My dog, my mirror

Difficult dogs are our biggest teachers – and often they teach us more about ourselves than anything else.

One of the reasons I am feeling Nell’s absence in my life so strongly is that she taught me to accept myself as I really am. She was a lot – even many who loved her (including us) would say she could be a bit much. Many times I swore under my breath, wishing that she was a bit… well, just a bit less.

Then I remembered the countless times in my own life that I’d been told I’m intense, a lot etc. by just being myself, thanks to the ADHD brain I was born with. I’d learn to make myself less, to hide my true self just to be accepted by others – to be ashamed of who I was. Yet here she was… this dog who was unashamedly herself and asking assertively for what she wanted.

If you think dogs don’t have shame, you’re right – they don’t have internalised shame like we do but what else is shame than the result of repeated experiences of positive and negative punishment?

We have a habit of shutting down dogs for being more than we’d like – even when they are causing no harm to anyone, just for communicating their needs and preferences. We do it for our own convenience – when the needs of our dogs don’t fit our expectations of a dog or when their needs clash with ours.

We do the same with humans.

Looking at Nell was often like looking in the mirror at my own behaviour – the frustration I felt was the same unkindness I treated myself with. That created a dilemma because how could I love this dog unconditionally and accept her as she was, yet not accept it in myself?

The answer wasn’t to love her less ❤

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