5 Lessons I Learned from my Dog

image: Oscar, (c) Dr David R Hamilton

Oscar is our puppy. He’s a yellow Labrador Retriever and is almost 8 months old. He arrived in our lives last October, as a cute, 8-week old bundle of love and play.

He’s completely changed our lives for the better. My life is so much richer than it used to be. Not that it wasn’t before, it’s just there seems to be more of it now.


1) Live in the now

Dogs don’t regret the past or ruminate about the future. They just live here, now, in this moment, doing whatever they are doing, responding to whatever is happening around them.

How much time do we spend in the past or the future? How much ‘now time’ do we waste by going over what happened yesterday, last week, last month, last year, or by worrying about what might happen tomorrow? When we do this, we lose some of the precious moments that are happening now because we’re really just in our heads most of the time.


2) It’s good to play

As humans, I think we forget this. In the modern, fast-paced world, it seems to be all work and very little play. Some people forget how to laugh because playtime is not regular enough.

I’ve learned to laugh a lot more since Oscar arrived. Even though I have lots of work to do, I do it with a much more relaxed attitude, which is far healthier.

It’s also good for the heart. Playing with a dog generates oxytocin, a cardioprotective hormone that helps to widen our arteries and clear them out of free radicals.


3) I’m worthy of love

Oscar loves to be in contact with us. If he’s sleeping at my feet in the lounge, if I get up to make some tea, he gets up too and follows me into the kitchen before continuing his sleep on top of my feet as I’m boiling the kettle. I feel so bad when I have to move back into the lounge, because he gets up again and follows me, back through to take up his former sleeping position.

Once, when he was a puppy and wanted to snuggle up beside me on the sofa, I had a strange thought: “Why does he love me so much? How could he? I’m nothing special.” It was one of the first times that I realised I had a self-love deficit going on, but his presence encouraged me to learn that I am worthy of love, as are you, dear reader! He was one of the reasons I wrote the book, ‘I Heart Me: The Science of Self Love’, (Hay House, October 2013).


4) Most of our problems are in our heads

Dogs just deal with whatever is happening. We tend to analyse and try to work out what it all means. OK, we do have problems in our lives, but the same situation can be felt and dealt with in different ways by two different people. This tells us that it’s not so much the problem itself, but our thinking about the problem that makes it worse.


image: Oscar at 10-weeks old.

5) Our greatest teachers are closer than we think

Many readers of this blog most likely have an interest in the self-help/mind-body-spirit/science fields, especially if you’re familiar with my writings, because I span all three.

Many of us are workshop junkies or read dozens of these kinds of books a year, absorbing the teachings of the speaker or author, looking for the final pieces of the puzzle that can make us whole.

I now understand why some people are always saying, ‘Did you know that Dog is God spelled backwards?’ I get it now. It’s so simple, yet profound. It’s a little reminder that the answers to many of our problems are closer than we think.

I feel that I have gently and gradually grown in wisdom and spiritual awareness over the past decade, but being with Oscar has led to a quickening of the pace, to more breakthroughs in my life in this small segment of time than I’ve had in the previous decade. It’s not intellectual, but experiential, as I’m often forced to search inside myself for more self-love and more love to give, for more courage, for more tenderness, and to simplify my life by simplifying my thinking.

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  1. Monika Ashton on April 19, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Our Portuguese Waterdog Fonzie passed away in September. He was a beautiful,
    joyful dog and taught me so much. He filled a spot in my heart that only he could fill. Fonzie taught me to live from my heart.
    I enjoyed your article and wish you many happy years with your Oscar.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 19, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      I’m really sorry to hear about Fonzie, Monika. I can tell that you enjoyed many happy years with him and you will have memories to enjoy for the rest of your life. Thanks for the good wishes. 🙂

  2. Maureen on April 19, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Yup! You got it in a nutshell. Unconditional love, you can’t buy that for all the riches in the world!

  3. Debbie StClaire on April 19, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Thank you for sharing your love for your dog. I was touched by what you said about not valuing ourselves. I too have wondered why my pups think I am so wonderful and now I realize that I am capable of giving and receiving love. I think dogs reflect back to us the love that we give them. Dogs have taught me how to love unconditionally.


    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 19, 2013 at 6:22 pm

      I can really relate to your experience too Debbie, that dogs teach us to love unconditionally. I hadn’t known the experience of something being so dependent on me and with such love for me in that way before. Like you, it really taught me that I am worthy of receiving love. It was enlightening for me. 🙂

  4. Pat Wells on April 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Welcome to the world of dog owners David, ful lof love and stress free tranquility. Much tolerance will be required but that is our learning curve.Owner of two giant Leonbergers, Dubuck and Laila, I bless the day I took on this breed. They are my life. Your discovery is real. I look forward to hearing more about your new member of the family.
    Much love from us three xxx

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 19, 2013 at 6:19 pm

      Thanks Pat. Yes, it’s a wonderful world. 🙂 I can feel your love for your family coming through in your words. Much love to you three from us three too. 🙂

