Category Archives: Dog

Say WHAT???

I am repeatedly struck by the impact tone of voice has on any one remark. Whether from a spouse, friend, family member or co-worker, the same sentence or phrase said with an ounce of care will carry your message much further and it really isn’t all that hard. Seems that all it takes is a little bit of awareness and keeping kindness and/or that person at the center of your mind, vs the specific desire to be right and/or make your point.

This seems to ring true especially with spouses or other close one who you spend a lot of time with, somehow concentrated in times of stress or over holidays! Take the common situation where you and said person are in a conversation either which each other or another third party and one of you says something incorrectly. Possible responses are (bold used for emphasis of tone):

No, that isn’t right, it was…
..that isn’t right, it was …
..that isn’t right, it was…
Actually, what I remember is

Amazing what a good choice of words and a kind tone will do for you.

My husband and I have agreed to call each other on these kinds of things when we see them and this is one area we are actively working on. The way I see it, I aspire for our dialog (and relationship) to be one couched in mutual respect and kindness that shines through… and therefore I am working on making that last option more of a default reaction.

I’ve also found this whole tone thing to be key when talking to our lil puppy Zuger (who is topping the scales at 100lbs now). It is too easy to be angry/impatient with a puppy when they have no idea what they are doing… for example, when you want them to come,  are you basically yelling their name or are you saying it in a very excited tone that indicates that if they do come, there will be so much fun in your current location that they shouldn’t miss it? I continue to work on that one.

So in a world where voice to voice conversations are diminishing in favor of the typed message… how do you work on this? Can you get do-overs? The best advice I’ve seen lately is as follows:

How can we guard against that tone?  If you feel it creeping into your voice, slow down or stop, take a deep breath, and start again.  Or, if you realize ,after the fact, that your tone may have garbled your message, make amends by apologizing for sending out a mixed message, clarify it, and then move forward.

… And I have to say, in a conversation with an employee recently, I stopped mid-sentence and apologized for the tone that was coming out of my mouth and said I wanted to start again. Repeating my words in a different tone changed the conversation.

I can’t say I’m advanced in this area.. But I am aware at least and isn’t that the first step to sustained change?

A very happy new year to you and your family!



The Heartbeat At My Feet

Last week I got that dreaded email from a friend – the one with just his dog’s name in the subject line. I didn’t have to open it, I knew what it said. Chloe was gone.  And then I had to cry at my desk and my co-workers, who don’t need a lot of convincing think I’m crazy.

I have a dog named Lyle who is about to be 14. At least once a day I lean into his ear and whisper “Don’t die Lyle.”  So far it’s working.  But I know one day it will be my turn to send out that email with just “Lyle” in the subject line. My friends are torn between setting up a mobile unit outside my house for 24 hour surveillance and just putting me in a medically induced coma when it actually happens.

Me and Lyle

It has been just me and Lyle for a couple of years now. I wake up and he is the first thing I see (and since I live in NYC I immediately get dressed and take him for a walk before anything else). I walk in the door and he is waiting for me, always thrilled to see me. I fall asleep to the sound of his snoring.  In relationships over the years some men get it, some don’t. My longest one would every once in a while threaten – “We’re going to have to talk about that dog.” He knew better than to ever give me the “It’s me or the dog” speech because he knew he would in fact be dumped for a dog.

I know I get a lot of eye rolling and even pity because he is such a central part of my life. Many people think that I think he is my child. Believe me; I don’t think he is a child. I am quite positive he is a dog. I don’t dress him up, have him barking into the outgoing answering machine message or sit at the dinner table with me. I don’t want a kid. I have plenty of great kids in my life and I love being with them and I love when they go home.  I like dogs. And to treat them like they are human is to do them a disservice and would make you (and them) miserable. Dogs have different biological and emotional needs and they need to be treated like dogs. If your dog is bred to herd, he needs to herd; if he’s bred to hunt, he has to hunt something – not sit on a leopard print pillow eating chicken flavored cupcakes watching Animal Planet (Lyle prefers NPR anyway).

I could offer the pat explanations as to why my relationship with Lyle is so important. But to say that he is a good companion or that it he is loyal and faithful couldn’t do it justice. Something much deeper happens when you share your life with another creature when there are no words spoken. But how do you articulate the wordless comfort that only he could give when my oldest friend died and only Lyle was able to show me that there is still joy to be found in living in the moment? That a lick on the face and the feeling of the soft fur of his head can make me feel tethered to the world on days when I feel like a speck of dust in this giant city? When you live in 600 square feet with a dog it is one of the most private relationships you can have.  He is a witness to my life and I to his, and for now, we are a pack of two.

