Learning to sleep from a dog

Of course everyone could write an article like this that starts out by saying how much they love their dog, why it is the best dog, why it is so cute and engaging, how it tilts its head and whimpers as it sits next to the dinner table, how adorably it poops and pees and how kindly it is to other animals.

I am not going to do that. My dog is named Lulu, a cross somewhere between a beagle and pit bull. I love her dearly but I’m not going to argue she is cute. She would bark like a police dog and perch at the window if you walked on the porch. Even if the behavior were innocent and frequent, the delivery of the latest Amazon thing, it would not matter. She would want to bite the bejaysus out of you.

I like this. I didn’t train her, she just does it naturally. Of course you have to be careful with a dog like this. She is as delicate with children as she is aggressive with adults. I don’t know why, but this is the truth. I have never seen her growl or leap at any child.

Not so with adults and some other dogs. But not all dogs. She seems completely comfortable with the dogs of our neighbors. She even wags her tail at the handsome shepherd that occasionally walks in front of its owner down the street.

But none of this is my point. My point is what I have learned from my dog about an important matter. No, not security. No, not eating rabbit poop appetizers in the back yard.

Sleep. The dog is masterful at sleeping and I have come to try to imitate her casual, comfortable nature at the task.

Here sits Lulu, on her blanket and preparing to sleep. She is thoughtful about this.

This picture shows her sleeping equipment, an old LL Bean dog blanket that has served us through two other pets. This is a thing she loves. When we come in the door after she has been alone, she rushes to it and shakes it furiously, just to get rid of the energy and excitement at our return. We stuff it in the washing machine when it gets too doggy (Dog owners know that smell) and it pops out fine and ready for more determined used.

Dogs don’t settle in easily, which was the first lesson I took from Lulu’s behavior. There is no point at all in trying to sleep if you are not ready to sleep. She grabs a ball and plays with it, or bites Mr. Squeaky and tosses it around, or sits under the living room table and gazes out like a lion waiting to pounce. Then she moves to the blanket and adjusts it. That can involve anything from moving it to some other place to pushing it up against something and fashioning a pillow of it. This can take a lot of pushing and adjusting with her front paws. But she does it diligently. She looks at it. She pushes here and pushes there, and when it is just right, she turns three or four times and settles in.

And by settle in, I mean seemingly dead to the world (unless the mail or Amazon comes to the front door. Then she is up like a sentry.) But I have noted many points at which she simply collapses and starts to snore. I have sat in my comfortable chair and imitated the rhythms, which perfectly encourage drifting off. Snore then breathe, snore then breathe, it works perfectly.

She spends all her spare time doing this. Snoring and breathing. She is 11 years old now, so she has slowed a bit and sometimes has puzzlement in her eyes. But she can still chase, catch and occasionally eat rabbits. This happens even though she is fed a really good dog food and gets lots of juice from whatever we cooked at dinner. She loves the skin of salmon, the crispier the better.

Then back to sleep.

I am not going to dissemble about this. I have had a hard two years. First brain surgery went bad because of an infection, then at the end of July I died for eight minutes after a heart attack and was revived by Evanston’s fire department. Since that time, I have recast my thoughts about napping and resting and I find Lulu has created the perfect model. She sleeps about 20 hours a day, which leaves her with more than enough energy to do her job, which is being a dog.

I find now that it is perfect to align my naps with hers. So I get up early, generally, eat a healthy breakfast, then sit in my chair and nap for maybe an hour while Lulu snores beside me. Then I go for a long walk, or perhaps to cardiac rehab at Evanston Hospital, which is rigorous but good for me and quite the reminder that just about everything you might want to replace, patch or stretch around my heart has been replaced, patched or stretched. All that uses up a lot of energy. Add that to walks and therapy, and there is good reason for napping.

“What I admire most about Lulu is that she seems to have no problem with just plopping down and going to sleep whenever the opportunity presents itself, particularly if there is a patch of sunlight. I know she is not thinking, ‘God, I should not be so lazy. I should get up and do something productive, like begging for table scraps or biting Mr. Squeaky.’

No.

She is just about sleeping. For as long as she wants or needs to, which is probably the same thing.

I will never be as aggressive about strangers as she is, but I can learn a lot from her ability to block out everything but rest. I often wake up worrying about what productive thing I will do in the morning. Sometimes I feel guilty about napping when a whole garage full of guitar and ukulele parts awaits attention, or my bedroom needs straightening out, I could use more guitar or mandolin practice, or whatever.

This concern, I am told, is a legacy of working as a journalist for 40 years or so, high stress, high energy and plenty to worry about at all points. But it is a legacy that doesn’t define my life anymore.

Sleeping lots doesn’t bother Lulu at all. And I don’t think it should bother me, either, or you for that matter. Sleep like a sailor after a long hard shift. Nap when you can. And remember, snoring is God’s way of telling people not to bother you.

6 thoughts on “Learning to sleep from a dog

  1. All that aside, on this Thanksgiving Eve I’m very grateful not to have witnessed the reproductive activity between that cute-as-a-Snoopy beagle and that (enter appropriate snarling adjective here) pit bull.

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  2. Loved this one! Yes, naps are delicious! Your Lulu looks a lot like my Lilah, also a champion snoozer. One of her nicknames is Snorri Snokelsen. May you and your lovely household have a beautiful holiday!

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  3. OK, before I settle in and take a nap, now that you’ve set the scene, I just want to say on this Thanksgiving eve that I am so grateful for knowing you and being your friend. But even more grateful to be writing to you on another snowy day thanks to God and the Evanston fire department, and the prayers of your friends and family, and I think maybe your own stubborn will. Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie. Thanks for being in our lives.

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  4. I am only now commenting on this because I had a post-Thanksgiving leftovers lunch snooze. It was sweet. And your reflection on Lulu’s napping abilities was perfect. Love to you and yours!

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  5. Lulu knows a thing or two about how to live life. You can go anywhere in your dreams! So close your eyes and enjoy brother. Hope your Holiday was as blessed as mine was. Much love from your old home town. XO

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