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What is a "heart" dog?

If you’ve ever owned a dog, chances are you’ve heard this term before – heart dog. What does it mean? I suspect it has slightly different meanings for everyone but the common theme is that a heart dog is that dog who shares your life for a finite period of time that has such a special connection with you that transcends normal human/canine relationships.

It got me thinking about my own experiences with heart dogs and how it relates to other people. My first dog was my heart dog. He had a very steady personality, neutral to people and other dogs but he chose me to be his special person. He followed me everywhere, even from room-to-room in our home, I took him on outings, he accompanied me on errands, I planned my social schedule around fun activities that I have planned for him. And in return, he taught me unconditional love and most importantly to my mental health, he taught me to live in the moment and enjoy each minute we spent together. He got me through the death of my mother by always being there silently chipping away at the sadness by just sharing space with me. He carried me through that first year after I lost my mom and never asked anything in return.

The outside world melted away when we were on one of our many adventures. And then he got sick far too early in life and he taught me how to adjust expectations and compassion. During that dark time of his illness, I modified what we did but still made time to do the things he loved to do. He couldn’t walk very far but I knew how much he loved being out in the fresh air and sniffing all that Mother Nature had to offer. So I scouted out parks that were new to us where we could walk but still be close enough to the car in case he was too tired to walk back. We had picnic lunches together where we ate his favorite foods and just relaxed in the sunshine. And when he was too sick to go and his illness was destroying his body, I made the ultimate sacrifice and said goodbye to my best friend.

That was my definition of a “heart dog”.

There was a huge emptiness in my life after he passed. I had spent two years caring for him and since that was no longer needed, I didn’t have anything to fill the time, time that we always spent together.

And then the next dog came along. I had been volunteering with a Rescue Organization in an effort to fill the hole left by not having a dog in my life and I came across him on their web site. There was something about him that captured me and I immediately made arrangements to make the drive to meet him several states away. I had definite ideas of what I wanted and the single biggest quality had to be that he was nothing like my dog that I had just lost. Nobody would ever compare to him, my heart dog. So we came home with a 10 month old pup who was roguishly handsome, full of life and made me smile every time I looked at him. And I was so sad that making me smile that often was a huge accomplishment on his part. He gradually made the sadness recede and eventually allowed me to remember my “heart dog” with happy memories that made me smile.

Dog #2 certainly wasn’t anything like my first dog. He had anxiety, stress, fear issues, boundless energy and was wicked smart. Uh oh, I was really out of my league but he was my responsibility so I rose to the challenge and started down the path of knowledge so that I could learn how to help him lead a better life. Because of that journey, he changed the direction my life is headed and helped me develop a passion for training dogs that I didn’t know existed. I manage his world to ensure he has the best possible experiences free of the things that trigger him and in return he gives me unconditional love and continues to make me laugh every day. My heart swells when I see him sleeping on the couch looking angelic and when he snuggles up against me while I watch TV to unwind after a long day. We train and learn new skills constantly and have learned to communicate on a deeper level because we watch and listen to each other. We had a training session last night and we were working on concept learning. We hit a wall and couldn’t progress past a certain level and then I sat back, observed his behavior, formed a plan based upon what I know about how he learns and then be blew through those obstacles and achieved the final success.

Guess what? He is my new definition of a “heart dog”.

Maybe it is because I choose to only live with one dog at a time so each dog has my undivided attention and I can mold them in to the perfect creature for me at that specific time in my life. Maybe I am just one of those people who will always develop a deep bond with the dogs that I choose to share my life with. Maybe I am open to being chosen by those who need me the most at a specific time in their lives. Who knows? I am just grateful to be able to experience that deeper bond with other creatures and to learn from them.

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