Let’s talk about dogs.  What?  This is supposed to be a column about mental health and happiness in people.  But people often struggle to be happy; to be loving and forgiving; to enjoy the present moment, rather than striving for happiness at some future time with some future accomplishment.  But dogs?  They know how to enjoy the little things in life.  “Oh, boy, we’re going for a walk – that’s my favorite thing!” “Oh boy, we’re playing catch – my favorite thing!”  “Oh, boy, we’re making new friends – my favorite thing!”  “Oh, boy, dinner – that’s my favorite thing!” I could go on, but if you’ve ever had a dog, you get my meaning. 
Our lives would probably improve if we were more like our dogs.  Just consider some of these qualities of the average dog:
Dogs greet you affectionately and enthusiastically when you get home; they make you feel loved and important.  When we do that with each other, everybody feels better.  It creates a loving, healthy atmosphere in the home.  Yet sometimes we forget this simple gesture.
Dogs love their family and friends unconditionally.  They forgive us our imperfections and love us anyway.  They give us the benefit of the doubt, and forgive easily and immediately when we make a mistake.  They don’t hold grudges or take revenge.  Think how much better our relationships with our fellow humans would be if we did the same.
Dogs are loyal.  They believe in us, stick by us, and don’t trash talk us.
Dogs are always there when we need a friend.  They’re always available for a hug, or just sitting together showing their support and love.  They soothe us when we’re hurting, and they calm us when we’re angry.  Our loved ones would benefit if we would do that for them, as well.
Dogs live every day to the fullest.  They take life as it comes, don’t complain, and enjoy the good times with enthusiasm and a wagging tail.
They look for the good in every day, full of optimism, and looking forward to the day.
Dogs appreciate the value of exercise, drinking lots of water, and getting enough sleep.  They also know the value of play, and are always up for a game of catch or a run around the park.
Dogs can teach us patience and kindness in another way, too.  Recently, Charles found himself frustrated and impatient in his role as a caretaker for his wife, who was struggling with serious health problems.  He loved his wife tremendously, but still struggled not to be irritable and impatient at times.  Charles had also recently lost his faithful canine companion of many years.  I asked him how he dealt with caring for Bones when he became weak, mostly deaf, and sometimes incontinent.  He looked at me as though a light bulb had just gone off in his head.  “Oh, my God, I was more patient with my dog than I am with my wife!” 
This isn’t unusual, but it gives us a different way of looking at things.  If we can find within ourselves the patience and gentleness we give to our canine best friends, we can find it for our human loved ones as well.  Another lesson our dogs teach us.
If you have a good dog in your life, count your blessings; they are many.
And when you find your life becoming too stressful, look to them not only for love and support, but also for some great role modeling!

Dr. Catherine Aisner is a Psychologist in South Lake Tahoe, helping individuals and couples improve the quality of their lives. She can be reached at 530-541-6696 or online at

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