“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
I’ve read and heard that saying my entire life and never really thought much about it. Until I actually tried teaching an old dog new tricks. Literally and figuratively.
Many of you know, and a few of you have met, my English bulldog, Jake (the dog). Jake is 9 years old now, which means he’s in the senior phase of his life in bulldog terms. Jake was never the brightest bulb in the batch and has struggled his entire life with even the most rudimentary of canine life skills. I’m pretty sure Jake has never learned his name, he doesn’t do fetch or seek attention beyond a scratch behind the ear, and the easiest way to get him to do something is to let him do it when HE decides to do it. Jake has been a cantankerous prick his entire life, and his twilight years are proving no different. Yes, yes, he’s my dog for sure!
These days Jake can’t walk very well, only leaves the couch twice a day, and when he’s outside, he often forgets where he is and sits down and drools while staring in the opposite direction of the house until he gets cold. Then he starts barking and squealing to have his 45-pound old ass picked up and carried back into the house or guided along towards the door a few feet at a time, growling at me the entire time. He’s a dick and nearly the complete opposite of his younger sister Lola, but I love him and hate seeing him this way.
By this point, you may be saying, “Cool story, bro. But why are you telling us about your old dick of a dog?” And I will respond by fist, saying, “Why the fuck do I share ANYTHING??” Then I will say, “I don’t know.”
Then, I will remember that Jake has an appointment at the vet tomorrow, and I’m a little anxious about it. I want them to be able to bring back a little bit of the old Jake, but I am a realist and know that Jake is a rapidly aging bulldog, so I will be content with some meds that might help his senility and improve his walking a bit, and some guidance on how to make his life a little more comfortable.
Whatever they say or do, I will have to learn to adapt to this phase of Jake’s life. That’s part of being a pet owner. I just hope Jake can maybe learn some things too.
If you started reading this thinking that I was the “old dog,” then you will not be disappointed in my final paragraphs here.
When I woke up this morning, I checked my email and saw the reminder for Jake’s appointment. Then I noticed that I had left my Garmin Connect Activities page open, along with 10 other web pages and memory sucking applications. I looked at the list of icons featuring hikers, walkers, runners, and cyclists going down my page, as well as the widely spaced dates between each of them and the minimal mileage, burned calories, and time totals in the columns to their right. I quickly began to chastise myself.
Then I remember that I am an old dog learning new tricks. So I stopped chastising myself, looked back at each event, remembered where I was, what I did, and how I felt during and after the activity.
There was a 2-mile solo hike at Meridian Park with my camera, a 2.75-mile hike with Wifey at the Sylvan Preserve, 40 minutes of “climbing” on Zwift™, some dreadmill walks watching footy on TV, and even a short run/walk workout. There were often several days separating each activity, but it doesn’t matter. I regretted none of them because each one of them meant something in some way. Like a foot massage (sorry, old Pulp Fiction reference.)
I wasn’t trying to push myself to my physical limits, but I was active and having fun whether I was getting a sweat on while listening to music, chatting with Wifey along the trail, or pushing my creativity in the woods with my camera during a solo walk.
I find it funny that even after writing posts about finding peace with who I am now, my first instinct was to judge myself on the numbers, not on the enjoyment I experienced, what I had seen, learned along the way, or what images I captured. And that’s sort of bullshit whether you’re 29 or 79 years old! Yes, there was a time in my life that embraced the physical and mental pain that comes from endurance sports, and like many others, I do/did find it “fun” in a twisted endorphin fueled sort of way, but I have to admit I am having fun pushing myself in other ways and learning new—less painful, but still challenging— tricks.
Enough is enough, wrap this shit up; I need more coffee!
Writing this has made me think of a story about my long retired father-in-law. Last year, we were at his house, and I saw a DVD lying near the TV about advanced calculus or some other math that I never got close to taking. I asked him about it, and he said that he was never that good at it and wanted to get better, so he picked up the DVD.
He wasn’t learning it, or re-learning it, because he had to. He has absolutely no reason in the world to get better at calculus other than wanting to push himself to keep learning and growing.
If you’re not learning new tricks—or at the very least growing and learning to embrace and love your life—then you are dying.
I’d like to think I made that phrase up, but I’m sure there are thousands of versions of it littering the posts of Instagram “coaches” from all over the world as they show you the importance of growing your “side booty.” Yet, despite its 110% cheese factor, I also have learned to truly believe that. (The importance of improving mentally, not side booty. Although I am admittedly a fan of all angles and parts of the female booty).
There is always room to grow, learn new things, and teach an old dog new tricks, even if it’s just learning to love who you are1, which I find harder to do than any 100-mile mountain bike I ever did.
NOTE: Today’s photos were captured during a 2-mile photo hike around Meridian Park where I averaged an intense 2 MPH average. I’m more than OK with that. The photos of Jake (the dog) were taken a couple months ago.
- One thing I’ve realized over the years is that when I was growing up, I was taught to love my parents, siblings, my grandparents, friends, enemies, strangers, and a mysterious, unseen, bearded old white man in the sky. But not once was ever taught to love myself and or who and what I am. It seems to me like that could have been a hell of life skill to learn. Thankfully it’s not too late for this old dog.