I had never experienced unconditional love

Most of us grew up hearing about it, the story about what unconditional love is like. I did, too. I was just not ever able to believe in the concept though because for me, love always seemed to come with strings attached. As a young girl, I was always terrified that if I wasn’t a “good enough  girl” that my adoptive parents would pack me up and send me back to the orphanage from whence I came. And when I was a “bad girl,” it somehow always meant physical pain in the form of a beating. As a teenager, I came to understand that the boys who professed their love for me really only wanted sex. When I married my husband, the condition was that I give him children and lots of them. I gave him four. When I met my last partner after being alone for almost 8 years after my husband passed away, his condition was that I “not be difficult and we have lots of fun together!” And ONLY fun.  So, yes, for me, love always had conditions attached.

Until I adopted my little dog, Yoshi

I adopted Yoshi through a rescue organization when he was about 7 years old. He arrived at my door very malnourished and full of anxious behaviours. He licked his paws and his lips constantly. He had terrible separation anxiety and if I happened to go out, he would bark and bark for hours, until I returned. I only learned about that when a neighbour complained to me about it. What to do? How to help calm this poor anxious dog. First, I hired a dog behaviourist, a guy who came to my house for six weeks in a row and worked with me to help desensitize Yoshi to my absences. After that time, he was a little better but still not great. But at least I could leave the house and run errands for a little  while. Next, we went to doggie training school where Yoshi learned basic obedience commands such as sit, down, stay, leave it. He always had a questioning look on his face and it was at that point that it dawned on me that he might not speak English because he had grown up with a Japanese family. They had decided to “get rid” of him after he bit two of the children. No unconditional love in that household.

Clicker training school cemented it

At clicker training school he learned commands through positive reinforcement using a clicker. The change in him was astounding and nothing short of remarkable. Within three weeks, it was as if I had a completely different dog. But Yoshi was a fear biter and I knew that when I got him. Over the first five years that I had him, he must have bitten me at least 10 times. He learned the word, “NO!” but it still didn’t stop him. I learned to help him be less fearful by always saying his name and making sure that he looked at me before trying to touch him. That made a big difference. I learned how to read his body language so that if he was afraid for some reason, I could calm him. I also learned how to establish myself as the pack leader. All of these things meant that I could love Yoshi and keep him without conditions. We learned to love each other that way.

Dogs know much more about unconditional love than humans do

ogs are amazing and they are the true teachers of what unconditional love really means. He was always happy to see me whenever I came home. It didn’t matter what kind of day I had had, he would greet me with a smile and a head nudge, asking for a pat, his tail-o-meter going at a hundred miles an hour. When my former partner assaulted me and the relationship came to a screeching halt, Yoshi was there to comfort me, cuddling up next to me in the bed and licking my tears. He was always there, come hell or high water. He always accepted me, warts and all. Most of us expect that our parents will love us unconditionally and some of us get that but some of us don’t. Some of us have children who have rejected us for a variety of reasons. Things happen in life. No doubt about it. But my dog loved me unconditionally almost from the first moment I met him. He never criticized me or tried to shame me. He never argued with me or contradicted me. Are those the hallmarks of unconditional love? Can you ever expect to get that from a partner in a relationship? No, I don’t think so. But for a child who grew up always afraid she would be discarded and unloved (again), deciding to adopt my doggie was the BEST decision I ever made. He was a truly healing force in my life and even though I had to euthanize him a few weeks ago, I will never forget him. I will always be indebted to him for all the wonderful things he gave me over the 8 years I had the honor of loving him in return.

Have you experienced the unconditional love of a dog? If so, please feel free to comment here.