Cesar Millan leads a group of dogs and their owners on a walk.

This week in the U.S., a lot of people will celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday that may or may not have begun in 1621 with a group of Native Americans and Pilgrims from the Mayflower, and which did not become a national holiday until 1863, during the American Civil War.

That 17th century celebration was a three day harvest festival in which people came together to enjoy the results of their labor in the fields and, until Thanksgiving became a national holiday, there were many such smaller celebrations, but they were not to give thanks for a good harvest. Rather, they were in thanks for something that humans could learn a lot about from dogs: survival.

Originally, the holiday was about remembering the hard times people had made it through instead of enjoying the good times they were currently in — quite the opposite of what it’s like today. This was also a time when people observed not only holidays for feasting but holidays for fasting, something that has fallen completely out of the secular world, although fasting holidays are still practiced by many religions.

If you’re wondering how dogs fit into this, consider: in a wild pack, a dog’s life is all about fasting and feasting. They eat when the hunt has been successful and starve when it hasn’t. When they have more than enough, they’ll bury some for later, but when they don’t have enough they don’t fight each other for it. They work together to find more.

A dog pack is a survival machine, guided by its Pack Leaders, but it’s not survival that the dogs are thankful for. They are thankful for being part of a pack — at least as far as dogs are capable of being thankful.

In America, we have stopped being thankful for survival because, no matter how dire we think our circumstances might be, we continue to survive. But we can also easily lose sight of the one thing that ensures our survival, even though it’s all around us, especially at this time of year.

Don’t Forget the Reason We Celebrate

That is our Pack: our family and friends, the other humans in our lives who join us on our metaphorical hunt, and share feast and famine with us. Now, I’m not saying that we don’t appreciate our friends and family. I’m all about both, and I’m sure that most of you reading this are, as well. But in jumping all over ourselves to celebrate the holiday, it’s easy to temporarily lose sight of them and their importance.

For humans, Thanksgiving comes once a year. For your dog, it comes every time you return to the Pack after you’ve been absent, no matter how briefly — whether you were at work or went shopping or just took out the trash. Your dog doesn’t care if it’s feast or famine. Your dog cares that he or she is with you.

It’s what dogs do, because they keep it simple and honest. It’s what we should do as well. So, I challenge you to celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday this way, whether you’re in America or not: Show the excitement and love your dog shows to you when you come home whenever you meet up with your loved ones. If you can learn how to express one tenth the joy and love your dog does, your life will be a hundred times better.

Stay calm, and be thankful for those who love you!

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