The great thing about him is that no matter where you grew up in the West, you probably grew up listening to his stories. I know I did in Mexico, where the only difference is that his fables are translated into Spanish and we call him Esopo. You can find him under many different names in a lot of countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Norway, and many others not limited to Europe — in Japan, he’s known as Isoppu.
Aesop’s stories have spread so widely because they help us understand universal truths, which is why I’m going to tell you one of his stories right now about two frogs, a walk in the country, and a forgotten bucket of milk. Yes, it will come back to dogs.
One day, two frogs were hopping through the meadow near their pond when they found a bucket of milk that the farmer had forgotten, so they jumped into the bucket to have a drink. However, when they were finished, they both realized that they couldn’t jump back out, so they started swimming, trying to get up enough speed to escape, but it wasn’t working. Eventually, one frog said, “What’s the point? We’re not going anywhere.” He stopped swimming and then he drowned in the milk.
But the other frog, not wanting to drown, kept swimming as hard as he could, kicking with his legs. Even though he didn’t seem to be going anywhere but in circles, something was happening. Little by little, he was churning that milk — and he kept trying to swim out until he had churned that milk into butter, at which point he was able to walk to the edge and jump out.
The moral of the story is this: Even if you seem to be getting nowhere with your efforts, persistence will pay off if you don’t stop trying. You may not notice the changes until they have happened — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening.
I often hear from people how they’ve been trying to fix a dog’s bad behavior, only to have it continue to happen. But what they don’t realize until I talk them through it is that even though their dog may still pull on the leash or bark or pee in the house sometimes, they aren’t doing it as much as they used to. And with every time that your dog’s bad behavior happens less and less, it means that the good behavior is happening more and more.
One setback is not the end of everything you’ve tried to achieve. Even the best dog — and that includes mine — can have a bad day. This doesn’t mean that you stop swimming and drown. This means that you’re getting closer to walking out on the butter.
There’s another reason I think that Aesop’s fables are still with us — because they cast animals in the roles of teachers, which is exactly what helps make his lessons so universal, no matter where you grew up and first heard them. It can be easier to see the moral when the cultural trappings of human culture are removed and only our universal human nature, in the guise of animals, remains. After all, we still trust a groundhog to tell us the weather every year, don’t we?
And, just as animals can be great teachers because we can relate to them without judging them, dogs are our greatest animal teachers of all because they have been with us since long before Aesop was spinning his stories. They know us better than we know ourselves, and they have a lot to teach us once we start to listen.
Stay calm, and keep swimming!
Note: Originally, this article gave Aesop’s name in Japanese as “Izōru.” It has been corrected above to “Isoppu” thanks to an astute reader who caught the error.