  5. katherine Frankland-Dvaies on April 19, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    We got our pup about the same time as you, she is just 7 months but has saved my sanity time and time again by just being who she is, a GREAT teacher!!! she reminds me every second of every day to stay in the moment and squeeze as much joy out of it as I can. She has saved me from so much. So yes David I do indeed understand your blog, its great to feel what they can give and enrich our lives. Love to you and glad you are enjoying your pup.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 19, 2013 at 6:18 pm

      Thanks Katherine. Yes, I am enjoying Oscar sooooo much. I can totally understand how she has saved your santity. They really are GREAT teachers!! I’m so glad you are enjoying your pup too. 🙂

  6. Mel on April 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    So cute! (And true….)

  7. Dany on April 19, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Wow, Oscar has gotten big, and he’s only 8 mos. old! What a wonderful teacher/reminder Oscar (an all other 4 legged companions) is! Great article, Dr. Hamilton, as always. Thanks for your good work!

  8. Annette on April 19, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Glad you are enjoying Oscar – we got our Jack -( a very cheeky loving mad poodle ) about 5 years ago
    and he has taught us a lot since then, especially my husband, who had never had a dog before and ultimately had never experienced the unconditional love given by them. My son, who was only 9 at the time wrote a Mother’s Day letter, just after we got him, which commented on how Jack had brought our family closer together and when my dad stayed with us for 2 years before he died Jack brought so much love, fun, enjoyment and incredable comfort to him. He de – stresses us regularly.
    Jack is a wee dog who never let’s you be sad, he is always “in your face”wanting to play and have fun and never let’s you ignore him – we all chuckle at this lovely caring dog and his quirky wee ways, he has graced our lives.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 23, 2013 at 3:50 pm

      i Annette, that’s wonderful that your son noticed how Jack had brought your family closer together. I can totally relate to that. 🙂

  9. Sarah-fiona on April 20, 2013 at 5:52 am

    Wonderful article, David! I think animals can be amongst our best teachers – they all live in the moment. I’m always observing this, whether it is a bird, wild animal, pet, etc. I feel so privileged as I enjoy gardening and for the first time I have a little robin who comes very close – I even had him eating out of my hand on one occasion. He is becoming so tame that I have to watch I don’t tread on him! He loves to watch me dig so that he can harvest the worms! Yes, animals are very much our teachers. <3 xx

  10. L Walker on April 20, 2013 at 7:48 am

    I quite often have chats with my wire haired vizsla, he’s a very good listener! And you’re so right about dogs living in the moment, something I am really trying to work on – and they just think everything is completely brilliant which is a great reminder of maintaining a positive mental attitude! I can’t imagine my life without a dog, we have 2 daughters but he is as much a part of our life as they are. Great post, David, thank you

  11. Pat A on April 20, 2013 at 8:30 am

    My friends and I (each with as many rescue animals as we can manage) all agree that animals save us many times a day and help us see the love and beauty of the universe – and feel God’s love through their attitude to life. The utter joy that they exude is just astonishing – and helps us to realise that we can feel it too (some times are easier than others) – but they are so wonderful!

    I once met a deeply depressed dog (who was only six years old!) and it was because although her owners walked her, they never looked at her or talked to her or interacted with her in any way – and the poor dog looked as though she was on her last legs at six years because of being so ruthlessly ignored – and I swore that no matter what it cost me with my health, my animals would come first and be happy!

    What is the diminutive of Oscar? What do you call Oscar when you give him a cuddle or a tummy rub? When you look at dog names, most are capable of being made into a diminutive (Elsa turns into Ellie, Pete into Petey, and so on) – all so we can say them with a smile in our voices – it is much easier to say Reggie with a smile than Reginald(!) – much easier!

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 23, 2013 at 3:49 pm

      Hi Pat, I call him ‘Puppy’. It seems to fit. 🙂

  12. Anna Rooney on April 20, 2013 at 10:18 am

    since getting my wee dug zak my anxiety disorder has got better and better. i can communicate without words to wee zak and he can let me know what he wants or needs its truly amazing. i was scared sometimes to go out the house but now everyday i see the sunrise and be close to nature because of our walks and at night i get to gaze at the night sky and see the moon and stars. he is my gift from the universe 🙂

  13. Linda on April 20, 2013 at 10:55 am

    It’s not only dogs that teach us – although I have to admit that your Oscar is very cute :-). My cat Max was without doubt a very old soul and as well as teaching me about unconditional love, patience and play, if I wasn’t living up to his high standards I would get quite a telling off. LOL
    That may sound a little crazy but everyone who met him a) loved him and b) was amazed by his vocal range!
    Max was my comfort and my joy as all my cats have been 🙂 x

  14. Carol on April 20, 2013 at 10:59 am

    This is soo true David! I lost both my boys 3 and 4 years ago whilst they were still young and I miss them terribly – it’s the first time in my whole life I have lioved without a dog and I miss the happy face, waggy tail and unconditional love which used to greet me each time I walked through the door. So one of my new goals is to have another dog (once I have a home of my own where I can have a dog again!)

