Six Life Lessons I Learned From A Dog

For 16 wonderful years I worked side by side with a strong willed girl we named Phoebe the Huntress, who taught me life lessons without saying a word.  I've always had the belief that we can learn much about how to live by watching animals, noticing how they survive. 

Phoebe was a great teacher and coach for me. She taught me that it’s possible to thrive if you are willing to do what it takes. Phoebe survived for 4 months in the woods all alone until we found her and took her in. Her focus was getting protein to live, so she hunted wasps and ate them. She didn't focus on the swollen mouth from the sting; she focused on the protein she otherwise could not get. Focused attention was just one life lesson I learned from her.

Here are the six key life lessons Phoebe taught me.

  1. Be fearless. Take on an opportunity no matter that it seems too large and scary for you. We returned home one day to find Phoebe at the back door, pleased with herself but completely covered in greenish bloody gore. Startled, we made the rounds in her acre domain only to find a much larger and longer-clawed ground hog, totally eaten except for the head. The expression on the dead ground hog’s face was one of complete astonishment. Later on, we found a few of its claws, 4 inches long – much longer than Phoebe’s pretty white beagle paw claws were.
  2. Be consistent. Phoebe did what she did, day after day. She sniffed the breeze thoroughly and followed up on every lead that the breeze brought her as it passed over the lake and through the woods, where she spent most of her life with us. She did her “sniff” routine every day, rain or shine, wind or cold, or in summer’s heat. Circumstances mattered not. Phoebe knew that purpose took single-minded focus.
  3. Be enthusiastic. Phoebe never lacked for bounce in her step until the last year of her life. Inside or out, she was always nose down and wagging tail up. She had a keen nose (our vet once told us he believed she could smell a deer a mile away). If she laid down she stretched and batted the air or did “happy rolls” across our floor. If it was dinner time watch out! You would never beat Phoebe to her food bowl. Once her food was down, she gulped her chow without bothering to swallow, finishing up in about 10 seconds and happily looking around for more. When she played “shake the sock dead” her head moved so quickly it was a blur. With the possible exception of bath time, Phoebe met her world with enthusiasm and high expectations.
  4. Be loyal. Phoebe was ours, but her heart belonged to Bill. Her head turned toward the door five minutes before he showed up from work. She fell in behind him whether he was in his office, our garage, or by the television. She never wavered in her loyalty.
  5. Comfort others. While our beagle girl loved nothing more than to escape to the woods and explore, she hung around and offered snuggles if she sensed one of us was sick or injured. The year I had 3 knee surgeries in 8 months she comforted me day after day as I laid on the bed with my knee elevated, unable to do much but stare at the ceiling. Sniffing animal tracks outdoors was on her mind, I’m sure, but she sacrificed to help me feel better.
  6. Never quit. Phoebe’s will was indomitable. She wanted to be with us, and she wanted to explore the outdoors. She was determined to do both, even as her arthritic bones began to fail her more and more. It might take her three tries to get up and walk outside but she was going to keep at it until she got out there. She just was simply not going to give up, no matter what it took.

You might think I am waxing eloquent about Phoebe’s values to pay tribute to a being I loved dearly, and that’s partially true. But it’s also true that I often thought of Phoebe when something in my life didn't go the way I wanted, and I was tempted to throw in the towel. I thought about Phoebe facing down that big ole’ ground hog, or submitting herself to a swim in the lake with us even though beagles prefer ground to water. I thought “if a dog can be fearless, I guess I can, too.” I learned so much about life, business, and love from our beloved beagle girl. She was one of my coaches for 16 years, and she always led by example. Life lessons from a beagle girl – who knew?

 

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