Living the Dream Merida The Space Between

Life Lessons I Learned from my Dog

Also published by the great folks at Elephant Journal

I am a self-help addict. I love to read how others have met adversity head on to become, at least in their minds, better people.

The fabulous and funny George Carlin observed that there is “no such thing” as self-help: anyone looking for help from someone else does not technically get ‘self’ help; and one who accomplishes something without help, did not need help to begin with”.

He has a point. Regardless George, I love to read anything that is remotely well written on the subjects of finding inner peace, living your best life, and kicking ass as an introvert.

Iggy dreaming
Iggy dreaming

Recently it dawned on me that I have the best self-help guru right at my feet. I have been spending an exorbitant amount of time with my dog lately and I gotta say—that canine has his sh#t together. At the very least, his priorities are worth noting, and I’ve learned many valuable lessons from him. So here it is, the world according to Iggy.

You don’t have to be the alpha dog but somebody does or you get nowhere

I remember my first trip to Europe with my best friend. We were 18 years old and clueless. We were best friends but terrible travelling companions. Neither of us could make a decision to save our lives so nobody ever got their needs met. Years later with a few careers and continents under my belt, I’ve learned that I don’t always have to be the decision maker but I have to have a decision at the ready if no one else does. Alpha dogs know this and you can bet your milkbone they get their needs met.

Wake up happy

Life can weigh you down and sometimes, even in the light of day, you can’t shake it off. There’s nothing worse than waking up crabby and taking it out on our supposed loved ones. Iggy doesn’t have a wrong side of the bed and I envy that. Me? I go to yoga. Some people meditate, some work out, some have sex. I think if you’re Sting you have all of the above. However you face the morning, it’s important to tune in to yourself in a way that leaves you relaxed and calm and ready for whatever the day has in store.

Not all dogs are worth knowing

Your dog knows this, my dog knows this and no one is the worse for it. If I listen to my spidey sense just a little more often when it comes to people or situations, I could save myself a ton of grief. I think it’s part of my upbringing—smile and be nice and don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Screw that. Some people just need to be kept at arms length so trust your gut and if you’re not sure, trust your best friends gut.

Looking sheepish and skulking off in a corner means “I’m a butthead and I’m sorry”

I have a real problem saying ‘I’m sorry’ and I’m not alone. ‘You’re right’ and ‘I’m sorry’…what is the deal with that? For some reason the human race seems to have an issue with this one so maybe we should all just hang our heads and go lie in the corner when we’re sorry. Then you’ll come over and pet us and everyone will be happy again. Nobel peace prize here I come.

Lick your wounds til they heal

I know this doesn’t sound profound but it is. Like many of you, I’ve carried around a boat load of hurt in my time and more often than not, my bandaid was all too temporary, or equally harmful. Dogs don’t let up until they’ve licked that wound clean, never giving it a second thought. Ya, sometimes they need the cone over their head because they don’t know when to let up, but I equate this with my wine consumption. A glass can lend clarity, a bottle just makes things worse.

Slobber when you’re happy

When was the last time you expressed unfiltered joy at some mundane thing, like dogs do almost constantly? I became less expressive in my life because life was a serious business, dammit. Now that I’ve hit my 50s and come out the other side of some serious sh#t, I’ve realized that expressing joy is just about the most fun a person can have – and it’s contagious.

Play well with others, but if someone’s being a dick, show ‘em your teeth

I was raised in a family that did not express much emotion so baring my teeth does not come naturally. I’m not a yeller, or a dish thrower or a crier or a screamer. I did throw a plate once but it was in Greece and the whole family was throwing plates so I don’t think it really counts. For some reason I’m attracted to hot blooded emotional types, and through those relationships I’ve learned to find my own voice, even if it’s more a hum than a howl.

When you’re patient you get cheese

Iggy can be an asshole but if there’s a remote chance a piece of cheese is in the offing, he will sit nicely for hours. Okay, maybe minutes, but the point being, he always seems to get what he wants when he’s patient. I’ve found the same to be true. Every time I panic about something and get pushy, things don’t usually go my way. On the other hand, if I picture what I want and put things in motion, taking cues from others, voila! Cheese!

