Ikigai: A Dog’s Perspective



by Sandy

Ikigai is the Japanese term for purpose in life. The thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. The thing that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning.

Humans spend a lot of time and effort on deciding what this magical thing is for them. They think about it. They talk to their friends about it. They read books and do online quizzes. They spend many years and a lot of dollars (which could be better spent on dog treats) going to school to help them find what is already inside them: their meaning, their purpose, their ikigai.


“ The jury is still out on whether human intelligence is all it’s cracked up to be”  Cesar Milan


It’s easier for us dogs. Because we are not as "smart" as humans, we are wiser.

It’s a rare dog who doesn’t know its purpose. We don’t think about it. We just do it.   

For herding dogs, like Border Collies or Australian Shepherds ikigai is organizing things that move: people, children, animals. Anything that can get out of place, must be returned to its proper place. They are vigilant and obsessive. You can count on a herder to keep things in order.  

Spaniels and hounds hunt. They chase birds, squirrels, rabbits, deer. They help their humans to find and capture prey. Sometimes that prey is a frisbee or a toy. The best day ever is day when there is something to hunt. 

For Dobermans and German Shepherds, purpose is protection. They protect their humans, their territory, and the possessions in that territory.  These guard dogs watch over their domain and chase off interlopers. They raise the alarm when there is danger. If necessary, they will fight off the intruder.

Feisty little dogs like Pomeranians and Chihuahuas wake up to bark. They bark to share the news of well, everything. Other dogs. Cats. People at the door. People walking past. People too far away to even be interested in them. It’s what they do.

Service dogs have special training to help their humans with specific tasks.  They carry things or open doors. They create space when their human is feeling crowded. They often become their human’s ikigai.

Learn by Doing

I have tried my paw at most of those things. How else can I know what is right for me? I do it. If it is right for me, I try the next thing.

I’m not much of an organizer. Except for making sure my favorite toys are all in one spot where no one else can touch them. 

I do like to hunt. But it’s more a hobby than a purpose. I chase lizards and frogs, but I don’t kill them.  I chase squirrels away from the bird bath.  But rabbits are my very favorite thing to chase. When I have a chance at one, the whole neighborhood knows about it. Suzanne says it’s a beagle thing.

I will do guard work if necessary. I have put myself between the child and a grumpy dog. There was a fence between them but still. The dog wasn’t friendly and no one should scare a child. A child who is afraid of dogs won’t stop to pet me when I pass them on my walk!

I don’t like to bark because I would rather meet people and make friends than run them off. To be fair, I have had to growl once or twice. There was no point in barking. If I see a problem, I go full out. Serious growls for serious problems. Barking just scares away potential friends.

I even do a little service dog work: greeting people in the park who need a little lift. Older people who used to have a dog like me. Special need kids. Someone who is lonely but no one else can see it. 

My Ikigai

To sum it up, my purpose is joy.

I wake up to jump into the middle of things and find the next party. I am a greeter, a smoozer, a spreader of good cheer. When my neighbors see my coming, they say “Hi Sandy!” I’m pretty sure they don’t know Suzanne’s name, but they know me.

More important, they put down whatever they are doing and pet me. If they don’t, I let them know. Not in a scary barking  sort of way. More of a disappointed beagle way. They usually reconsider. And next time we meet, they do better.

I make people smile. I notice them and wag my tail. Sometimes, that is all it takes to bring someone joy.

My ikigai makes the world a happier place.  

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Copyright 2020 Suzanne Grosser