It’s taken me awhile to sit down and write this post. I’ve started it a few times but struggled on where to start. I’ve said goodbye to my best friend, my soul dog and my greatest teacher. What do I want to share about the experience of saying goodbye? What do I feel when I think back on it? It hurts. It hurts like hell and I get emotional every time I start this post. But, more than anything, I think to that day and what a beautiful morning it was. I remember waking up and seeing him lying in the warmth of the morning sun streaming in the window. He ate a big special breakfast and we cherished every last minute together. It was wonderful, and hard as hell, but peaceful. I was flooded with emotions, but I felt lucky.
I was lucky enough to spend 14 years with Guinniss at my side. He was with me through the most pivotal moments of my life. He was my first dog, greatest teacher and the reason for dogma. Guinniss brought me unconditional love, loyalty and such joy, but most of all he brought me lessons. That’s what made him so special. He was an old soul and I was the blessed one to have him as my guide. I will write more about going through the loss of a pet, but today it is not about saying goodbye, but about celebrating his life and sharing what Guinniss taught me.
Trust More This lesson took me a little while to hear. Guinniss was highly reactive in his youth and I did as I was taught and micro-managed his environment and behaviour. I did not trust him and worried he would hurt a person or another animal. Watching him when he first met his little sister, Deja, taught me to trust him more. Once I did this, he progressed by leaps and bounds to overcome his fears. We let our own emotions get in the way and hold our dogs back from their potential. Trusting them more allows them to communicate more freely.
Demonstrate Patience Learning more patience was the greatest lesson from dog training that has positively affected all areas of my life. We must step back, breath and let things move along as they should. You cannot rush things and doing so is detrimental to everyone involved. Everyone is learning how to navigate this crazy life; so be patient with each person and animal you meet. No one is out there (especially your dogs!) to intentionally make your life difficult. Demonstrate patience and that is when true progress happens. The more often we remember that our dogs are learning and the more patience we show them, the more progress we will see in our training.
Listen Stop telling your dog what to do and stop assuming they are behaving a certain way to dominate or make your life hell. Stop it. Instead step back and listen. Observe them and listen carefully to what they are saying. You know those times when your dog is barking and lunging? It is screaming for help. You know those times when your dog does not respond to your commands? They are telling you they are confused and you need to teach them. Did you know that every time your dog misbehaves it is because they may be stressed, or confused or just doing what they believe is right? Guinniss taught me early on to listen. As soon as I did this, I could help him and in turn he helped me. Stop talking. Stop being angry. Listen to your dog.
Keep Pushing Forward Guinniss was a fighter. We began calling him our champion because it did not matter what new hurdle or struggle presented itself, he took each challenge head on. He overcame his fears, worked through his stress, fought through his disease destroying his body and did it all with a big smile on his face. His strength influenced me so much during his last year. He inspired me and showed me that the greatest things really do come through struggle. It was as if he was showing me to not give up. If it is important, it is worth fighting for and it will be hard, but worth the fight. My promise to him is that I will keep the picture of him in his wheelchair close as a reminder to always keep pushing forward.
Laugh More Guinniss was the ultimate entertainer. Right up until his last few moments with us, he kept us laughing. He taught me that regardless of what the situation may be, it is your attitude about the situation that determines the results. He gave us so many laughs over the last year of his life. In the days leading up to saying goodbye, I would often giggle through tears as he continued to be goofy. He made the hardest times the best times. No matter what is going on, do not forget to laugh.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive I think this has become the thing I say the most in my training. Guinniss taught me more than any book, schooling or person has ever taught me when it comes to dog training, but this was the lesson with the greatest impact. Do not wait for training to happen. Set your dog up for success and help them navigate our human world. Too many of us hold our dogs back or exclude them from areas of our lives due to their stress in certain situations or lack of training to show them what is expected. Guinniss was terrified of the world, but I worked at his pace and introduced him to more of it each year. He overcame his fears and was able to participate in so much with me. Dogma’s puppy, obedience and our fear/reactivity classes are now based on this model. Get out with your dog and do more. Show them the busy human world, teach them what is expected of them and enjoy your training with them. Reward them for good behaviour, be proactive and spend the time training. You will be amazed by what they can accomplish.
Cherish Every Moment I was fortunate to have Guinniss by my side for almost 14 years. He taught me about every life stage and we were able to share so much. But, it was not enough time. It felt too fast and I ached for more time with him. Our dogs’ lives are short. As we started to see Guinniss age, we created a bucket list for him. You can read more about the details and what we did with him here. By having a bucket list, we were able to stay focused on what he wanted to do. We let him make more choices, we spent more time doing activities he loved, we introduced him to more and we celebrated him. It was the best thing to come out of his senior years and it has inspired many others to do more with their dogs.
We were able to say goodbye with no regrets. And we have started a bucket list for each of our dogs and will continue to do so no matter what their age. It has also taught me to cherish more time with everyone in my life and to stop and enjoy the beauty in the little things around us. My favourite moments throughout Guinniss’s life was when we stopped and just watched the world together in silence. He would snuggle into me and I would listen to our breathing sync up as we enjoyed nature together. I helped him slow down and overcome his stress and in turn he taught me to slow down and enjoy the world around me.
It is a strange thing to be overcome by such grief but also feel so blessed. It is often not until something is over that we realize what an amazing experience it has been. I thank you, Guinniss, for teaching and inspiring myself and so many others. Your work here is far from over and I feel energized to continue sharing your lessons. Most of all, I want more people to see what beautiful things can happen when we share our love with a dog. To see what an amazing bond develops when we create a relationship based on mutual respect, when we listen and we stop thinking about commanding but instead on communicating. I wish for so many others to experience what I was lucky to learn from you and will share this with each dog that comes into my life. RIP my champion. Run Free.
What lessons have you learned from your dog? Please share in the comments below!