Why I Kiss My Dogs
What my dogs taught me about finding the joy in life
By Angelica Steinker, M.Ed., C.D.B.C, CAP2
edited by Kimberly “Kim” Archer, CPDT-KA, CTDI
Life is inherently satisfying, just ask my late Border Collie, Stevie. Stevie found joy in playing with anything at all, seeing a toy in every object. Best of all, he liked to pounce on toys. Stevie was my problem child. He had several psychiatric and physical problems. Everyday life was difficult for him, and by the end of the day he often had a hard time getting upstairs to go to bed. He lived with chronic pain and torturous thunderstorm phobia, but still every day he would find new joy to hold on to. Stevie felt that if there was no joy to be found in the day, then you should just go to bed and the next day you’d have an opportunity for more joy.
Another late border collie of mine, Zoomie, had extraordinary sensitivity. He could read people better than most humans could read each other and would accurately predict human behavior. It wasn’t magic: he was attentive. His attentiveness inspired listening in me. Though he was my best listener, he was deaf in one ear and hearing impaired in the other. He couldn’t determine the origin of sounds, but he knew when you were thinking of brushing your teeth.
One of his favorite things was to roll in the dirt, and he particularly loved to grind the dirt into his head, specifically the gap in between his eyes. It was even more fun for him to teach my next border collie, Power, to do the same, and Power quickly discovered the joy in dirt grinding.
Another thing Zoomie loved to do was to “kill” stuffed animals. Once the crime was committed, he liked to pose the bodies in hideous positions. Below is a photo chronicle of some of his work.
As with human criminals, it was common for Zoomie to return to the crime scene. Notice the somewhat startled expression followed by what I like to imagine was his detailed account of how the neighbor’s dog snuck in and gutted the toy.
While such violent activities are antisocial in human culture, in dog culture they are revered.
While my Border Collies are masters at teaching persistence, motivation and problem solving, the best teacher was my late papillon, Bella. In Bella’s world it was always all about her. In case anyone missed the memo: it was 100% about Bella. She was supremely consistent. If it is about her, she will reinforce your attention with one of her “you are approved of” facial expressions.
Below on the left is Bella’s “you are allowed to live” expression. God help you if you had not behaved as Bella wished, you could get one of the undesired facial expressions — and worst of all, you could get the dreaded tongue flick.
If Bella was not happy, no one in the direct vicinity of Bella would be happy. Just like the death-inducing dementors of Harry Potter, she would suck all the joy and life out of you.
If Bella was not happy, no one in the direct vicinity of Bella would be happy.
While superficially this may sound demonic, it was a blessing. What Bella was communicating was all about us as people. When we become obsessed with a goal or desire something, we are in the grips of our ego. Bella would not be part of that, instead you would get a tongue flick of disapproval. When you engage in pro-social behavior that furthers joy and helps others, you would get a happy face. What could appear to people as Bella being narcissistic was really a gift that functioned as a feedback mechanism to enhance your personal growth.
A “tongue flick” as shown in the photo on the right is a classic sign that a dog is discontented or uncomfortable.
So learn from these dogs and live in the moment.
So learn from these dogs, and live in the moment. Dog lovers everywhere may often be misunderstood, but we do know the pure joy that we experience when we kiss our dogs. Let yourself be pulled into the moment and find peace. My dogs are not my life, but they show me how to live life. While we over function, suffer and struggle, our dogs embody happiness. While we increase our stress and fail to find balance, they find healing in the moment. Take a moment and kiss a dog. If you let it, then it will change you forever!