Zen and the Art of Puppy Maintenance

When I was growing up, I always thought the saying went, “it’s a doggy dog world” given the actual meaning of the phrase. To me, I couldn’t reconcile the saying with what I knew was the meaning—”dog eat dog world”, one where everything is cutthroat and exhausting— with what I envisioned was that doggy dog world. The doggy dog world was pure joy, filled with naps and eating and lots of pooping with abandon. The alternative felt icky. Because it is. So what does this phrase have to do with setting boundaries and slowing down?

I didn’t know it then, but today I see how revolutionary my own interpretation was. A “kōan” of my own making. 

We recently got a puppy, a super cute puppy, who was, oh, so much work when we first got him. So I’ve been thinking a lot about the saying, mainly because having a 13-week old mini creature (he is now 1 year old, thanks baby Jesus) in the house forces you to slow the fuck down, learn some patience, and set priorities. See, the more I think about it, the more I think that my phrasing makes the most sense for those who want to live. Live. Live.

The sooner you learn that the path towards ease comes with doing less, so you can do more, the sweeter life gets. 

I have a job–a business (which probably counts for 3 jobs), a husband, a Puerto Rican mother, a Jewish mother-in-law, and a boat load of friends and family members that require my attention. As an Ivy League-educated woman, I’ve always prided myself in being able to do it all, all the time. I was self-taught at setting priorities. I held 3-4 jobs while going to college! I built a business while writing a 250-page dissertation and working odd jobs. Sure, I’ve been miserable, stressed, and exhausted, but, hooray?  

It finally took a tiny little pup to remind me the importance of taking a second to stop, center and refocus. When we first got Wesley, I had to lean into the fact that I am the 24/7 keeper of this being and that if I’m going to keep him from shitting all over my house, I have to give up a bunch of other things and be Ok with giving them up. I had to learn to be more patient with myself and with him. The sooner you learn that the path towards ease comes with doing less, so you can do more, the sweeter life gets.

Here are a few of the things that I had to come to terms with: 

Many things can take a backseat without life ending. Work is less important than getting this doggie to poop on the right spot. When we were house-training, that became the new priority. That doesn’t mean I will not come back to work once he finally does. Friends have taken a backseat. Sorry pal, this 4 pound little fellow controls my weekends now. Have a Bloody Mary in my name. I will definitely return to them once the potty training period is done. But in the meantime, I survive. What I pay attention to is definitely my choice.

sometimes loving others means you must set boundaries with those you love.

Speaking of things we pay attention to (or not): we simply suck at paying attention. Yes, I said it. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve looked up one too many times from my phone to see him squatting in my husband’s favorite tennis shoes. To best train him, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that today’s society (at the very least this member of the society) could really benefit from some good old-fashioned self-awareness and self-control. No more phone for you.

And you might as well throw in another self—for self care. That’s right boys and girls, what they say about children also applies to doggies. The more you love yourself, the more you can love them. I realized this quickly after I was able to finally wash my face with my fancy beauty products after a week of tending to the pup. Suddenly, the world smelled better (may also have been the deodorant I put on after my face wash). I was more pleasant to all around me (ask my husband).

If I had to pick a favorite epiphany from those days when I forgot to brush my teeth because I had to rush the pup outside, it’s this: sometimes loving others means you must set boundaries with those you love. Here’s what it might look like to set boundaries between me & my pup: I choose to put the pup in a pen while I take care of myself because he also needs to learn to take care of himself and self-soothe. I have plenty of relationships to apply this gem of wisdom to.

Case in point: the other day I fessed to someone that loaning them money had been a bad idea because it created a sense of false security for them. With a bit of self-importance and mucho gall, they said “I’m glad you recognize that.” After the shock of such an entitled response wore off, I realized that I had just freed myself from a burden that doesn’t belong to me and that I had put myself into.

And the reality is that failing to set boundaries with your loved ones is toxic for all–animals and humans. No one wins when you stunt the growth of those around you by not taking care of yourself first, making choices aligned with that and making sure you wash your face before you wipe other dog’s shit.

Go live your doggy dog world.



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