February 16 marks the start of the Year of the Dog according to the Chinese zodiac. Tracy Lee on the life lessons she’s learned from her pooch.
Even as I write this ode to Doug, my white mini schnauzer who bears an uncanny resemblance to comic character Tintin’s canine sidekick Snowy, he’s doing what he does best in his role as man’s best friend.
He finds a comfy spot on the sofa in my home office, where he alternates between keeping an affectionate, protective eye over me, and drifting in and out of catnaps, providing the kind of silent, reassuring companionship his ancestors have done for humans for tens of thousands of years.
Doug turns 13 this year, which translates to 91 in human years — a wise old age by any account. He’s now hard of hearing, and the vision in his right eye is clouded by a huge cataract. Here’s what I’ve learned from him in the time we’ve been together:
#1. Greet every day, and your loved ones, with joy and enthusiasm
Doug gets up from his dog bed, then pads across to my bed to nudge my hand with his nose or scratch the side of the bed I’m on. If I don’t respond, he sits there patiently watching and waiting, occasionally emitting soft growls — the doggy version of polite “ahem”s. When I finally do get up, his eyes light up, his mouth opens up into a grin, and his stumpy tail wags as he approaches me for a quick pat, then leads the way eagerly to the kitchen where I serve him breakfast. What’s the point of starting the day off on a grumpy note and spreading gloom, when you can spread sunshine and smiles instead?
#2. Home is where the heart is
Doug was a tiny, toothy two-month- old furball when he first came into my life, and since then, we’ve moved countries, and moved house several times. We’ve also attended several house parties, beach outings and picnics, and hung out in countless restaurants, bars and cafes. His main rule of thumb when it comes to dealing with unfamiliar new places and social situations is “where my owner is, is where I’m meant to be”. So much so that after hanging out at a friend’s place for several hours, he begins to guard the house against strangers as if “su casa es mi casa”. The takeaway here is: if you ditch the social anxiety and show up with an open heart and an open mind, you’ll feel at home anywhere in the world, and have a much better time in the process.
#3. Be upfront in asking for what you want
Doug is super direct about expressing his heartfelt desires. If he’d like me to make room for him on the couch, he’ll sit in front of my knees and stare at them. If he wants a walk, he’ll approach me enthusiastically and feint movements towards the front door. If he wants what I’m eating, he sits real close and lets his sad puppy eyes do the talking. Failing which, he scratches my chair leg, or my leg. If he wants to play, he grabs a toy or does a downward dog, then starts prancing around. If he can communicate so effectively via body language, surely we humans, with our ability to express ourselves verbally, can do that much better instead of expecting other people to read our minds, or resorting to passive-aggressive hints.
#4: Never hold grudges
The worst things that can happen to Doug include baths, and visits to the groomer and to the vet. The one consistently common factor behind all this doggy misery, is that all of it is caused by his owner. Doug is probably aware of that, yet every time the bath/haircut/vaccination is over, he displays nothing but pure, unadulterated joy at once again seeing the person who’s sent him to endure unspeakable torture. If that’s not forgiveness, I don’t know what is.
#5. When faced with fear, put on a brave front — but also know when to admit defeat
As a mini schnauzer, it’s not uncommon for Doug to encounter bigger dogs with bigger teeth when we’re out for walks. Instead of fear and avoidance, Doug puffs up his chest and tries his best to stand taller, approaching his larger counterparts with a growl and as much courage as he can muster. He can be quite crafty, pretending to be quiet and submissive and allowing the bigger dog to approach and sniff him first, before suddenly lunging at them and unleashing a volley of surprisingly loud and macho-sounding barks. This shock-and-awe tactic usually gives him an upper hand and a psychological advantage. But for times when his opponents decide to fight back, it doesn’t take much for Doug to back down and beat a hasty retreat behind my legs. The lesson? Displaying confidence and courage is half the battle won, but you must also make sure you live to fight another day.
#6: Walkies are the bomb
Doug’s always up for a walk. It’s good exercise, it makes you take time out to stop and smell the roses, and it helps clear your mind. Taking a dog out is also a great way to make friends with the neighbours, and encourages you to explore further, and wander off the beaten track. I’ve come to enjoy walking so much that when I go for summer holidays in Europe, I walk 8 to 10 hours a day, soaking in all the sights, sounds and smells.
#7. You don’t need much to be happy
All dogs need are shelter, sleep, food, exercise, and a little affection and companionship from a loved one, to thrive. They don’t waste any time and effort on worry, regrets, envy, hatred, vanity, jealousy, or guilt. Come to think of it, we’d do better by simplifying our lives and spending less time with negative emotions.
On that note, here’s wishing everyone health, luck, happiness and prosperity this Lunar New Year!