What can you learn about yourself through your relationship with your dog?

woman and her dog under a tree
Author Marissa Martino is the owner of Paws and Reward and host of the Canine Conversations podcast.

A lot of people say that relationships are hard. At times, I agree with them. However, I am not sure it is the relationship that is hard. It’s what comes up for us emotionally as individuals when we experience ourselves through the lens of that relationship. In other words, relationships can be confronting!     

When I adopted my dog from the Humane Society of Boulder Valley in 2009, I knew I was getting a hiking buddy, a snuggle partner and a friend to train with. I was so excited, I could burst! What I didn’t know is that I was also getting a mirror. 

When Sully did not show up the way I needed or wanted him to, I would get frustrated with him and myself. I felt helpless in these moments and deeply embarrassed since I am a dog trainer and “should ” be able to prevent any or all unwanted experiences. Oh, naive Marissa! 

It was during these painful moments that I realized projecting my feelings of shame and discomfort onto Sully would not change anything. It only made me feel worse and created tension within the relationship. 

So, I decided to protect our relationship and instead started to unpack my emotions. It was a scary concept, but I figured my dog was worth it. I learned to process my concerns away from him and then rejoin our relationship feeling refreshed with a behavior and training plan to help support his needs, which would also benefit my own needs. This was the answer to sustainable behavior change in both Sully and myself.     

This lesson has taught me core principles in not only my relationship with Sully but also my human relationships. Connecting with people on a deep and intimate level is one of my favorite parts of life. Sully has given me self awareness, relationship skills and a gentle reminder to prioritize looking at others through the lens of partnership and collaboration rather than isolation and disappointment.  

What can YOU learn about yourself through the relationship with your dog?