Growing up, my family always had dogs — we’re 100% dog people and pretty proud of it. As a kid, having a dog kinda taught me about responsibility, but let’s be real, my poor parents ended up doing most of the work. Hopefully I wasn’t the only kid who promised to take them on a walk daily and instead bribed their little brother to do the work — right?
It wasn’t until I was an adult and my husband and I got our very own dog that the lessons really piled in. From being a better friend to prioritizing Vitamin D, here’s what having a dog has taught me.
1. Place your trust wisely
I’ve always been a somewhat naive person when it came to trusting everyone and believing that most people are good. While I do appreciate my positive outlook, it’s also something that’s led to being walked over.
Something my dog, Cal, has taught me is that it’s okay to question people as you meet them. It’s okay to sniff them out (obviously not literally as a human #awkward) and garner trust before putting effort into that relationship.
As a 30-something, I value really getting to know people before letting them into my life, and that a smaller group of friends is a lot better than playing with everyone at the park.
2. Forgiveness is key
I’m a stubborn person — my dog is not.
If Cal gets in trouble for barking or tearing up a book, he gets scolded, sulks in his bed for about five minutes, and then is in my face giving kisses saying he’s sorry.
Instead of harboring resentment or negativity — whether to my husband for not refilling the toilet paper or a friend for forgetting to call me — it’s much easier to pick your battles when it comes to forgiveness and letting things slide.
3. The outdoors are your friend
If Cal is cooped up for a couple days in a row, he starts to go a liiiiiitle nuts. And I, being a natural homebody who also happens to work from home, can get in the hermit habit if I’m not conscious about it.
Cal has taught me that it’s crucial to get outside, soak up Vitamin D, and that the natural mood boost that comes with nature isn’t something you can get from the indoors — even if you’re working out. Thanks to Cal, we’re exploring a new hike almost weekly and taking quick walks around the neighborhood most afternoons.
4. Remember to play
Because I’ve always been so Type A, my workouts are pretty regimented… and boring. Sticking to structure is how I’ve always operated, but I always felt unexcited with my go-to circuit or time at the gym.
Cal, on the other hand, goes from jumping into the wildflowers, running after sticks at the park, to essentially doing sprints down our hallway — tail wagging the whole time. It might sound cheesy, but dogs can seriously remind you to have more fun. Whether that’s by running alongside him at the park or being happy to roll around in the backyard, no one should be above playing.
5. The importance of connection
Our dog is a serious cuddler, and it’s probably my favorite thing about him. Even if I’m in a bad mood and not paying much attention to him, he still wants to cuddle. If I’m busy working, he’s still laying under my legs.
Even on our busiest days, it’s good to remember the value of human touch and interaction. It’s reminded me that a little cuddle session with my husband is all we need to reconnect after a stressful week. Or that laying around with my girlfriends makes everything better. Though different creatures, we all need love and the connection from others.
6. It’s going to be okay
Obviously dogs don’t have to deal with the stress of paying mortgages, not getting enough sleep, or the commitments that bog us down. But they’re definitely there to remind us that everything will be fine — even through the really stressful, busy times.
Cal doesn’t care if the dinner in his bowl isn’t gourmet or if the house is messy, or if we didn’t go to every backyard BBQ that week. He’s a great reminder that things will be fine, and that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be happy.
7. Persistence pays off
Cal sits and waits for the squirrels to hop into our yard every single morning. He also won’t stop playing catch until he catches his Frisbee while in air. And if he really wants someone to play with him, he will hold a staring contest (toy in mouth) that eventually wears even the strongest visitor out.
While uncomfortable staring contests might be awkward in the real world, a dog’s persistence is unquestionable. They’re a nice reminder to keep working for what you want, to hustle, and to not give up because you failed.
8. It’s not just about you
Since we don’t have kids, we’ve still gotten away with being fairly selfish. Not in the bratty sense, but in the fact that we really don’t have other people to worry about anyone but ourselves. Which we were pretty bored with.
There’s only so much YOU to think about daily, and having a dog has been a stepping stone to one day having kids who count on us to succeed.
With a dog’s well-being in your control, it’s a gentle nudge to taking care of more than just yourself — which is healthy even if kids aren’t in the cards.
9. Pay attention to those you love
Back when my husband and I first started dating, I remember running to the door to kiss him after work. Now, half a decade in and married, he’s lucky if he gets a “hey babe” from my office. Which is awful!
Cal, on the other hand, is elated every time someone walks through that door. He drops everything (even a really important squirrel chase) and runs to that person. He gives that person his undivided attention for probably more time than they’d like, but the attention is what’s important.
In a time when we’re all glued to our phones or work, I love how he’s reminded me to get up from my desk to kiss my husband after our work days, and to take time to chat about our day after that.
10. How much you can love
Again, I don’t have kids yet so I haven’t had the opportunity for that type of love — but I know this comes pretty close. And maybe that makes me a crazy dog lady, but there’s something about having a kid of sorts that takes love to another level.
Feeling that sense of emotion and an expanded heart is refreshing in a sense, and love just feels good, doesn’t it?!