Does that make me pathetic? To some people I’m sure; but any love generated in this world is valuable even if there are not two humans involved.  Meanwhile, does anyone know if you need a permit to park a mobile unit on the street in New York?

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?

Why don’t I live in a condo?

I have asked myself that question a thousand times over the past couple of months while I’m either knee deep in dirt, loading a trailer full rocks and mulch at Lowe’s, or when I’m groaning in pain while trying to move any part of my body.

“Lord, wouldn’t a condo with no yard be like heaven? “ Having no yard work would free me up for fun, not to mention the extra money I would have in my checking account.

I’ll tell you the reason –I love the privacy and freedom a large yard provides and we love to have parties.  Especially in the summer when we can enjoy being outside.   Oh – and the DOGS.  When we saw this house while looking to buy one, the first thought I had was this would be a great place for our dogs and they love it here.

Did I mention that while my husband and I were nearly killing ourselves over this past weekend in the 100 degree heat, the dogs were inside, lounging in the air conditioned comfort of THEIR house.

The downside of this size of yard is the never ending upkeep.   Val’s Tree Service is coming by this afternoon to give a quote on removing a very large tree that is about to overtake our garage.  That will be another chunk of change.   But it’s worth it ….. NOW.  It’s been a few days since we’ve finished the digging, mulching and planting and I can get out of bed without groaning so loud I wake the dogs.  The yard looks great.

Because we have an automatic feeder and a doggie door, the dogs have the run of the house and yard so they can stay home when I’m traveling.  My husband and I are headed out to a family vacation in Colorado soon and we are leaving the dogs behind.  I told my dog sitter who will be staying here to have as many parties as she wants.   The yard looks great and Lord knows I’m too tired to throw one!

Ellie’s meet & greet

I took Ellie (my dog) to a “meet and greet” for a new groomer this past weekend.  As Jen would say… Really?…Really?!

It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds… Okay, maybe it is.

I’ve been thinking about changing groomers for awhile now.  Ellie is a cockapoo and I have her groomed about every 5-6 weeks (I know to some it’s excessive, but I’m fine with it… really!). Dog gooming is one of the many things on my list of “things I don’t want to know how to do” so I pay to have it done.) Anyway, she is always anxious when we go to the groomer and has a huge attitude problem when I pick her up, so I thought I would try a new groomer.

As I’m walking to the groomer (I live in the city, and this new groomer lives within walking distance – PLUS), a few thoughts are running through my head:

a)      She’s a dog.  As long as there is some sort of treat involved, she typically doesn’t care who she meets as long as they are human (she’s a little pickier when it comes to other animals).

b)      I don’t take myself for meet and greets for my own salon appointments, even though I’m constantly anxious at the thought of a haircut.

c)       Am I really doing this?  Who takes their dog to the groomer without an appointment to get groomed?  And on a Saturday morning at 9am when I should be finishing my pot of coffee?

We arrive, and Ellie immediately tries to abort mission and get the heck out of there as fast as possible.  It becomes painfully obvious to me at that point that it’s not the groomer, but the smell of getting groomed that gets her anxious.  It doesn’t matter who, or what kind of treat you’re trying to give her for positive association (as evidenced by her immediately spitting treat on the ground that the groomer gave her when we walked in).  She’s just not a fan of being groomed.

So, we stay for a few minutes, make an appointment to come back for an actual bath, and start walking home.  This time I’m thinking…I can’t believe I just did that. And then I think… I can’t believe I just did that.

Then again, it shouldn’t surprise me all that much…the night before I was getting ready for an overnight on my family’s boat, and packed Ellie’s overnight bag, which included:

a)      Food – both regulardaily food, treats, and special treats

b)      Toys  – her favorite, a new one, her old one and, of course a blue one… as though she’s going to be sitting there bored instead of sleeping while we are swimming

c)       Life jacket (I KNOW)

Contrast that to me packing my own bag for the same trip… I just throw some clothes and a bottle of Skinnygirl Margarita in a bag, and I’m all set.

This whole experience makes me realize that I’m a little (A LOT) crazy when it comes to my dog.  I need to get a hobby.  But at least I know that the rest of the Sheality girls are (almost) as crazy as I am.

– Erin