My dog Iris and I recently set out on an adventure to the West Coast of British Columbia. I had the best of intentions to journal during our adventure, but somehow the days were so full, it didn’t happen. I could look at this as a failure, or a sign of how my plans didn’t account for what an utter adventure it would truly be!
With that in mind, I’ll capture some key lessons I learned from Iris while on this adventure. It was certainly a time of rapid personal growth for both of us, and I have no doubt that I would not have survived were it not for her. She was the one who kept me going when I wanted to quit, the one who celebrated accomplishments with me, and the one who comforted me when I needed it. There is no doubt in my mind that many life lessons learned this trip were thanks to Iris.
1. Look Up.
I learned to take Iris’ lead and look up to see what caught her eye! Look up to the sky you’ll see hot air balloons soaring through the air. Look up into trees and enjoy the wonder of birds and squirrels who perch among the leaves. Look up at the eagles that fly over your head. Look up at the tips of the trees in the forest and watch them sway in the breeze. We spend a lot of time looking around, but not nearly enough time looking up. Iris reminded me to change my vantage point and look up!
2. Don’t Rush.
At times I was ready to go, but Iris wouldn't budge. I realized there’s no reason not to take a few extra minutes to enjoy the moment. Why watch a squirrel for 30 seconds when you can make the time to watch them for 15 minutes? If you have the time, enjoy the time. Whatever is around the next corner will still be there when you get there. And if it’s not, it probably wasn’t that important anyways.
3. Breathe deep.
Especially when you’re near the ocean. There’s something magical about it and that magic is in the air. The deeper the breaths you take, the more you get to experience that magical quality. The first day we were at the ocean, Iris stood with her toes in the sand and closed her eyes while her nose moved, wriggled and flared. I can’t flare my nostrils like she can, but I did my best to try.
4. Snacks & Naps are a good thing. When in doubt, eat it.
If you play hard, you should nap hard. It allows you to get back up again and go on that next adventure. Intersperse some good ol’ snacking into the mix for extra enjoyment and to keep your energy for adventuring up. If you aren’t sure, and there’s any doubt, just eat it. What’s the worst thing that can happen? (Iris' answer; you'll have to interrupt your nap with a trip outside...)
5. Don’t be afraid. Go for it.
After watching the squirrel for 15 minutes, Iris leapt over a railing
without a moment’s hesitation. She was so committed to getting that squirrel, she had no doubt that she could clear the railing, land on her feet and reach it. I was amazed that she was so fearless! She repeated this behavior a few times, but in the future with my encouragement. Without a pause, she would leap up onto something or over it, even when she couldn’t see the other side. And not once did she fall or fail. So why wouldn’t we take the leap in the first place?
6. Look out for each other.
If you see something that might hurt someone you love and trust, let them know. Iris would bark whenever someone came around a corner on a trail. At first I was frustrated by this, but then realized she was simply alerting us both to the fact someone or something was there. Often she knew they were coming before I did, and her bark would say “Mom, look out.” There were times I knew someone was coming before she did, and I’d let her know with “Iris, there’s a person coming.” If you look out for one another you’re less likely to be frightened. It also builds trust so that your partner knows you’ll never hurt them, put them at risk and be there to protect them if needed. It also was practical given all the Wolf Warning signs along the trails!
7. Dig deep.
Iris literally dug deep on the beach. She was certainly made for digging with her webbed feet and incredible strength! But she also reminded me that when times get tough and you feel like you can’t go any further, you can. This goes hand in hand with the next point.
8. Even when you don’t believe in yourself, someone else does.
There were many times I wasn’t sure that I could do a hike or make a drive. During one hike, I was filled with doubt and fear because the trail was not well marked. I didn’t know that I could find the way and was terrified we'd be lost. But there was Iris, leading the way and turning around to look for me with a smile on her face. She had no doubt we could make it! There were times that Iris didn’t think she could climb over a log or large rocks on the beach, but I would go first and show her the way, and she would follow. When we were on the street and she would see new people and be scared, I would encourage her and she’d continue on. By the end of the trip, the two of us together were pretty well unstoppable. We can do more than we believe we can, if we just have the right environment to succeed and the right partner by our side.
9. If you love someone, let them know. And forgive them quickly.
I’m not sure how often Iris would give me a lick on the hand, or look at me with a smile on her face. At night, she would snuggle right beside me. It was incredible to have her climb up on a log to sit next to me and nuzzle in under my arm to watch the ocean together. There were little moments that she said ‘I love you’ without having to say a word. And because of that, we also had to forgive quickly. When there are only two of you sharing an adventure and one of you makes a mistake that upsets the other, you have to forgive quickly and move on. After untangling the leash and accidentally kicking Iris in the nose, she’d rush up to me in a play bow and give kisses as I knelt down and apologized profusely.
10. Approach everything with excitement.
Every day was the best day for Iris. Whether she was meeting someone for the first time or the fifth time, she would wag her tail and curl her body. She hit the trail with a smile and vigor each and every time. Whether we were driving a short distance or a long distance, she jumped in the car and looked out the window, eagerly waiting to see what was next. Not a single moment was boring for her, and every moment was an opportunity for something new and exciting.
11. The bond we share with a dog is unlike any other.
The adventure we shared was unique because only one of us could plan, make the decisions and execute on them. The other was just along for the ride at the mercy of the choices being made. This sort of relationship requires complete trust. It means that you hold responsibility for the safety and experience of another being. The relationship is built on non-verbal communication, or verbal communication in two very different 'languages', which requires greater effort and engagement to understand. After nine days together, Iris and I reached a level of trust and understanding that is completely unique. It’s an incredible gift to have a bond with a dog, and it’s something that anyone lucky enough to have should be eternally grateful for. I know that after this experience, I am more aware of it, and more grateful for it.
I knew Iris was a great friend to me before this trip together, but the memories we made, the lessons I learned and the fun we had were unforgettable! If you've ever thought about going on an adventure with your dog, I highly recommend it!