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 23, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      Sorry to hear you lost your boys Carol. I hope you’re able to have another dog again soon. 🙂

  15. Jacqui on April 20, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Hi David and Oscar

    Great to hear how much love you are generating from your relationship. If ever you fancy visiting an animal sanctuary you will find that cows, pigs, sheep, bulls, chickens and all other animals also embody the same qualities as our beloved dogs – they just don’t get the same opportunities to cultivate relationships with us as our canine friends. Compassion and awareness are definitely the way for us to grow and develop as a species – and with farm animal sanctuaries popping up everywhere, we are evolving very quickly – thank goodness. Big oxytoxin hugs to you all xxx

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 23, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks Jaqui, and big oxytocin hugs to you too. 🙂

  16. Lucy on April 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    So pleased that you have Oscar in your life. I’ve had Kai, my cocker spaniel for 8 years now. I wouldn’t want to be without him. The walk on the beach in the fresh air and sunshine just wouldn’t be the same on my own.

  17. Cathy Curley on April 20, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    My friend has a labrador Oscar who is now 5. He looks exactly like your’s. I remember him as a puppy he was so adorable and well behaved . I don’t have a dog , but my two cats bring me so much joy . They are both there to greet me when I open the door, which is lovely when you live alone .

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 23, 2013 at 3:43 pm

      That’s quite synchonistic Cathy. I had two cats growing up and now a labrador with the same name as your friends’. 🙂 Oscar is well behaved… sometimes… 🙂 He’s a typical puppy – anything hanging down is a toy and everything is a game. 🙂

  18. Chris lynch on April 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    I have three springer spaniels, jack sprat (dad), Molly (mum) and spring (their pup – although he is nearly five now, not so much a puppy). These dogs are a gift from God, they have been a structure in my life when it felt as if everything was falling apart, and they love me unconditionally whatever mood I am in. I also have a horse Ben, who although doesn’t show love quite the same way as the dogs, I have such a bond with him that he has been an invaluable part of my life for twenty years. I thank God for these friends because He has used them to sustain me in some very difficult times.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 23, 2013 at 3:42 pm

      Sounds like your dogs add so much richness to your life Chris. 🙂

  19. Rosie Cheshire on April 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    I recently went to a friends funeral who was a dog lover The vicar said he didnt know the deceased but understood she had a love of animals.He mentioned he didnt want a dog didnt understand them but had played football with a white Rhino.After the service I informed him dogs teach us playfulness,loyalty,and unconditional love .Asking him” what did the Rhino teach you coordination” his reply” I suppose your trying to convert me”. No of coarse not I said, some of us get a lot more out of life than others. St Francis of Isisi was often littered in birds due to his magical aura.Yes David how lucky are we. Rosie

  20. PENNY DEAN on April 21, 2013 at 8:43 am

    I love animals and particularly dogs but cannot have one in the house because I have a dust mite allergy. My empathy with them is very great and is reciprocated by the dogs I constantly stop and play with in the street Most of their owners don’t seem to mind and I feel like a small happy child when I do this. I am beginning to wonder if the allergy is a habit of deprivation assimilated from my parental treatment that I can never have what I want or need and whether if I am able to “self love” my allergy will go and I will be able to have a dog of my own.

  21. PENNY DEAN on April 21, 2013 at 8:52 am

    I love animals and particularly dogs but cannot have one in the house because I have a dust mite allergy. My empathy with them is very great and is reciprocated by the dogs I constantly stop and play with in the street. Most of their owners don’t seem to mind and I feel like a small happy child when I do this. I am beginning to wonder if the allergy is a habit of deprivation assimilated from my parental treatment that I can never have what I want or need and whether if I am able to “self love” my allergy will go and I will be able to have a dog of my own

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 23, 2013 at 3:40 pm

      That’s an interesting analysis Penny. Is there any way you could try it out…maybe looking after a friend’s dog for a few days?

  22. Vida Green on April 21, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    I read your articual on Oscar and wish so much i could afford a dog…. that probably sounds insane as there are so may dog waiting for loving homes, but as a pensioner with limited funds vet bill are so frightening, my friend has had to find over £1100 for her little dog…. i wish you many happy years with your lovely pup…. and may be one day i too will be able to have a little dog to love. Best Wishes.v

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 23, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      Thanks for your kind comment Vida. I hope Oscar stays healthy and doesn’t need any visits to the vet. 🙂

  23. Alice on April 22, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    I never wanted a dog as I didn’t want the commitment. A year ago my next door neighbour declared she didn’t want her 2 year old cholcolate Labrador, Hershey, any more as her new man didn’t like dogs.
    I couldn’t bear it that Hershey was going to be taken back to her breeder so offered to take her on.
    I have never regretted that offer and a year on have totally fallen in love and bonded with her. She has enhanced my life beyond belief. She makes me exercise everyday, rain or shine, is great company and the loyalist friend I have ever had.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on April 23, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      That was so kind of you Alice, giving Hershey a wonderful new home. I can really appreciate the bond you must have formed now and how she has enhanced your life. 🙂

  24. Lisa bsrry on April 22, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    My love and connection for my dogs past and present is undefinable it is so strong, the bond is something so special it is not possible to put into words! My dog and me are one! Such joy, happiness and knowing!