Animals As Teachers: Teaching by Example and Love

07 11 angel the dog
Angel Dog, partaking in one of his favorite activities: sitting in the passenger seat and going for a car ride. Photo credit: Marie T. Russell

Life surrounds us with teachers, if we are but willing to learn. Actually, everyone and everything in our life is our teacher. They teach by example something we'd like to attain or something we'd like to abandon.

One of my greatest teachers has been my dog, Angel. He appeared on our doorstep several years ago -- a tiny wet black bundle of fur. It had been raining all week and he was huddled by the doorstep trying to stay dry and get warm. I brought him in and put a sign up on the street to let his human family know he had been found. No one claimed him -- which was just as well since after a few hours I was definitely in love.

Part lab and part chow he was cute, affectionate, and a joy to have around. I named him Angel since I felt he had been brought to my doorstep by angels to serve as my teacher, my friend, my playmate, and be my guardian angel.

The Best Teacher is the One Closest to You

In the time that he's been with us he taught me many things. He's reminded me to take time to play, to go out in the fresh air and walk (or in his case, run like the wind). He's demonstrated exuberance for life, with a great capacity for joy, for excitement, for pleasure. He's reminded me when I've been working too many hours in a row that it's time to take a break and shown me by example that one must drink a lot -- and I mean a lot -- of water. He eats only when hungry, a few mouthfuls at a time and then goes on to something else. He gets very excited when something wonderful is coming his way.

Even the routine of a walk gets him so very excited. He's given new meaning to the expression "jump for joy" -- he jumps, twirls, and is so excited to go for a morning walk -- while I am barely awake, and going for a walk not only because I "should" but because I "have to" take the dog out. What a difference in attitude. He jumps excitedly -- I drag my feet.

Loving Life and Living Love to the Fullest

He has demonstrated to me, day after day, the importance of loving life and living life to the fullest. When we go out on paths -- me to walk, him to run -- to watch him run back and forth is such a pleasure to see as he puts "his all" into it. He runs for the pure joy of it -- not because he needs the exercise, or because his doctor told him he "should". He runs for the joy of running, for the sense of freedom, and the sense of adrenaline that fills his body. He runs to discover new trails, and he runs with abandon on the old trails as well. He doesn't care whether it's the same old same old -- he's excited to be alive and enjoys "being".

And he knows how to ask for love and how to accept it. When he rolls over to be petted, he simply lays there and enjoys. He accepts the love in the moment and then doesn't hesitate to come back and ask for more whenever he wants more. Many times when I'm working, he'll walk up beside me and stand quietly. If I'm busy and don't notice him, he'll simply walk away -- talk about respecting someone else's space.

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At other times, he'll bring in his toys one at a time -- and when I've broken my concentration on what I'm doing, I'll notice that I'm surrounded by his toys -- a silent invitation to come and play. He reminds me that there is always time to play -- and the opportunities are always there. He reminds me that I need to take short play breaks during the day -- just to get up and stretch (he always stretches when he gets up), to go say hello to the person in the next room, to take a drink of water, or just to say "hey, I'm here if you need me".

My Angel Dog: My Best Teacher!

Animals As TeachersWhat a teacher! He has reminded me of the importance of taking time for myself -- to play, to laugh, to go out into nature and enjoy the moment. He has reminded me of the importance of being loyal to friends, curious and interested in strangers, and always willing to explore new territories and adventures.

He has taught me to greet each day with a wagging tail (or a smile in my case), to always be happy to see family and friends, to get excited about going for a walk, about seeing a rabbit or a cat -- to be so delighted (and to show it exuberantly) when a friend comes to visit, to enjoy life to the fullest, and yet also know when and how to rest and relax to the fullest.

Angel Dog (his full name) is one of the best teachers I've ever had. Due to his being in my life, I've rediscovered the beauty of a free spirit. I now laugh a lot more. I take more time for me (and for him). I take time to play, to go out in nature, to remember to take short play breaks and short naps. He reminds me to stop and smell the flowers (or the weeds), to always be interested in exploring life, to start each day excited about going "out into the world" and checking it all out, once again.

Whether you have a dog as a teacher or not, there are many other opportunities to learn all these lessons -- perhaps you have children who are great master teachers. They also are willing and able to demonstrate all these lessons on how to live in the moment and to enjoy life no matter what -- rain or shine.

Addendum: Angel Dog left the physical body in October 2012 after gracing us with his presence for 10 years. He is missed and remembered with love and gratitude. We were blessed by all the love and joy he shared with us.


Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet
by Gary Kowalski.

Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet by Gary Kowalski.

From the moment pets come into our lives, we know the day will arrive when we have to say farewell. Still, we are never emotionally prepared for the last adieu.  In Goodbye, Friend, Gary Kowalski takes you on a journey of healing, offering warmth and sound advice on how to cope with the death of your pet. Filled with heartwarming stories and practical guidance on such matters as taking care of yourself while mourning, creating rituals to honor your pet's memory, and talking to children about death, Goodbye, Friend is a beautiful and comforting book for anyone grieving the loss of a beloved animal.

For More Info or to Order This Book (Revised 2012 edition) or download the Kindle edition.

About The Author

Marie T. Russell is the founder of InnerSelf Magazine (founded 1985). She also produced and hosted a weekly South Florida radio broadcast, Inner Power, from 1992-1995 which focused on themes such as self-esteem, personal growth, and well-being. Her articles focus on transformation and reconnecting with our own inner source of joy and creativity.

Creative Commons 3.0: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License. Attribute the author: Marie T. Russell, Link back to the article: This article originally appeared on

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