We adopted Winston into our family when he was about 2 years old about three and a half years ago. Miniature Australian Shepherds are trainable and by nature are herding, community kind of animals. We often say they are smart, but what we mean is that they are about like an above average 3-year old child. I know this because every time I ask him to get me the remote, he just looks at me like I asked him to solve world hunger and then he just lays down on the floor.
Occasionally, I get frustrated with Winston because he does annoying things. He tries to “herd” me by pushing up against my leg. This kind of dog is happiest when everyone in the house is sitting in the living room together. I tell him “One day, you are going to knock me down.” Again, he just looks at my and seems to be thinking, “I don’t know what you are saying—I want a carrot!” He also barks every time we put him outside because he is territorial. He takes this role very seriously even when the mail person that comes at the same time every day shows up to deliver the mail! He has very little discernment and I try to talk to him about it, but he just looks at me and then eventually lays back down.
Often, we think he going crazy or declining. Other times, we think he is intentionally not learning anything from us. The only trick we have taught him is the go around the tree maneuver to untangle his chain when he goes out to pee. He learned lots of tricks from someone else, but he refuses to learn anything new from me. It just makes us both anxious to try to learn new tricks, so we eventually just go back to our recliners. That’s right, he has his own recliner! He’s very sensitive to some foods and especially frightened of storms. He even seems to be able to anticipate that a storm is coming. But the thing Winston the Wonder Dog does best is just being who he is.
Maybe a lot of our stress is that we don’t know who we are. How much of our waking hours is devoted to trying to reinvent ourselves or build our logo or brand instead of just being who we are. What if we knew, from deep inside us, who we are, and we just lived authentically from that place?
There are some things about Winston that are common to most dogs. The characteristic people use to describe most dogs are loyalty and unconditional love. People use other words like faithful to describe them, but most of the descriptions mean about the same thing. Winston is happy greeting us, being with us and anticipating our return. As far as I know, he is relatively happy just being around us. When extended family or friends come over, he receives their affection, but he doesn’t miss them like he misses us. This loyalty is probably one of the main reasons we like dogs.
I was thinking yesterday about this premise. I have always been somewhat of an introvert and I have never had a lot of close friends. Also, Laura reminds me that when I complete a task, I am usually quickly on to the next task. I think I am also like this with people. Once I make a friend online, I am quickly on to finding another friend. If one friend is good, two is probably better. Some people are like this with pets and they accumulate more than they can handle. But dogs seem content to just have about one or two friends in life because they are loyal. What if I were more like Winston and just devoted more attention to people that are already in my life? It’s okay to have a broader influence, but better to be faithful with what I have now.
I don’t know if dogs mentally think about forgiveness, but they seem to be good at it. Maybe their memory is less advanced than ours or maybe their love for us is more important than keeping score. Sometimes I yell at Winston when he doesn’t do things like I expect. He will cower a little or just go sit in his chair. Unfortunately, I feel like I’m doing my duty to mold him, but if I am honest, it’s just my pride or my ego that needs to have control. Sometimes, it seems like he is pouting about it, but really I think he’s just waiting for me to get over it. If I throw him the ball or pat him on the head, he is just as happy as if it never happened.
Currently, we are going through a crisis with the COVID-19 virus. We have simplified our meal plans because we can’t go out much and we can’t run to the store to get special items every day. We usually go to the store about once a week. Even with this restriction, we still eat a wide variety of things because I get bored eating the same thing every day. But, Winston doesn’t seem to be bothered by this. We give him a carrot and an ice cube once a day as a treat. We feed him the same dog food every day and his tale starts wagging every time we put it in the bowl. He seems to be grateful. Maybe, he doesn’t have any choice, but that’s probably part of the point.
I don’t know what dogs think about. Sometimes I hear Winston have a dream. He seems to be wrestling with something in his sleep. Maybe that’s true of all sentient beings—if there is memory and brain function, it must reset and process through what needs to be retained—or something like that. He seems to be thinking about things, especially when I say a word that he has never heard before. But there is one thing I have never observed him doing—he never is mentally somewhere else when I speak to him – he is always present! Maybe it is because he doesn’t have a smart phone, but I don’t think so. He is always here even when there is nothing to do. He realizes doing nothing together is still doing something. I seriously long to be more present like my dog.
At the end of the day, Winston seems very content to know that he lived authentically. He ate the food that he had and asked for a couple of carrots and ice cubes. When I give him too many carrots, he just leaves the other one on the floor. He barked at the mail person because that is what dogs do. His warning call is alarming, and Laura is happy that he sounds fierce when I’m not home. He rolled around on the floor and exercised a little (played with the ball), chewed on his bone a little, stretched out a couple of times, and drank water out of the toilet. But he didn’t get obsessive or excessive about any of it and He didn’t regret that he did almost the same exact things the next day. At the end of day, he follows us to bed knowing that he did what was normal for a dog of his breed.
As humans, we often honor and long for the exceptional. We want to stand out from the crowd—to be recognized by our peers—to excel. But being who we are is exceptional in and of itself. Maybe this is called contentment—maybe it’s authenticity—but it’s certainly not a compromise. Being who we are may be our single greatest accomplishment in life. I hope to be more like Winston, but only to the extent that I act more like me.
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- Book, Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart