Next week my trusty canine companion, Hayley is turning 12 years old. She’s been with me eleven of those years (I adopted her at about 10 months) and we’ve come along way together.

Hayley has inspired, comforted and accompanied me through a huge chunk of my adult life. In fact, it’s hard to image a time without her by my side (check out last years birthday post).

As we go through yet another year together I want to take a quick opportunity to reflect and be grateful for everything Hayley has done for me. She’s brought me much love and joy over the years, but she’s also taught me some valuable lessons on life along the way.

We humans, sporting our opposable thumbs and supped-up craniums, think we are so superior to all the animals that share this planet. After all we domesticated dogs and became their “masters” (or was it really dogs who chose to live with us? Hmmmmmm, something to think about) and we think that we have all the answers – our dogs just take direction from us.

I’m not so sure it works that way. I may call myself a “dog trainer” but often I find it’s my dog Hayley that’s the one teaching me. And like all good teachers she isn’t beating me over the head with her lessons. No, she quietly teaches by example, daily showing me the path to living a better life.

I may have taught Hayley basic obedience, but Hayley has taught me (and continues to teach me) much more important, life altering lessons. And although I believe she’s a special dog, she’s not the only canine providing inspiration. Nope – all dogs are giving us this amazing gift every single day. It’s right there in front of you with your dog. But only if you look for it.

Here are 5 of the many things that Hayley has taught me about life, helping to make me a better person and live a happier, more fulfilled life.

.1. Names will never hurt me

Being a pit bull Hayley has been called many names over the years. Aggressive, nasty, vicious, scary, a danger to the community, etc. People still occasionally cross the street when we approach, give her dirty looks and shield their children as she passes. Hayley however, is always unaffected by their insensitive and unfair reactions and remarks. No matter what labels or names are thrown at her or how she’s treated she knows it’s less about her and more about them.

And yes I know that she can’t understand what they are saying but she can read body language amazingly well and I know that even if she could understand their words, she wouldn’t let it effect her. That’s just how dogs roll.

2. Get over it already

In this crazy game of life, stuff happens to us everyday – some of it is good, some of it is not-so-good. No matter how you try to protect yourself you’re going to get embarrassed, disappointed and have failures. It’s going to happen, repeatedly.

And when it does we tend to carry these negative feelings around with us way more than is necessary and healthy. We have a hard time letting it go.

Hayley has taught me that you can’t control some of the things that happen to you. But it’s up to you to decide how much and for how long things will affect you. No matter how many times Hayley misses a ball that I’ve thrown to her, she doesn’t get depressed or beat herself up over her failures. No, she shakes it off (sometimes literally) and moves on in an instant. She doesn’t think about it all day, she doesn’t continually go over in her mind how she should have done things differently. Instead she learns from the incident, makes adjustments and dives back in.

She’s taught me not to be hard on myself and not to let things that really don’t matter affect me.

photo-23. Deep appreciation

Hayley, along with all dogs, is a great lover of life, no matter what. She doesn’t care that my house is small, and the furniture is old. She’s very content just to enjoy what we have. Hayley doesn’t care that I don’t make a lot of money and have endless amounts of time to spend with her. She’s grateful for the few toys she has and to go on whatever walk I can squeeze in.

She gets the same happiness from an expensive bed and a long hike, as she does from a beat up old cushion and short stroll around the block. Hayley has taught me to be grateful and happy with what I have, instead of longing for what I don’t.

.4. Never judge

Hayley loves everyone. It doesn’t matter if you have long hair and tattoos or a Jesus fish on your car – she will treat you with the same happy enthusiasm that she gives everyone.

Like it or not the first thing that most of us do is to make assumptions about people based on appearance or on the very limited information we have about them. More often than not our judgment will be way off. It’s hard not to immediately begin to judge people but Hayley has shown me if you treat everyone as a friend, often that’s what they’ll be.

5. Roll with it

Life is always changing and as soon as we get comfortable – bam – life throws us an unexpected curve ball. It could be a job change, a broken car, an unexpected storm, you name it. Change can be scarey, especially when it wasn’t something you planned on or had time to prepare for, however it is possible to take the ebbs and flows of life in stride.

This is something I’ve watched Hayley do time and time again. When I met her she was homeless; then she moved in with three single guys, changing houses twice; then she had to adjust to living with just my wife and I; and then she got two little kids dropped into her world. As soon as she thinks she has things figured out, everything changes.

Although her schedule and environment has changed multiple times, Hayley has always been happy. She rolls with whatever life throws at her and finds a way to enjoy it all.

Yeah, I’ve learned quite a lot of valuable things from my poochy pal. Happy birthday Hayley and thanks for being such a good human trainer.

What life lessons has your dog taught you? Let me know in the comments.

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