My dog has never harmed a living creature.. Not to say she hasn’t tried. She’s chased rabbits, sprinted after the elusive chipmunk and squirrel, pursued our backyard groundhog and even attempted to catch a bird in flight. I really don’t think her instinct is to kill- even when she had captured a grasshopper that had lost use of two of its legs, she only toyed with it between her front paws, never actually doing any fatal harm. To her it’s a game and the prey she sets her eyes on are just toys in perpetual motion.
At eleven years and seven months old, she still pounces after scurrying animals as we go on morning walks. Sometimes her attempts seem so feeble that I wonder if she’s acting more on instinct than intention. She will lift her rear towards the sky and ready her now-shaky legs to spring in to forward movement, her play-thing in the cross-hairs. Lurching towards the doubtlessly-faster-and-more-nimble-than-her creature, she excitedly goes in for the non-kill, relentlessly returning to me with tail in a high-wag. No matter how many times she’s failed, she never gets discouraged and never loses her willingness to try again.
I thought back to all the things in my life I’ve vehemently pursued and dropped when success hadn’t come after the first few attempts. I thought of the frustration I’ve felt when I didn’t catch what I had thrown myself after. I thought of the immense sense of discouragement that ominously grew darker whenever I let an opportunity slip away. All these negative feelings, brewing within me. All those missed chances that just might have gone right had I tried just one more time. Had I kept my proverbial tail wagging, regardless of a win or fail or had I not let one negative outcome effect my expectation of the next attempt… what could I have accomplished by now? How much frustration, anger and disappointment could I have avoided?
Understandably, my dog’s mental capacity is a bit different than mine. Blessed and cursed by a higher level of brain function than that of a house pet, it’s harder for me to hold no attachment to a past failure in order to try again with an equal amount of gusto, but there is always a line that can be towed between being logical fact-sorting realist and a hopeful life-of-a-dog-inspired dreamer.
Cognitively, I can change my method of attack in order to increase my chances of success on the next attempt, but I don’t have to feel so dejected with each unsuccessful try. Learning from my furry companion, I can be happy that I even went for it at all, wasting not even a passing moment on the negative feeling of having failed. Not once had I seen Biscuit drag her tail between her hind legs, even though her rate of success remains at a whopping 0%. Not once have I seen her stress out over letting the bird fly away or the squirrel scurry up a tree.
Perhaps she knows that there will be other opportunities, or maybe she understands that there is more to life than a failed moment (or fifty!). It’s possible she knows that regardless of if she catches the chipmunk or not, I will hug, love and kiss her, free of judgment of her poor hunting skills. Could it be that this dog with the simple mind knows secrets to life happiness that I do have yet to learn? In this case, it seems to be that way. She seems to have figured out how to remain enthusiastic about pursuing goals and chasing targets. She may never catch her prey in the span of her hopefully-long lifetime, but one thing is for certain: with a smile across her face and a nonstop wag in her tail, she will never, ever give up.