7 Things I Learned About Myself, from Getting a Dog

Close up photo of Gretchen's dog Barnaby.

As I may have mentioned, my family and I just got a new puppy — a cockapoo named Barnaby. He’s fourteen weeks old, and super sweet and delightful.

However, he is a dog, and even more so, he’s a puppy. I knew that his arrival in our household would mean big changes — and would also teach me a lot about myself.

So far, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Getting up at 5:30 a.m. is very different from getting up at 6:00 a.m.

It’s just thirty minutes…but it feels like a much bigger gap. For years,  my day has started at 6:00, and I’m hoping that when Barnaby is a little older, I can move my wake-up time back to its usual spot. For now, he’s very eager to go out by 5:30.

2. New York City is an overwhelming place.

I’ve been here for so long that I take it for granted, but being with Barnaby has shown me how noisy and bustling it is. In some ways, that’s good; in some ways, that’s bad. I realize that sometimes I should sometimes make allowances for the overwhelming nature of the environment for myself, too.

3. It doesn’t do any good, and it may do harm, to vent my temper.

When I give a sharp “no” and move away from Barnaby in a deliberate way, to teach him not to nip, that’s good. When I speak sharply from impatience, because he’s had an accident or whatever, that will confuse and upset him.  Calm, deliberate speech! Gosh, over the years, I’ve done a million things to curb my sharp tongue. I’ll be working on it my whole life, I’m sure.

4. It really helps to have an exact place for everything.

I really dislike having to look around for misplaced objects, and so everything related to Barnaby has its place — and I must say, everyone has been very good about putting things away in the right place. Looking for a certain kind of treat? The clean-up bags? The squeaky green toy? His record of vaccinations?  They all have their place.

5. Pets make a home feel more alive.

When I was working on Happier at Home, I thought a lot about the experience of home, and what I could do to make my home more…homey. Well, even our betta fish add a serene presence, but having a dog snoozing on the floor at my feet as I type on my computer makes a very cozy and happy feeling.

6. Relationships are a key, perhaps the key to happiness.

Barnaby is a whole new relationship — intense, and different from human relationships.

7. For happiness, it’s just as important to give support as it is to get support.

Barnaby needs a lot of attention, a lot of time, and a fair amount of stuff. Having a dog is a big source of happiness, and giving to a dog is just as significant.

The funny thing? I knew all this before Barnaby arrived! To live a happier, healthier, more productive life, I’ve learned, is less about learning new things and more about putting the things we already know into action.

How about you? What are some things you’ve learned from your pets?



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