What My Rescue Dog Taught Me About Growth
- Erin Swanson
This season is all about seeking new experiences to better understand ourselves and the world around us. Testing our limits to find out where they are – or aren't – and going beyond our comfort zones to learn, grow, heal, and explore the world from different a perspective.
In this story, blog contributor Erin Swanson shares how her rescue dog, Odin, has grown, adapted, transformed... and how he's inspired her to do the same.
As I write this, my scruffy Australian Shepherd-Coonhound mix, Odin, snuggles up underneath my desk. He is a hodgepodge of a dog—spotted ears, speckled fur, and double-dew claws dangling off his back paws like boot spurs. Odin is goofy and loving. In our four years together, this pup has taught me volumes about growth and healing. But, that’s not how it started.
How It Began
In his early puppyhood, Odin had been a stray in Lytle, Texas. Hoarders then captured him, but his life didn’t improve much in their care—he was left outside in an overcrowded backyard full of rowdy dogs. He was now at a kill shelter and riddled with heartworms. His first three years of life had been full of fear and mistrust. We knew he needed us.
My husband, Alex, and I picked Odin up at SFO airport. I’ll never forget how he paced back and forth in the airport’s caged dog patch. He eyed us suspiciously. Foolishly, I’d hoped he’d jump into our arms. Instead, he looked to me like a wild animal, petrified and searching for an escape.
Learning to Trust
Yet, every time Alex and I had our doubts, Odin would do something to show us that he was trying his best.
Several days into living with us, Odin began approaching us and resting his head on our knees. We would give him soft, gentle pets. With time, Odin sought multiple snuggles a day. He craved affection—he just needed it on his own timeline. Soon, he reached out for cuddles from our friends and family. He was slowly coming out of his shell.
Odin allowed himself to be vulnerable. He didn’t know us well yet, but he knew he wanted love. He knew that seeking affection was worth the risk.
Face Your Fears
Growth takes time. It’s putting one foot (or paw) ahead of the other each day. Going on walks was a big hurdle for Odin to overcome. Every sound made Odin jump—trucks and skateboards sent a chill down his spine. If a person tried to approach him, he’d cower behind us.
Gradually, Odin grew to love our walks, wiggling his plump body and tip-tapping his paws in excitement. He stopped focusing on his fear and turned his attention to every new sniff. Whenever I feel afraid, I remember Odin’s courage.
Dare to Learn New Things
In the beginning, Odin didn’t understand how to be a dog – at least, not a domesticated one. He knew how to hunt in the wild and cover his tracks, but play with a dog toy?
Alex and I decided to teach him how to play. We took turns throwing the ball for each other and returning it. We even played tug-of-war. Before long, Odin was caught up in the excitement, tail wagging furiously as he ran after the ball.
Odin could have shied away from learning new things. Instead, he jumped right in. He found time for play even when he was still learning to trust us.
Exploring New Terrain
Odin loves adventuring in the outdoors. We had taken him from his humid home in Texas to the hills outside of San Francisco—full of redwoods and ocean breezes. Odin explored each new terrain with a deepening thirst for adventure.
One year in, we uprooted him again, transporting him to our new home in Bend, Oregon. Winter hit, and Odin had never seen snow. At first, he refused to go outside, preferring to hold the urge to relieve himself over braving that chilly and damp substance.
After watching us tread into the powdery snow a few times (and not be swallowed whole), he decided to risk it and join us. Odin discovered that snow is actually delicious! The brisk air invigorated him. Now, he trots beside us as we snowshoe, having a blast.
Full of Love
Today, Odin is full of love. When we have friends over, he rushes excitedly to greet them. Despite his 60 pounds, he’ll sit on our laps, nuzzling his nose into our necks and showering us with kisses. While he didn’t leap into our arms the first time we met, he does now.
Odin could have let his past define him. He could have stayed away from new people and experiences. That might have been easier. But he would have been alone, trapped in fear. Instead, Odin embraced a world where humans are safe, play is a priority, and new experiences are worth the risk.
Open Your Mind to New Possibilities
We can hold fast to our fearful beliefs about the world, or we can let them go—opening up to new possibilities. And, if we face our own obstacles with even a measure of Odin’s courage and openness, then perhaps we can all grow, too.
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