6 Life Lessons We Can Learn from Dogs

Dogs may not have Ivy League educations or fancy accreditations, but when it comes to smarts and instincts, our four-legged friends often run circles around us-literally.

Carefully observing our canine companions can help us boost our self-esteem, strengthen our relationships and perform better at work.

“Dogs show high levels of empathy, compassion, care and trust,” says Larry Kay, award-winning author, dog trainer and motivational speaker. “When it comes to emotions and personalities, it may well be the dog and not the chimpanzee that is our closest kin.”

In anticipation of his new book, Life’s a Bark, which hits bookstores in June, we asked Kay to share six life lessons that we can learn from dogs.

1. It’s important to praise yourself. Dogs constantly seek out praise and approval from their pet parents, so Kay suggests treating yourself “like a loved dog.” If you love and praise yourself as much as you love and praise your dog, you’ll feel better every day.

Try this: Even if it makes you uncomfortable at first, try looking in the mirror and giving yourself a daily compliment. The compliments can relate to your appearance, your work ethic, your personality traits, and more. Be specific and be honest. Don’t be afraid to sing your own praises.

2. You can practice happiness. Dogs have a special way of exuding happiness-they wag their tails, they shower us with kisses, they emphatically fetch toys and then pant with joy. Humans can also experience that unbridled happiness. You just have to practice. “The more we practice showing the happy’ the better we feel,” says Kay. “We can actually neurologically release endorphins to help us get to a happy state.”

Try this: When you’re feeling good, show it. Jump up and down, throw your hands up or do a little dance. “When dogs are happy they wiggle, shake and jump to show it,” says Kay. “When you’re happy, try putting your whole body into it.”

3. It’s fun to try new tricks. “There is a self-esteem boost that happens in dogs when they learn basic behavior cues or tricks,” says Kay. Humans can take a page out of the dog notebook and seek out new hobbies such as taking a sewing class, learning a foreign language or auditioning for a role in a community play. Adding exciting activities to your life will stimulate your senses and boost your brainpower.

Try this: A fun and simple way to put this principle into action is to create an elaborate secret handshake with a close friend or family member. Every time you see that person, try to remember and execute all the steps of the handshake correctly. “Bonus points if it becomes your regular greeting,” says Kay.

4. Don’t worry about other people’s opinions. Our canine companions rarely let stereotypes and preconceived notions get in the way of their merriment. “Spirited dogs teach us the meaning of living large and thinking optimistically,” says Kay. “We often box ourselves out and worry about other people’s opinions. We might even automatically take a pessimistic view.” Humans can easily learn to have the same self-confidence and optimism as their furry friends.

Try this: If you’re feeling brave, Kay suggests going to a park, finding a big stick (the bigger the better) and dragging it around like your dog would. While you might look a little nutty, Kay says it’s a good way to let go of your inhibitions. Just have fun with it and let people look!

5. Teamwork is essential for success. “There is a myth about dogs needing the so-called ‘bully boss’ or alpha dog to run the pack,” says Kay. “But state-of-the-art research shows that dogs actually prefer to follow leaders who provide safety, security, wellbeing and play.” We can learn from a dog’s pack mentality when it comes to workplace dynamics. Fostering a culture of healthy working relationships, compromises and discussions will ultimately lead to success in business.

Try this: Imagine the leaders in your office as dogs. What kind of dogs are they? What are their dog packs like? “When we imagine the people we work with as dogs, it can help us sort out how to have a healthy pack and team,” says Kay.

6. Listening is the key to successful relationships. Dogs are undoubtedly some of the best listeners on the planet. Need to get something off your chest? Want to vent about your boss? Go tell your dog. “A dog may not understand the subtleties of what we’re trying to say, nor can our dogs speak words, but when we need to talk, a loyal dog stays by us with patient attention,” says Kay. “A big piece of communicating well is listening.”

Try this: Listen to someone without giving any advice. Pretend you are a dog who has no words and no place to go. Kay recommends using the L.O.V.E. method for best results-Listen, Observe, Verify, Empathize.

Larry Kay’s book Life’s a Bark: What Dogs Teach Us About Life and Love is currently available for pre-order on his website PositivelyWoof.com.

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