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Lessons From A Dog

by on January 3, 2017

If I were a better librarian, I think I’d be more like my dog, Chief. Let me qualify that. It’s not that I wish I were obsessed with rabbits or think wistfully of having a tail to wag, but he does have characteristics that could benefit me if I emulated them.

It’s easy to worry about the issues that are facing public libraries: broadening service needs, shrinking public funding, and complex social problems. This is a great time of year, however, for me to refocus on something I can control: my own behavior. In my ongoing quest for excellence I follow blogs, read books, attend workshops and watch webinars. Perhaps, however, there is a simpler answer that is literally closer to home. I could learn a few lessons from my dog.

Chief is a great listener. Even though his mastery of the English language is limited, he excels at listening intently to what I have to say. As soon as I start to speak, his body language changes, showing me that he is focused on our communication. No one is perfect and there are times when he gets distracted (say, by a squirrel).  Generally, though, he assumes that whatever I have to say matters and it shows.

He’s also a star communicator. If he has an opinion on something—that it’s time for dinner, or a treat, or a belly rub, for example—he lets me know. As far as I can tell, he never goes off and gripes about me to the neighborhood dogs. He just asks directly for what he needs, and it’s quite effective. That doesn’t mean he gets everything he wants, but it does mean that I don’t have to try to read his mind, which is really helpful since I never enrolled in ESP 101.

In between our conversations, Chief finds joy in the small things. Is it time to get the cup of dry kibble he gets fed at every meal? Fantastic! Is he going along for a car ride? Marvelous! There are a lot of reasons why Chief could complain. His ideal family would have a stay-at-home-mom and eight kids, his schedule would include frequent doggie play dates, and he wouldn’t have been abandoned by previous owners. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, though, he revels in life’s small pleasures.

There’s one last trait Chief has that is truly admirable. He expects the best of people. When we’re out for a walk and encounter strangers, he’s sure he should get to know them. If he’s had a time-out in his crate for some infraction and I come to let him out, he’s delighted to let bygones be bygones. If company comes over, he knows he’s going to like them before they ever make it up the driveway. Barring signs of danger, Chief goes into face-to-face situations focusing on a past catalog of the very best of human behavior.

In 2017, I’d like to try following his tips: listen intently, communicate directly, find joy in the small things, and expect the best of people. Think how much it would help our libraries if every day we brought those behaviors to work with us. Perhaps we could make the year ahead just a little bit better by taking lessons from a dog.

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