The reason why we sometimes seem to develop stronger relationships with our dogs than with the humans in our lives is so simple that we easily overlook it. Dogs operate on the Golden Rule; they treat us the way we want to be treated, and we respond in kind. Here are 10 things our dogs can teach us about healthy communication in our relationships.
1. They don’t hold grudges
According to a recent study led by ethologist Johan Lind at Stockholm University in Sweden, dogs’ short-term memory span is approximately 27 seconds. This might explain why your dog has no recollection of that vigorous game of tug you just played fifteen minutes ago and insists on whacking you around the legs with his rope for another go at it. On the other hand, this can actually work to our advantage. No matter what we do, whether it’s coming home late from work, snapping at them for wanting to play fetch when we’d rather watch TV, or boarding them at the vet for two weeks while we go on a family vacation, they still love us. A dog will never turn his back on you or withhold a snuggle, even when every other human in the vicinity declares you to be the most unlikable person they’ve had to deal with all day. Our dogs know we aren’t perfect, and because of this, they forgive our mistakes. IF we can learn one thing from this, let it be to never let the sun set on our anger. Our dogs certainly never do.
2. They always remember to say “I love you.”
One of the things I love most about my dog is his demonstrative displays of affection; tail-wagging, nuzzling, and licking are all ways to let me know he loves me. More than this, I love that I never have to ask him for it. Not only does he forgive me for being an absolute pain in the butt (which happens more often than I feel comfortable admitting), he reminds me that, however imperfect we are, we’re always worthy of love. Never miss an opportunity to tell a friend or family member you love them. It might be said that too much of a good thing is dangerous, but if we can learn anything from our dogs, it’s that this rule doesn’t apply to love.
3. They value quality time
Does your dog jump up eagerly every time he sees his leash or his favorite fetch toy? Does he nudge his nose between your hand and the laptop keyboard as you frantically type away, racing to meet a deadline? This is his way of reminding you that sometimes, work can wait. When we take fifteen minutes to jog around the block with our dogs or throw the Frisbee in the back-yard, we should also challenge ourselves to think about how we can transfer this practice to the relationships we cultivate with other people. Take a few minutes on your lunch-break to text your best friend and ask how her day is going. Stop by your girlfriend’s apartment after work with Chinese takeout and a bottle of wine and enjoy a few hours in her company. Time with our loved ones is finite, and since we can never know how much of it we have left, it’s a luxury we can’t afford to squander.
4. They always listen to our problems
I love those classic sitcom or movie scenes with an angst-ridden teenage girl, sitting on the porch with her Golden Retriever, asking why the boy at school whom she’s convinced is her soulmate won’t give her a second look. In response, the dog simply wags his tail and licks her face, as if to say, “Whatever. He’s an idiot. I still love you.” Your dog will never roll his eyes at you when you complain about a coworker for the tenth time or wonder why your ex still seems to have you dancing on a string. Your dog also won’t tell you to just cut the cord yourself and stop replying to his texts, because that’s not what you want to hear. He just offers his big floppy ears as a vessel for your frustrations without complaint.
Think about this the next time you find yourself serving as a sounding board for someone else’s problems. Pretend, just for a few minutes, to be your dog, as if you can do nothing but listen sympathetically and nod. (Just don’t lick anyone’s face. It probably won’t end well).