Four Legged Lessons

For five years I worked at the ASPCA.  Day after day I watched neglected and abused animals enter our front doors. Day after day I was inspired by the resilience of their hearts – their ability to love again. I fostered a lot of dogs but never adopted. One Friday, a Daschund/Chihuahua puppy was placed in the palm of my hands and was asked, “Will you take him home for the weekend?” That was 13 years ago. And Lyle is the most consistent male relationship I’ve had.

Every day I love him more. Every day we understand each other more. I have learned a thousand things from him. But here are just a few:

Stretch: Each morning, very first thing, Lyle basically does a full sun salutation and then rolls on his back and writhes around. He does this each time he sits too long too. I sit bent over a lap top all day, sometimes 14 hours. So I am trying to do the opposing stretch each time I get up from my desk so I don’t grow a hump.

Don’t be cool: Whether I’m gone 5 minutes or 5 days, when I return I get the same greeting from Lyle. There is jumping, running and pure joy. When I am excited to see someone, I play it cool. Even though my heart may be jumping and running inside, on the outside, it’s more like, “Oh you’re here. That’s cool.” But I am trying to show people how truly happy I am to see them (without licking them).

Be open about what you want: If Lyle wants attention or food or to go out, he is very clear about it. There’s the stare, then the nudge, and then the talking, not barking, he actually talks. I’m afraid to ask for what I want, I might seem needy. But no one will ever know what you unless you tell them. I recently applied for a job I wanted badly, and at the end I channeled Lyle and told my interviewer that this was my dream job and I really really wanted it. He told me that someone who is passionate about the job was exactly what he was looking for.

The most important thing I have learned from Lyle is not as easy to put into practice. And that is: The best way to really know someone is to smell their butt.


We’ve only had Zuger, our greater swiss mountain dog, for four months. At 6 months old, he is still a very big puppy (topping 65 pounds currently). In my short dog ownership, we’ve gone through lots of – ahem – ingestion and elimination cycles with issues at both ends as to be expected.

The great thing is, he treats each one like it is brand new…. meaning, he doesn’t get hung up on whether he was sick yesterday or ate something he didn’t like, he just dives in completely oblivious to the past, focusing on what he is eating or expelling at that moment. BTW he isn’t territorial about food, just very very focused, treating every kibble like it is manna from heaven.

In the last few years I’ve tried hard to develop my ability to be in the now.

It is not easy when you are balancing work, working out, husband, extended family… and so forth. It is so easy to get caught into futures or rehashing past.  I can’t say I’ve “learned” to be in the present from him, but he actively teaches me this every day. The life bonus I get by taking the extra moment to really give him a good rub down starting from his head through his chest, taking more time than I would have imagined necessary when introducing him to new person, food or activity (especially when trimming nails), and understanding when some good quality time on the couch will make both of our days much better.


Not until writing this blog entry did I realize that Ellie is going to be 2 next month.  I can’t believe I’ve had her that long – I don’t remember what life was like without her around (although if I took a look back at my credit card statements I’m sure it would remind me that I was at the bar with friends more than I was in my own home).

That said I’m sure the biggest thing Ellie has taught me is to slow down.

Pre-Ellie, I rarely spent a night at home.  I was always going out for dinner, drinks… different activities – always having a great time but never slowing down.  At first, Ellie had some pretty bad separation anxiety so I started staying home more to work on that, leaving for short amounts of time to get her acclimated (side note – now it’s me that has the separation anxiety).  Once I started slowing down and staying put for some time, I found other things that I enjoyed doing… reading again, making jewelry, reality TV, cooking… the list goes on.  But it reminded me that it’s okay to stay home and have some alone time (ironic since I was living alone and working from home… alone… but in any case).

I’m sure she’s taught me much more than that, but right now I’m having a hard time thinking through the barking… the weather is finally getting nice enough to leave the windows down and she insists on talking to all of the neighborhood dogs.


I am a long-time dog owner, currently have two dogs (Oz and Monte), and believe you’re guaranteed smiles every day when you live with a dog.  So, it’s a challenge choosing one thing I’ve learned from my companions.  But, I think the most important lesson they’ve taught me is to always be willing to reach out.    

Dogs don’t let the fact that you’ve just scolded them or taken away their favorite possession make them withdraw or interact any differently than they did an hour ago. They let it go and face the next moment with the same hopeful, trusting attitude.  They are still excited about any communication or activity.  They don’t let their confidence get impacted by a negative interaction or feel any less worthy because their action wasn’t aligned with expectations, either someone else’s or their own.

 This is both an important and difficult lesson for me.  We make mistakes, and so do our loved ones.  We can’t let that influence our willingness to be the one to reach out to our partner, our family, or our friends.  That’s true even if we’re hurt, we’ve tried too many times, or we’re just having a bad day.

I’ve learned many lessons from being around dogs for forty years and I aspire to be more like my dog in many ways.  If you want to see some of the lessons our canine friends provide, check out this dog philosophy.

Now, where are my guys for some more smiles………


I’ve always believed that things happen for a reason, even bad things.  The dogs we have now came to me through bad circumstances but were meant to be ours.  We had a dog, Andrew, when we lived in the country that was the sweetest mutt.  He belonged to the neighbors and they totally mistreated him.  My neighbor was out of work and Andrew was very destructive, tearing up our other neighbor’s Christmas decorations and misbehaving (as puppies do).  When my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas that year I told him to go to the neighbor and pay him anything he wanted for the dog. 

 I’m sure he felt that he got off pretty easy that year but it was the best present I’ve ever received.  He brought Andrew to me on a night when it was sleeting and Andrew had been chained to a tree in the back yard with no shelter.  I loved that dog to pieces.  The problem was that while he loved us, he also loved the neighbor’s kids and he tended to sleep right in the middle of the road between our houses.  It wasn’t that big of a deal because 1) we couldn’t break him of it and 2) we lived on a dead end road.  But, the worst finally happened and he got run over.

A few weeks later I went to a pet store in the mall and they wouldn’t sell me any dog because I said that the dog would spend most of the time outside.  Then I went to a dog pound in St. Louis (so deplorable that it has since been closed) and found Valentine.  The volunteer took me straight to her and when I saw on her card that she was picked up on my birthday, I knew she was meant for me.   Ten years later she is still the sweetest girl but she’s protective of me when my husband isn’t home.  Plus she’s smarter than many humans.  She wanted me to say here that she is NOT a dog. 

Last year we lost LB, our Jack Russell.  His death was so traumatic for all of us but especially for Valentine who was very lonely.  We found Cooper on-line at a nearby shelter and went and picked him up (after Valentine approved) the day we tearfully scattered LBs ashes in the back yard.  Cooper was totally meant for us too.  He is silly, sweet and oh so entertaining.  I’m sure Valentine is second guessing giving her approval when Cooper is aggravating her to death. 

And the dogs we have deserve every bit of love and spoiling that we do.  Things happen for a reason and while I miss our doggie family members who have passed on, our big happy family is exactly as it was meant to be. 

– Susan

What have you learned from your dog?


One response to “Four Legged Lessons

  1. I read this post a while ago when I first came upon ya’ll’s blog. I wanted to peek back in and re-read — these lessons serve as good guides and refreshers as we exit 2011 and enter into a brand spanking new year!

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