They say that the benefit of living with a dog is that you get to experience unconditional love. The dog is happy to see you, every single time you come home. And I mean every time. You can be gone for five minutes or five days. The dog will always act like she hasn’t seen you in a year. If you want to feel like a rock star every time you walk through the door, get a dog.

Such devotion inspires a desire to emulate it. How would my husband feel if I met him at the door with the enthusiastic greeting of our dog every time he came home? Really loved or really worried that it was time for me to go back on meds. Probably the later. Which is why I practice unconditional love on my dog. She’s already showing me how it’s done, plus she can’t call the psychiatrist if my show of love overwhelms her.

Easy to love... except when she's not.
Easy to love… except when she’s not.

The trick to loving unconditionally is in dealing with all the possible conditions. It is much easier to love your cute little poodle when she snuggles with you on the couch than when she barfs in your bed at three in the morning. You wanted to prove you could love unconditionally, so here you go: an opportunity to prove you can love even in the face of barf. I get out of bed in the middle of the night to wipe up barf, knowing I will have to wash the down comforter yet again, and try not to yell about it. I’m pretty sure unconditional love doesn’t yell, ever.

This is why love and compassion are so challenging. We are supposed to feel love, to be capable of compassion, even when things get ugly, messy, smelly, or uncomfortable. Which brings me to the key question.

If it’s so hard, why bother?

Because we have a choice.

[referring to Sigmund Freud’s comment] …there is only love and illness, and if you do not love you will get ill. —Sophy Burnham, For Writers Only


As someone who feels ill when I am angry, this makes perfect sense to me. I can be mad at the dog for barfing (and feel ill as a result) or I can love her despite the barf (and put the comforter in the washing machine*). Love seems the better choice. It’s unfortunate that sometimes it’s so hard.

*Actually, I have to put the comforter in the washing machine no matter what. Dog barf is icky.

Today, members of 1000 Voices of Compassion are blogging about love. To see a list of other posts on love and compassion, click here

11 thoughts on “Unconditional Love Doesn’t Yell, Not Even When The Dog Barfs”

  1. Unconditional love is hard, even with our animal companions who give it so freely. I wish I could say that I always handle cleaning up cat barf for the umpteenth time each day with grace, but I don’t. I’m not a yeller, but I am a grumbler. (Seriously, cat. Can’t you just stay in one place until you are done barfing instead of spreading it through the whole house?)

    I long to show those I love unconditional love, but I fail regularly. So, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and try again. And again.

    1. Repeated offenses make it even harder. The more bad stuff that happens, the easier it is to stay angry and blame the animal.

      Unconditional love is definitely a practice rather than a destination. We keep working towards it, but probably never really achieve it.

  2. I find it helps to realize we also have our own set of vulnerabilities. In doing so we can more easily understand and forgive others for having them too. The dog for instance, probably has a perfectly reasonable explanation for barfing and never did so with the intention of upsetting anybody. Animals are wonderful in their ability to be there for you, no matter what.

    1. You make a good point. I’m often pretty patient with sick animals. They’re barfing because they are sick, not to be mean. But dogs that eat junk off the ground and get sick can be frustrating.

      I definitely apply the idea of vulnerabilities when I find myself losing patience with others. If I get cut off by a driver, I often go through a list of things that could cause hurried or apparently rude driving: maybe the driver is sick, worried, exhausted, late, has a headache, etc. Those things have all happened to me and I’ve made mistakes driving in those circumstances, so it helps me to be sympathetic when I see others doing it.

      1. Sometimes my initial reaction is anger, and then I take a moment to talk myself out of it. Most situations can be interpreted in multiple ways and how we choose to think about things affects how we then feel. Sometimes people are just having a bad day and I’m sure I’ve made mistakes that have angered other people too. It becomes more challenging when negative behaviour is reoccurring, but I still feel better in myself if I continue to try and be understanding.

        It’s strange how dogs seem to enjoy eating trash. Cats on the other hand eat grass to help them with hairballs, so I could let it go. Mind, she was too cute to be angry with for long.

      2. I also work not to be angry at others. It’s so easy to do with strangers, especially if we take something they do personally. But it could be completely unintentional. Like you, I feel much better about my side of things if I can stay open and avoid being angry and judgmental.

        One of my favorite cartoons ever was a Get Fuzzy strip where Bucky the cat and Satchel the dog talk about eating. Bucky explains cats follow P.I.E.: Perceive, identify, eat. While dogs are P.E.I.: Perceive, eat, identify. Putting the Identify last is what gets the dogs in trouble. I’ve always loved this clear explanation of the cat/dog dichotomy.

      3. Trying not to take things personally is something that I’m practising, as it’s usually more the fault of my low self-esteem than it is anybody else. I keep telling my partner that from now on I aim to get less irritable with others, and he’ll say ‘good luck with that, it probably won’t last long.’ All any of us can do is try our best though. That is so true about the cat/dog dichotomy, I’ll remember that from now on.

  3. I suppose that’s why I got a dog. He loves me and food, not sure, but I think I win.
    It’s hard to open up for love with people, but my dog’s love is something I can count on. Wish other kinds of love were like that.

    1. There are lots of different kinds of love, for sure. I think what I like about my dog is she tolerates my mistakes a lot better than people do. 🙂

  4. I really hope that unconditional love allows for a bit of yelling because there are moments where I crack. No dogs here, but with kids and husband – I love them all unconditionally, but sometimes my patience doesn’t match my intentions. Working on that.

    As for greeting people like your dog greets you – I think a toned down version of that would be a wonderful goal. My kids are now leaving the age of running to greet me like I’m a rock star. I’d like to keep a bit of that, and give a bit back out into the world!

    1. I hope unconditional love allows for yelling, too, because I also fall into that. I get grumpy and lose my temper over silly things instead of taking a breath and being OK with it.

      I try to pay attention to my husband when he leaves and comes home, to let him know I notice his comings and goings. Plus I can get some extra kisses. 😉

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