Man hugging dog

I was already married to my wife when I became a veterinarian. We quickly discovered that a career as a vet can put some stress on a marriage. I can’t tell you how many dinners I have missed because a patient needed me, how many social occasions I've attended at which I’ve arrived covered in cat hair, or how many times I have lobbied to bring home an animal that “just needs a place to stay for a while.”

However, I also have to say that I think I became a much better husband and partner after becoming a veterinarian. While I’d like to claim that any improvement has come from experience, maturity or wisdom, I think I have to credit the countless individuals I’ve met who have this whole lifelong-love thing down pat. They’re my canine patients, and I try to take pointers from them whenever I can.

Here are 10 lessons dogs have taught me about making marriage—or any kind of committed relationship—work.

1. Forgive mistakes. No matter what we humans do—scoot our dogs from comfortable seats in front of the television or go on walks or jogs without them when the weather is too hot or cold—dogs never hold a grudge. They forgive us our failings and don't dwell on our wrongs.

2.  Celebrate time together. How wonderful is it to come home to someone who’s always thrilled to see you? Whether we left the house five hours ago or five minutes ago, canine companions are over-the-moon thrilled to be reunited with us. In today's world of constant “busy-ness,” pausing to celebrate the entrance of a loved one doesn’t always happen. That common complacency makes the act even more powerful.

3.  Prioritize exercise. We live in a stressful world. Exercise is a great way to fight back against tension in our lives and also to have meaningful time with loved ones away from computers, phones and other distractions. I think most dogs would agree that we would all be better off if we spent more time together on walks.

4. Embrace the power of silence. Listening is hard work. Many of us (myself included) spend more time waiting for a turn to speak than paying attention to what our partners are telling us. Our dogs are never waiting to talk. They simply cock their heads and try their best to understand our message.

5. Show love in big and small ways. From laying their heads on our laps while we watch a movie to barking wildly and running in circles when we take them to the park, dogs let us know we are loved every single day.

6. Be yourself. In the words of the great sage RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Dogs have no interest in being anyone but themselves. I think this is why they can show affection so easily. They don’t want to impress. They just want to love.

7. Don’t forget to have fun. I have never met a dog who was too busy to have fun, but I have met plenty of people who are. (And at times, I’ve been one.) Life is too short not to play and feel good with those we care about.

8. Be loyal. Dogs don’t complain to their friends when we leave dirty dishes in the sink, gain a few pounds or show up late for an evening walk. I’ve never seen a dog make someone look bad.

9. Treat your loved ones even better than they deserve. We should all aspire to be the types of people our dogs think we are. The boost I get from my dog’s adoration reminds me to give that gift to others.

10. Give each other some space. My dog doesn’t understand some of my hobbies, like Facebook or reading. I don’t grasp the joy he gets from chasing birds or rolling in mud. Still, we get along splendidly. In fact, having time for each of us to pursue our individual hobbies keeps us happy and well balanced. After all, everyone needs some personal space from time to time.

A little extra work and attention goes a long way toward making a relationship stronger. So thanks to all the dogs out there for setting a great example and helping us humans be better partners!

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