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Lessons From Our Furry Friends

[Reader Alert: In case you were wondering, this post has nothing to do with April Fool’s. No joke.] 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all relationships were as easy as your relationship with your dog?

I tell you, those animals must have an unlimited supply of love and loyalty in them. No matter what I do to my dog, whether accidentally stepping on her toe or sternly reprimanding her for barking at the UPS guy, she still loves me back. She never holds a grudge or harbors bitterness agains me.

Dogs are typically very forgiving, and they are not even human. They don’t have as high intelligence or awareness of the world around them as we do, yet they do better with relationships and loving unconditionally than we humans do. How is it that they have mastered something that man has not been able to achieve in thousands of years?

Okay, yes, they are made differently from humans. And maybe the fact that they don’t perceive the world as well as us is why they don’t have as many reasons to hold grudges and resentment.

But one thing they know well is that you can’t live a good life without love.

And, in a very similar way to humans, dogs will become what their upbringing and environment pushes upon them. Dogs thrive in a loving home, and when they don’t get that, they can develop all kinds of insecurity and aggression issues.

I think depending on what kind of home they are in, dogs return that love–or lack thereof–in the same way.

My family’s dog is a good example of that. We got Sophie, part Border Collie/part Australian Shepherd, when she was eight weeks old, and since the day we brought her home four years ago, we’ve showered her with love, affection, and praise, although not neglecting to discipline her when needed. Consequently, she has grown into the sweetest, most affectionate, most loyal and loving dog I have ever seen. She’s a brave guard dog, too. She loves us unconditionally and would do anything to protect us. (Personally, I think she’s also the most brilliant and intelligent dog in the universe. What else do you get when you cross two of the most intelligent breeds in the world? My sister would say that she is a super dog, or a human dog, or something like that…)

Sophie

Sophie

Sure, she still has her obedience and getting-to-know-strangers issues. But I strongly believe that she wouldn’t have grown up into the kind of dog she is if she had not had the upbringing that she did. I’m sure you’ve heard stories before of dogs who are mistreated or abused constantly as puppies, and once they grow into adults, they are almost hopelessly turned into dogs with mistrust, aggression, and fear of other people. It’s not necessarily that they were predisposed to an aggressive personality. Rather, it is the environment that they are exposed to that makes them who they are.

We had another dog before Sophie, a border collie named Gracie, who we found as an adult dog wandering around in our front yard. We took her in and after finding out the owner had dropped her off on the street and moved across a few states, we kept Gracie permanently. She was around five years old when we found her, and she lived to be about thirteen or fourteen. We never knew exactly what kind of upbringing she had, but it couldn’t have been the best if her owners were willing to leave her in the streets. We gave her nothing but love the whole time we had her, but she struggled with trust and mild aggression issues for the rest of her life. We could never fully trust her around other people. She loved us, but she was permanently scarred by whatever mistreatment she had received in the past.

Both our dogs were similar breeds, breeds typically known to be very loving and affectionate; yet, with different upbringings, they turned out to be very different dogs.

If dogs can be that affected by their nurturing environment, I think humans can be just as sensitive and much more. And it’s not just my opinion; it’s a proven fact that a person’s environment and experiences have a vast impact on their character and personality.

The good thing is that love can go a long way to heal aggression and insecurity brought about by a negative experience, and not just in dogs.

Another dog example of that is Parker. Parker is a black catahoula who was rescued by a lady I know who lives near my family. She loves animals and is always keeping an eye on the roads for lost or abandoned animals. One day she saw a man throw Parker from his truck and tear off down the road. She stopped and brought Parker home. There was no question that Parker had been horribly mistreated and abused in his one-and-a-half years. He was scared and aggressive at first, but somehow he could sense the love and concern my friend had for him, and after some time of receiving nothing but affection and loving care, Parker now loves her back with a passion. He is still apprehensive of any stranger who comes near him, but when you win his trust and prove to him that you love and care for him, he opens up and loves and trusts you right back, which I’ve experienced myself. After having his loving nature suppressed and aggravated for so long, he’s now so overflowing with energetic love for someone that he doesn’t quite know what to do with it all when he gets the chance to show it.

Parker is just one example that I personally have seen of a dog being transformed from aggression to affection, but I’ve heard many other stories of dogs who, through love, had transformations that were even more starkly contrasting than Parker’s.

But like I said, dogs are not the only creatures who can be transformed by a loving environment. Even more important than how we treat our dogs is how we treat the other humans around us, the people who are made in God’s own image every bit as much as we are.

Why is it that the dogs and pets in our society are so often given more attention and a higher priority in being cared for and valued than the people in our communities and cities?

I’m asking that of myself as well, because I am also guilty of sometimes feeling more compassion and pity for abandoned or hurting puppies than abandoned or hurting people. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to love something that will always love you back unconditionally than a person who will still sometimes respond to your love with anger, indifference, or contempt.

When Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors, enemies, and everyone in between, he didn’t promise that it would be easy. In fact, He warned that it would not be easy. And yet, He still tells us to love them.

Here is that passage in Luke 6:

27 But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. 29 To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. 31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

32 “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

The point Jesus is making is that loving our enemies is not something we do for personal reward or gain. In contrast, it’s something we do because we love our Father in heaven, and He is merciful to all His creation, whether they deserve it or not. Loving our heavenly Father means that we will gladly do and be whatever He wants us to do or be. We will desire to be like Him in every part of our lives.

Just like love can change a dog for the better, love toward our enemies, real or perceived, will always be more powerful for good than hating them right back. And maybe that’s what Jesus was talking about when He told us to love our enemies, repay good for evil, bless them in return for their curses, and pray for the ones who use us spitefully.

Hate and anger just breeds more hate and anger. Just as love and compassion will produce more love and compassion. Our beloved puppy dogs prove that to be true. And so do examples of human nature all around us.

No matter how varied and vast the world is, all creatures can’t survive without one thing: love. Our Creator knew that, and He provides limitless love for all who come to Him, which we can then pour out to everyone else around us, bringing life and purpose and light to the darkness.

What life lessons have you learned from your canine friends? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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