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A Dog’s Life: 9 Lessons I Learned From Olivia

We all want to know the meaning of life right? Why things are the way they are, how they can be better and what we can learn from the whole shootin’ match. In the process,  we have a tendency to over-think things, a conclusion I came to recently by watching Olivia.

For those of you who may not know, Olivia is my seven-year-old, 85 (okay 90) pound, yellow lab.  She is the most loyal, loving animal I have ever had and I can honestly say she got me through some rough patches in the past, most notably, a rather serious bout with depression.

Anyway, I got to thinking, why pay for a self-help book when I have the guru of good feelings right here at my feet? So here you go,  the nine life lessons I learned from my dog.

Olivia says: Wake-up happy!

As soon as she hears me stirring, Olivia starts wagging her tail and shaking her collar. Then she licks my hand, pants her hot breath in my face and stares long enough to burn a hole into my soul. She figures if she does it long enough, I’ll get up; it works. Do live in the moment, allowing you to wake up happy?

Olivia says: Life is about full immersion

You’ll notice Olivia doesn’t care about getting dirty; in fact, in her mind, that’s half the fun. She attacks everything with abandon, including angry waves lapping up on the beach. They are not to be feared as much as enjoyed. Do you throw your whole being into whatever it is you are doing, even if it means getting a little dirty?

Olivia says: Assume the best in new friends

Olivia never greets new friends with teeth bared. She doesn’t have insecurities that keep her from being fully open nor does she assume the new girl is here to take her job. She sees the best in everyone, until they give her reason not to. Do you?

Olivia says: Be thankful for what you have

I feed this dog the same thing One cup of hard, dry kibble twice a day and you know something? She acts like it’s a gourmet meal! It’s not the taste rather the presentation and I don’t mean the metal bowl it comes in. No, what gives that dry kibble incredible flavor is the fact that it’s served by someone she loves and who loves her back. How do you show appreciation for the people in your life?

Olivia says: It’s okay to lead

At the start of our walk, Olivia is rarin’ to go. Anxious to see what the day holds, she pulls me along, like a racehorse out of the gate. She shows me that in life, there are times when you should charge ahead, instead of waiting for others and anticipate what lies ahead. Do you take the reins at times or do you wait for someone to give them to you?

Olivia says: It’s okay to follow

Ah yes, and then there’s this and frankly I’m not sure which is the difficult part of our walk, trying to keep the 85-pound (okay 90 pound) lab from pulling me over or dragging all that  weight behind me. But what I learn from her is that sometimes it is okay to relinquish control and let someone else lead, especially when you feel like you can’t go on. Do you? Can you?

Olivia says: Stop and smell the roses

Or in her case, every blade of grass, tree stump and dog butt within a three-mile radius. Life is to be explored, not raced through in an effort to get to the finish line. Enjoy the journey, even the difficult parts. Are you doing that, embracing all it has to offer or are you holding on, waiting for the difficult stuff to pass?

Olivia says: Be loyal and love with abandon

Olivia doesn’t worry that she will give more love than she gets; she just knows it feels so good to give it. She understands intuitively that making herself vulnerable is okay because she trusts I’ll take care of her, based on the time we’ve put into our relationship. Are you that way with the people in your life?

Olivia says: Give ’til there’s nothing left.

One of my favorite things is listening to the slow, rhythmic breathing of this dog as she drifts off to sleep. There is no night waking (unless you’re breaking into our house, in which case she’ll bite you in the you-know-what), no worry about tomorrow, no regrets about today and no wonders about missed opportunity. That’s because there aren’t any. Olivia makes the most of each and every opportunity, taking everything, and everyone at face value; assuming the best and dealing with it if it doesn’t go as planned.

But even if she gets left at home (yep, sometimes) or in the car (Grrrr… blame Buff and Cole), she never holds it against us, instead assuming we’ll do better next time.

I know she’s a dog and as such, doesn’t have to worry about a job, career, putting kids through college and keeping a roof over her head. But those things not withstanding, couldn’t we all use a lesson in simplicity every now and again? Yes, I think so and this one’s free, courtesy Olivia.

Do you have a dog? What are the lessons would he/she want you to learn? And how can you incorporate those into your life?

More from GEM:

Monday Morning Motivation: Big Reward Necessitates Big Risk

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Social Support: How Facebook, Twitter and YouTube Helped Us Heal






  1. Maggie Mae and Ronni

    April 5, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Yes Rene, we can all learn from Olivia! We couldn’t agree with you more!

  2. Rene Syler

    April 5, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    @Maggie Mae and Ronni: From one pet author to another 🙂

  3. Deon smith

    April 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    As I read this I see a mirror image of my journey with my dog. Its funny how get you into a routine and subconsciously train you in being disciplined and faithful to habit. You break that habit and they notice (this is when messing in the house occurs). But outside of the gift of being loved [by them], they teach us loyalty. No matter how down we may be, no matter how often we yell at them for chewing magazines, they always remain by our side with unconditional love,as if to almost worship us. The anticipation a dog has as it’s master arrives homes really can be described with normal dictation. Hopefully they can teach us to love our fellow man in the same manner as we continue to love them back.

  4. Kristina

    April 5, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    Rene, this is wonderful! So simple, but so true. We take the simple pleasures and true loves in life for granted….and we don’t give animals the credit they deserve. They bring out the best in us and always give us unconditional love. We could learn so much from them. Thank you for the reminder…and the smile on my face while reading this.

  5. Lashell

    April 5, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    I have a 4 yr old pooch (mini poo) named Triton. He is so attentive and protective of me. Yet, he loves people! My dog knows when I’m not feeling….he will lay above my head and rest his face on my forehead. He knows when I’m a little sad, too. He licked my tears off my face once….I’m like “awwwwe” Triton is a hugger, wrapping his front paws around my neck. He dances when I come home. Love him so much….. And to think, I almost sold him when he destroyed my glasses…I couldn’t seen a thing!

  6. Lisa

    April 6, 2012 at 8:37 am

    Sweet! Love it, Rene! Two paws up!

  7. pattyrowland

    April 6, 2012 at 11:03 am

    love ms. olivia!

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