Can a Dog Teach Us How to Live Our Best Life?

4 min read

My boy Grom turned 11 on Sunday. As I reminisced on the years of love, friendship, and adventures, it dawned on me just how much he's taught me about life and living, through his example. Here are some of those lessons:

1. Unconditional love. Our broken world often places conditions on love (if/then), and very few beings in life will love us unconditionally or even the way we need them to. While we can't control what others do, we can model what this unadulterated love ought to be like.. Grom doesn't wait for my love to give me his – and if I can't love him right back, what hope do I have for authentically loving a human being?

2. Responsibility. Baby Grom found his way to me at 10 weeks. He was 17 lbs., and entirely dependent on me. When we take someone into our care--a friend, employee, child, partner, dog--we make a commitment to take care of them. It's a serious business. While at times it may even seem like a burden (even when we struggle to admit it), in the end, it's really a gift – an opportunity to nurture and care for someone else – and a gift that often comes back to us tenfold.

3. Trust and vulnerability. Two full-grown, trained Akitas can take a bear down. Grom is a strong dog. Yet, I never once fear that he might do anything to harm me, because I trust him. The same way he trusted me, during his major surgery to remove his spleen or every time I give him a treat, he trusts it's not a poison. We've built trustworthiness, of course, but it started with going out on a limb and extending trust first. This vulnerability, this courage to trust are a feature of his own self-trust and self-worth: much like any other relationship, our relationship has no meaning if we don't trust and recognize the value we bring to one another. So, it's trusting each other or nothing.

4. Understanding and forgiveness. It is easy to find faults with others and get mad (as those reactions often feel us safe against perceived threat), but it takes empathy of a dog to be deeply understanding and forgiving. It takes conquering our ego (i.e. I am right, you're wrong!) – something dogs do beautifully well. Even on my worst days, Gromzi showed me how to be compassionate and empathic, understanding and forgiving.

5. No matter what the weather is, always wag your tail. G is the epitome of enthusiasm and excitement. It's so easy to get jaded and lean into the dark inside. Life can be really hard. But Grom has taught me to get excited even over the smallest stuff, and especially when life is tough, because that's where joy comes from. Wag your tail!

6. Be goofy and playful. As humans, we've been trained to always be so serious, forgetting to play and be goofy. Grom has taught me to never hold myself back from being genuine and playful. Those who mind, don't matter; those who matter, don't mind. Also, get a treat whenever you can!

7. Be you. G's vet has mentioned, "he doesn't realize he's an Akita." No, he doesn't. Instead of labeling himself, he's too busy being himself. Humans put on so many masks, terrified of judgement and rejection, disapproval of those closest to us, and so on. We are so concerned with getting the life we think we should have that we miss the life we are actually living. It's the oldest story in the book, we pretend instead of live authentically. Yet, as Shakespeare reminds us, “the rose will smell the same no matter what we call it." Same is true of you.

8. Piss and walk away. When people treat us rudely, unkindly; when their own fears take over and they act out; when we are hurt and injustice done to us ... well, my baby G says, piss on it and move on.

9. Imperfections make us beautiful. A couple of years ago, Grom suffered from a hematoma in his right ear, and his ear fell. This happened while I was away on business in China and I was devastated that my "perfect" Akita was now "damaged" and I couldn't do anything about it. Well, this beautiful being showed me that our imperfections make us perfectly beautiful!

10. Loyal, till the end. While self-explanatory, it doesn't mean Grom is a pushover. He'll show me his displeasure, even passive-aggressively ignore me for a day. This doesn't mean he's not loyal; quite the contrary: loyalty doesn't mean we agree always or avoid conflict … it means we are 100% true, but even when we disagree, we have each other's backs.

11. Age is only a number. Since moving to California, I've asked people how old they think Grom is. Most guess somewhere between 5-7. That's because of his energy--he's playful, runs around, jumps, steals food, begs for treats … it's the spirit that counts!

Finally, he shares his birthday with my Grandma making this day uniquely special. She would have been 95. By now, I’m convinced she sent Grom to offer me much the same of what she did: unconditional, audacious loving and nurturing.

To that end, I've never been loved more than by this guy. He has been my companion through highs and lows, breakthroughs and heartbreaks, always there, always goofy, even when he needs to squeeze all of his 110 lbs into a small seat next to me!

My best friend, my partner in crime, my samurai dog—steadfast, loyal, proud, goofy and still playful like a puppy, always ready for an adventure! 🐕

I don’t know what I did to deserve such sweetness and such love, but every time I look at him, all I can feel is unadulterated love and pure joy.

There’s a reason dogs are called our best friends. Because they simply are.

Hope you, too, have a friend like that.