Life Lessons From a Dog

How a border collie pup became a reminder of how to be a better person

December 9th, 2019, we said goodbye to our family dog.  Don’t feel bad for Lily; she was sixteen years old and lived like a queen!  Lily joined the family about a month after we had said goodbye to our previous dog, a golden retriever, who also lived to a grand age of thirteen. With Lily’s departure I found myself without a dog for the first time in 29 years.  While the family mourned, I secretly rejoiced in the freedom of being dog-less.  No more 6:00 am walks in every type of weather, no more fur on the floor and no smelly beast farting up the living room at the most inappropriate time.  I waited until after Christmas to announce to the family that my days of dog ownership were over.  I never wanted another dog again. I softened the blow by telling the kids I’d be a great dog grandparent to any beast that they decided to own when that time came.

Wilson as a toddler August 2020

December turned into January and a few months later, our lives changed dramatically with Covid-19.  As the year progressed, I rejoiced in the freedom of my no dog world, while the three ladies in my life secretly expressed that a “home without a dog is not a home, it’s a house” (that’s a quote).

With no travel in our future, my wife Cathy and I would spend our weekends exploring the Lake Huron shore, fantasizing that if we are going to be working from home forever there’s nothing stopping us from a new location.  One weekend it was a drive to South Hampton, another to Godrich and then on July 9th, 2020, seven months after we said goodbye to Lily we drove to Kincardine and, on a dusty road miles from nowhere, we saw the sign “Boarder Collie Pups 4 Sale”.  Cathy was incredibly casual and asked if I had seen the sign.  I had, but said, I had not.  We kept driving.  The next day, on our way home from Kincardine, Cathy asked me to stop, “just to have a look.”  We took a right hand turn down what would better be described as a cow path than a road, to the Mennonite farm selling Collie pups that they couldn’t even spell.

Anyone dumb enough to fall for the “why don’t we just take a look” gets what they deserve and after some fierce negotiating that had me adding a dozen eggs to the pups inflated Covid price, we were on our way home with Wilson, a black and white male Border Collie pup.  

There are few times in your life where you have that instant awareness that you’ve done something terribly stupid.  Most of the time such decisions are driven by alcohol, but not this time.  July 9th was about emotion and seeing the joy in my wife’s eye as she swaddled her new boy for the drive back to Oakville.  I had a slight heart attack doing the math that if Wilson lives to an average of the last two dogs, I will be 70 by the time we say goodbye to this dog.  Cathy said it will be our daughter’s dog and we will just help from time to time.  What a lie!

Wilson’s first day at home

Wilson is now just over a year.  We pretend he is our daughter’s dog, but he spends 75% of his time with me.  He’s a good boy and I love him to bits, even though he was a still a mistake.  He has however, been a terrific life-coach at a time when most of us have been reflecting on life’s big questions. Here are some of the lessons that Wilson has taught or better yet, reminded me, to adopt in this time of change we find ourselves:

The Importance of a routine.  Working from home during the past year has made it easy to slip out of a routine.  Wilson has me up at 6:00am sharp, we go for a walk at 6:10am where he has his bathroom break on the same favourite lawn. He eats breakfast at 7:00 am then waits patiently for other family members to rise. Prior to Wilson, I was straying away from having a routine with fitness and sleep which was leading to feelings of aimlessness.  Routine brings structure and discipline and productivity.  Wilson brought that back. Waking up happy, as Wilson does every day, gives the day endless opportunities to be successful.

Wilson with the author this summer July 2021

Live for the moment.  Whether it’s a walk, playing with a toy, going in the car, or hiking on a trail, nothing matters more to Wilson than what Wilson is doing at that moment.  He has laser focus for his tennis ball and isn’t even distracted by other dogs.  I on the other hand, am one Smartphone notification away to abandoning my task.  Everything from Instagram to “I need another coffee” can pull me away from my desk.  Wilson has been a good reminder to be truly immersed in the experience at hand and keep focus.

Show enthusiasm and kindness.  If you stay long enough in sales, you will no doubt have found yourself in front of a surly prospect whose body language makes it too clear he would rather be having a root canal than taking this meeting (or lately this call).  It is a soul sucking experience, mostly because the person you are meeting with has already made up their mind before you actually say anything.  The energy leaves the room.  I compare that to Wilson, who excitedly greets me like we are long lost friends that haven’t seen each other in decades. He whimpers, wags his tail and can’t hide his emotion that he is just so damn happy to see me!  I have been adopting a similar enthusiasm to any person that I encounter during the day (albeit a more reserved human approach – I don’t, for example, roll on my back).  Whether it’s a stranger on the street or a regular friend, Wilson has reminded me of the importance to be enthusiastic, curious, and kind to anyone I encounter.  It makes who you are in front of feel special and it makes you a better person. 

When Wilson eats he does so with gusto (thankfulness).  When he does something wrong (OK to make mistakes) and gets scolded, he moves on (don’t hold a grudge). He doesn’t care what kind of car you drive or where you live (don’t judge)- he cares about you (love).  In Wilson’s first year, he was taken from his litter-mates, taken to a new home and taught how to behave (change is good!) I guess the biggest lesson that Wilson has reminded me is that life is better when surrounded with kindness and kindness makes you better at everything.  There’s an old cliché that says “be the person that your dog thinks you are”…..I’m trying.