2 different countries, multiple cities, 8 different homes, alcoholism, a motorbike accident and everything in between. From a very young age, he was always by my side. With many opportunities to run away, he was always there. I took it for granted in the beginning, but after a few years, I saw it for what it really was - the purest relationship I’ll ever have.
Loyalty Above All
Dogs have forever been synonymous with loyalty, but there are layers to that loyalty. Layers that took me years to uncover, and realize. What I learned is that it's not only the loyalty my dog has for me, but the loyalty I have for him. Loyalty is something that doesn’t develop overnight, it is earned over time. With time we earned each other's trust, became more loyal to one another, and through him, I myself have become a more loyal person. I realized that you get loyalty by giving or showing loyalty - it is not a one-way street. It's an unspoken promise that you silently communicate with one another, and a trait, we as humans, cherish, respect, and revere. A loyal friend is a rarity - a loyal lifelong companion is a million-dollar lottery ticket.
Similar to loyalty but slightly different, companionship is something we all need, versus loyalty, which is an attitude, a trait, or a feeling you have. We are social creatures, we rely on the embrace of our loved ones for that serotonin kick. We want to experience shared memories and moments, and we want to be able to rely on them. There is nothing more satisfying for me than going on a hike with Tako, there is a sense that he realizes that we are both going on a shared adventure. I use to think I liked a solitary existence, but I realized I was actually never really alone, I always had Tako as a partner. Enjoying each other’s presence and talking to him (even though he doesn't fully comprehend everything I tell him). This leads me to point number three…
Be a Good Listener
My dog always likes to listen. It doesn't matter that he doesn't understand what I’m saying, the fact is that he is always attentive. Listening means passively allowing the other person to talk about their problems, issues, happy thoughts, or to just vent about their day. You often don't even have to respond, you just have to be there, to listen intently and to show the other person you are absorbed in their story. My dog checks all those boxes, and I realized this is something I need to do better with my human friends and acquaintances. It’s a work in progress, and I will probably never be as good as Tako at just sitting next to or on top of someone, listening. When you listen, you learn. The more you listen, the more information you attain. Some of the smartest people in the room are often the quietest people, because while others speak, they study and acquire knowledge.
Having a dog makes you more active, this is an indisputable fact! Two to four times a day, depending on the age and type of dog you have, you are going to have to go out for a walk. By default you are already going out more, moving more, exercising more. Going on a hike, going on a run on the beach, or a long walk in the park, Tako is down for any and all activities I throw his way. He especially loves long hikes and he never seems to exhaust himself, there is always one more gear he can push to get to the top. I like taking him on long hikes so he can get all his energy out, but by the end, it always seems like he is ready to go again. Even when I’m away on vacation I’ll wake up super early thinking I have to take him out - it creates a routine and makes you move more. Physical wellness directly correlates to mental wellbeing and your pup will create a routine for you to wake up earlier, move more, and exercise more. This routine leads me to my next point.
Being a good dog owner is a massive responsibility, from making sure they get the right food, to walks, exercise, vet check-ups, etc… there's a lot that goes on. If you don't have kids this is an amazing way to learn how to take care of another being. If you do have kids, well… now you have one more kid (that will, kind of, always stay a kid). Having a dog gives you a schedule: three times a day pee + poop, and if you cant do it, someone else has to. Twice a day regular feeding time, making sure they get the proper nutrition. The right amount of exercise, vet checks, making sure that they socialize. Figuring out solutions when you travel, or making sure they don't eat something stupid that ends up costing you $3000 in hospital bills (from personal experience). It's an endless logistical, emotional, and financial ride with ebbs and flows — but the end result is a best bud for life. You learn that taking care of someone else is actually extremely gratifying, I assume this is the same feeling a new parent has, and it's not a responsibility to take lightly.
Enjoy the Moment
When your dog is running up and down the park, beach, or hiking trail, they are in pure bliss. He or she is not thinking about the boring day they endured yesterday - they are completely focused on the fun they are having at that very moment. This is something I know I personally still need work on, and I presume many of us still do. To see their joy in the present moment, and their ability to embrace simplicity is an enviable trait. Tako is always hyper-focused on the adventure, on the moment that we are currently sharing together. The scuffle he had with the dog on the street yesterday is in the past, the potential problems to be endured in the future are irrelevant - right now he is enjoying life. In his words, let's eat grass, pee on the side of the trail together, and get our bellies rubbed. Yesterday is forgotten and tomorrow hasn’t yet come.
When I adopted my second dog, I didn't really think about how different the two personalities could be. Shasta is a 72 pound Pitbull Terrier — she’s a medium-sized dog, but muscular, and to some, perhaps intimidating. She wears her heart on her sleeve and from a young age, we noticed how incredibly gentle, goodhearted, and full of love she is. Her perfect day consists of eating her favorite meat mixed with some kale and carrots, and lounging on the couch (preferably on top of my wife). From a very young age, she would go and say hi to everybody, almost like she was born to be an ambassador for the breed — like “hey, look, we are really are loving and gentle”. Over and over again people would have a quick moment of connection with her as she looked up into their eyes and leaned on their legs. They would pet her, scratch her chin, say a few oohhs and aahs and then thank us. I originally did not understand why they thanked us, until one day I saw a girl sitting outside our apartment building, just sobbing. Shasta instinctively went over to her and started licking her face — and the girl started laughing and petting her! Shasta just stood there, almost as if she was comforting this girl. Then the girl got up and said “thank you, I just had some bad news and this was exactly what I needed” I realized we are all going through shit, and watching Shasta’s unyielding compassion, instead of judgment, showed me what we all need to be — more compassionate.
It's Not About Where It’s About Who
It doesn't matter where you go, I’ve lived in many places, embarked on many adventures, and as the cliche suggests — the destination never mattered, it was always the journey. As long as we were together, Tako never cared where we went, or where we lived. We could have been living on the streets, and he was happy because we were one, inseparable, unit. He adapted to his surroundings easefully, as long as I was there. The only time he would cry is when I would leave him. So don't worry about your next trip — whether it's Italy or Sedona — is really not as relevant as with whom you’ll be sharing this meaningful part of your life with.
Pitbulls Are Big Babies
I, like many other people, once had a certain bias against Pitbull type dogs. I bought into the ridiculous sensationalism and defamation on mainstream news channels. However, many years ago I got introduced to one. and since then I’ve done a complete 180! Pitbulls are like babies that never grow up — they are so, so loving. They love to cuddle, sleep in, and use your bed as their bed (whenever possible). There are many, many misconceptions that I won't go into in this post (perhaps I'll dedicate a whole post to it, if there is a demand to read it), but it is bonkers to me that this one breed gets vilified to the extent that they do. Especially since, 99% of them, are the polar opposite of the stereotype. If you are looking to adopt, go to your local shelter. You will find many Pitbull type dogs looking for not only a loving home, but also a best friend to cuddle with, to run with, to play with, and to love.