Don’t try to hump someone 5 seconds after you meet them

I don’t think this actually needs an explanation but just in case, go to a dog park and watch what happens when Rowdy thinks he can ignore this common courtesy.

Always be ready to go for a walk, always

Walking is good medicine. It clears your head, it’s a form of exercise, and you can do it anywhere. Iggy is always up for a walk, no matter what. Which means he’s always up for exploring the world around him. And I think that’s pretty cool and the best lesson I’ve learned from him yet.

In October 2012, I drove 6,800 kms with my artist husband, Ric Kokotovich (, and my dog Iggy, to spend 6 months in our adopted city of Merida. Leaving the fast paced world of Calgary behind, I packed my books, art and entrepreneurial spirit, and set off to explore what lay beyond the borders that had become my life. In October 2013 we hit the road south again, hoping to find out what ‘living the dream’ really means. This is my adventure.

19 comments on “Life Lessons I Learned from my Dog

  1. Mary Paston

    Oh Alison, This is your best BEST BEST!!! I love it….substitute Gracie for Iggy…lessons learned from our four legged gurus. The wonderful mexican street dogs in Ajijic are a lesson a minute too!! Well done!! We are in Tapalpa…it is freezing fucking cold..,what is with us???? Everyone else goes to the beach to escape the noise of the Fiesta de San Andres…but is beautiful and your Pa just got a raging fire going in our chiminea in our little posada..I had a killer tamale de acelga (chard) and a good glass of red wine. Life is good. I love your new writer persona.

    Sent from my iPad


    • I feel like I’m finally finally getting my groove back so who knows…this life business is a funny thing! I wish I was there by the fire sharing a glass of wine with my ‘sista’ and kindred spirit! I send huge!!

  2. Love it, Ali! Makes me almost want to get a dog….almost!

  3. I think you left out “If someone doesn’t offer you a crispy baguette there are plenty of ways to get it yourself”. A whole lesson on not being dependent on others to give you what you want/need. And when you focus and use your own wiles to get it…it always tastes that much sweeter.
    No one knows this better than Iggy and Fitz and we can all learn from that.
    Love this piece! You are so insightful and an excellent writer.

    • I was trying to downplay the fact that he is a bread thief and beyond rehabilitation. I loved your lesson! and thanks for the encouragement Leanna!

  4. What I learned from Iggy – if you bring someone the ball, they will throw it for you. He expects good things and he gets them 🙂

    • I love it Pam! Ric teases me about being a Polyanna but i guess its my nature…I’ve been bringing people the ball ever since I can remember. Guess Iggy and I are kindred spirits 🙂

  5. Alison, I loved this. So true in so many ways….we just need to look to the dogs to teach us….simple yet so well written and so insightful.

    One other lesson, always be up for a nap……naps refresh, naps relax, naps rejuvenate, naps reset our day….can you tell I love my naps…..and I always take one with my 3 dogs….and sometimes I even drool cause I am so happy I am napping….pure joy!

  6. I just wish I lived somewhere I didn’t have to spend 10 minutes bundling up to go outside for a walk. Sigh. I need to move!

  7. Allie – love this piece – thoughtful and playful – great combination. I love to watch Hitchens run with pure joy and abandonment – he reminds me that running is my natural instinct. Now if I could get him to pick up his own sh*t.

  8. Now I miss having a dog. But I do remember having one – thanks for the reminders. Well written my friend.

  9. What a great article. So many truths and I love how you write. I too have learned so much from my dog and the words that come out of my mouth for her are always meant for me. i.e. “don’t be afraid, you can do it” “I’m here for you” I love you so much” yep, our dogs can represent our inner child.

    • Thanks for reading Lori. I have received so many more Life Lessons from others that I’m thinking I need to do a follow up post. And I love your own words, thx for sharing😊

  10. Wonderful, wonderful post. And that picture of Iggy dreaming, I don’t know what to call it… a philosophical portrait? 🙂

  11. Linda Wollin

    Loved this and makes me miss my pup more than ever! So glad you gave me your
    site Alison – I love your writing………..:)

    • Well thank you my friend. Writing has become an almost full time passion for me and making a monumental life change like moving to Mexico from Canada gives me lots of inspiration! Thanks for sharing your thoughts xo

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