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Sit, stay...meditate?

I didn't grow up with dogs, so when my husband suggested we get one, I wasn't sure if I wanted a four-legged creature chewing on my shoes or nagging me for walks. Two years later, I can honestly say that it was exactly what I wanted and never knew it.

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Caring for a feisty little rescue Chihuahua named Sebastian has not only taught me about proper dog-park etiquette and why I should keep my shoes stored safely out of sight, but more surprisingly, it has taught me mindfulness and appreciation for life's simple pleasures. And I’m not alone; medical research shows that pets can actually improve our physical and emotional health. Pet ownership—especially dog ownership—is believed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Animals are also shown to reduce anxiety in populations including college students, psychiatric patients and children. Not to mention the physical, psychological and social benefits of walking a dog several times per day. Here’s a look at the lessons my dog has taught me. Enjoy nature Each time we go for a walk, Sebastian revels in the feel of grass or sand under his paws and the smells of the outdoors. As a work-at-home freelancer, I could (in theory) go for days without leaving the house, but Sebastian ensures that I get my regular dose of vitamin D. He also gives me an excuse to explore different parts of the city on a sunny day, which is good for both of us. Tune into the details I’m so used to our usual haunts—the dog park, the patch of grass outside our condo—that I sometimes let my mind drift to my to-do list instead of noticing things like flowers or street musicians. But Sebastian seems to notice everything as the season and his surroundings change, and he observes these details with a childlike curiosity that I’ve come to admire. To him, our walks are anything but repetitive, because there’s always something new to sniff or explore and new friends to charm with his big floppy ears.

Let things go Sebastian doesn't hold grudges like most humans do. When he's upset about taking a bath or wearing a Santa hat (sorry, buddy, it won’t happen again) or not getting table scraps, he'll voice his frustrations instead of letting it fester and bringing it up later. Then after five minutes of moping, he's back to cuddling and licking his humans as if nothing ever happened. His unconditional love reminds me to forgive him more quickly when he chews a pair of headphones or sneaks into the bedroom to unmake the bed. Take time for play Sebastian can burrow under blankets, balance on his hind legs, chase around tennis balls and play-wrestle with other dogs for hours. Who needs Animal Planet when you have the world’s goofiest dog hoarding all the household’s slippers or rolling around on your living room rug? It may not be intentional on his part, but Sebastian reminds me of the importance of silliness and makes sure I spend a few minutes every day away from my laptop, laughing at his antics. Get lots of rest A tired, frazzled mind is an unproductive one. Unlike their multi-tasking, over-worked humans, dogs focus on one task at a time, whether it’s eating, playing or cuddling. They also sleep for 12 to 14 hours per day, in between visits with the delivery guy or trips to the dog park. Sebastian loves to nap on the couch, in patches of sunlight or on my lap. He treats self-care like it’s his job, and if I spend too many consecutive hours sitting at my desk, he nudges me outside, reminding me that it’s time for a break for both of our sakes.

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