12 Lessons in Character – from a Puppy

puppiesphoto courtesy Terry Bain, Flickr

“I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the “lower animals” (so called) and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result humiliating to me.” ~Mark Twain

Perhaps one of the very best way I know to simultaneous test and develop your CHARACTER is to adopt a puppy.

I’ve now had two dogs and I can attest to the powerful impact dog ownership has had on the development of my character. My first dog, Hercules was a mini-Lab I adopted when I was 22. He was about eight weeks old at the time. That was perhaps the scariest and greatest commitment of my life to that point. He passed away 15 years later and thanks to him so many great fortunes crossed my path – starting with my wife.

When I adopted ‘Herc’ I was still in college, no job, no real responsibility. When he died, I was married with two daughters and a founding partner of two companies. We went through a lot together. I do miss the “little man” dearly and I can never repay him for all those qualities which he bestowed upon me. Most of which I never realized until he was gone.

However, this isn’t about Herc, this is about Roxy.

Just over a year ago, and at the urging of the wifey (aka the boss) and, for the benefit of our young daughters we decided to adopt a puppy from a local shelter. What an experience that has been! Our good fortune found us a dog (sheep herder) who came to us exceedingly anxious, hyper and extremely frightened (likely from being torn from her mother at a very young age). While her personality has matured a great deal – the process has been a very slow and trying one, testing our resolve on a daily basis.

So, just the other day when Roxy was stealing some food off my daughter’s plate, I found myself reflecting just how profound this experience has been. About how many great life lessons I’ve gained from making this questionable decision. And, about the life-long impact this will have on our family. Coincidentally, so many of these lessons in CHARACTER are straight from the list in “The 3 C’s of SUCCCESS” all certainly prerequisites for anyone to be successful in life.

Responsibility: Adopting or buying a puppy is a serious endeavor. The shelter makes sure you understand this isn’t just a cute toy but a significant responsibility. You are in it for the long-haul for better or worse.

Tolerance: How are you going to respond when you find your very best shoes are chewed up and the puppy has had another ‘accident’ on the carpet for seemingly the hundredth time.

Selflessness: Adoption is truly a selfless act for the sake of the puppy. This isn’t about you and it becomes your responsibility to keep her feed, healthy and protected.

Kindness: It’s impossible for me to understand those who aren’t kind to such warm-hearted animals. Kindness is her true nature – when she climbs over the girls and likes their face until they giggle uncontrollably. This kindness is returned ten-fold.

Love (unconditional): This is the only way the puppy knows how to live. After only a few days this dog won’t care about anything else on the planet other than you. Just leave her for ten minutes and return and it’s as if you’ve been gone for ten years! And, even if you have the worst day possible, the puppy won’t care. She’ll be right by your side offering unconditional love.

Resourcefulness: you will find a way to make it work, to spend time with her – to walk her and to feed her.

Patience: Trust me on this.

Communication: Both you and your puppy will learn to communicate and understand each other in an absolutely unique way.

Discipline: You both will receive a healthy amount of discipline. You’ll find that your schedule must account for her and she’ll find that she must learn to obey you.

Exercise: She’ll force the issue and you’ll be much better for it. You’ll feel better getting outside with her. She simply demands exercise.

Fun: She’s all about fun. Frisbee NOW! JUMP! JUMP! Bark! JUMP!

Rest: Dogs know how to play and they know how to rest. We are instructed to pay careful attention.

Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.

~Mark Twain

Until next time.