10 Writing (and Life) Lessons I Learned From My Dog

This weekend would have marked the 17th birthday of my pal, Hoshi. (Isn’t she cute??)

For Techie Tuesday today, I’m going to share her with you, since she’s on my mind. (I previously posted this at Writers In The Storm.)

Hoshi was everything a dog should be: loyal, loving, sweet-tempered, funny.

She got my jokes (I swear to God that dog laughed) and she was around for all my big milestones – when I turned the big 3-0, the death of my parents, YEARS of dating, my engagement, my wedding, turning the big 4-0, baby-making attempts/successes/failures and the birth of my daughter, who is now a toddler.

There are so many up sides to pet ownership – companionship, exercise, preventative healthcare – but the biggest downside in my opinion is their short life span.

They will always go before we do – there’s just no way to get around it. Hoshi lived a stupendously long life for a 90 pound dog; she was fourteen-and-a-half years old when she left to frolic in that Puppy Lake in the Sky.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to a loved one, animal or human. I really think the memories and the lessons you learned from them are what help you get through it. Before we all start crying on our keyboards, I’ll move on to the Top 10 lessons my Hoshi-Moshi taught me, many of which relate to writing.

1)      50 New Smells A Day

It’s said that dogs need to get fifty new smells a day to stay psychologically alert and happy.  Those daily walks are your dog’s version of reading the paper. I KNOW they’re sniffing every bush, light pole and dog bootie on the block but in reality what they’re doing is “filling the well.” Writers must do the same thing (though I’d recommend keeping your nose to yourself). Stimulate your mind daily with whatever helps you be creative.

2)      Pay Attention

Take notice of the people, places and things in your life that fill your writing well. With the plethora of daily tasks on all our to-do lists, especially this time of year, it’s easy to let the small simple gifts in our world pass through unnoticed.

3)      Treats Help Everything

One of my dearest friends has seven pets and, according to her, “any one of her dogs would step over her bloody carcass for one bite of kibble.” (If you have dogs like hers, you might want to skip to #4.)

I’m not suggesting that you allow either you or your pet to get too fluffy in the backside but the world is better with steady rewards of coffee, chocolate, wine, cake or whatever treat that says, “Well done!” to you.

Positive reinforcement works on us writers too – you can bet I’ll keep my butt in the chair until this blog’s finished tonight. My husband is holding the nookie hostage in the other room until I do.

4)      Smile and Wag

What happens when your dog bounds across the room with a smile and a wag of his or her tail and slides under your hand? You pet them, and coo over them, AND YOU SMILE. It’s hard to resist your pet when they’re sweet.

Try to remember this concept when you’re buried up to your eyebrows in that pitiful sagging middle of your first draft. Your family (and your editor) will give you much more leeway if you smile and wag rather than bark and growl. I’m just sayin…

5)      Find the best professionals (and trust them)

When Hoshi turned eight, she began to get creaky with arthritis. Akita lifespans average about 10 years so I started getting mentally prepared (though, let’s face it, you never are).

My girlfriend, Mary, who’s a dog trainer, heard my concerns and sent me to Dr. Voll. A few visits with this wonderful vet and Hoshi was a whole new girl. Certainly, we did our part, but Dr. Voll took care of Hoshi for almost seven years and went well above the call of duty. Whenever the inevitable ups and downs of a senior dog would occur, I’d worry that it might be time to let my sweet baby dog go.  On one of those bad days, Dr. Voll looked me in the eye and said, “Stop crying! I’ll tell you when it’s time.”

And she did.

6)      Love Without Conditions

I don’t have to explain this one to any pet owners. Dogs don’t see disabilities, disfigurement, neuroses or any of the other things that tend to squeeze the human brain down the narrow path of judgment. Animals manage to see inside your heart and make their decisions from there.  Try to do this with yourself – this self-love will only make you a better writer.

You’ve heard the saying, “I want to be the person my dog thinks I am,” right? Enough said.

7)      Bring Your “A” Game

It’s not in a dog’s nature to give 50%, at least it wasn’t in Hoshi’s. She traveled the entire West Coast, San Diego to Seattle, and explored every dog beach and mountain range with the same focused zeal.

I’m a software trainer by day and, after September 11th the training projects in Southern California dried up. In 2002, if I wanted work, the dog and I had to hit the road.  We traveled throughout the state, stopping at every available doggie day care along the way. Whether it was Elaine’s Pet Resorts in Fresno or Fog City Doggie Day Care in San Francisco, that dog brought her A-Game. In turn, these places delighted in her visits and always made room for her even when they were full.

If we bring our A-Game to the page as writers, people (read: publishers) will make time for our work, even when they’re busy. It might just be critique partners or published authors in your writing chapter giving you time at first but, at some point, your writing will be recommended and you will sell.

8)      Invest In Training

One of my ex-boyfriends owned Hoshi’s parents – she and her four litter mates were literally born into my hands.

Unfortunately, this guy went to the “Well, they mind ME” school of training. This wasn’t so bad with Hoshi’s sire, who had an even temperament, but her mother was a really bad dog and it became a dicey business to have anyone in our house. I began training all five puppies, almost before their eyes opened, in an attempt to counteract the unruly bitchiness of their mother. This kind of rigorous training opened a lot of doors for Hoshi.

A well-trained dog is a well-received dog and the same goes for writers. The money and time you put into learning your craft will always be worth it.

9)      Service Makes You Feel Good

One of the happiest dogs I know is a Corgi named Boris. His owner, Monique is extremely disabled and gets around mostly by scooter. Mary (the dog trainer from #5 above) has taught Boris to fetch Monique’s keys, her shoes, the paper, and a myriad of other items. Like every pet, Boris thinks his owner is a rock star – he lives to serve Monique and nothing makes him happier than making her happy.

I’m not suggesting that you throw yourself on the altar of someone else’s happiness but I am recommending that you give back.

If you are unpublished that might mean guest blogs or judging in a contest. For published authors, it might mean the same or perhaps giving away a chapter critique. You’ll know your service opportunity when you see it if you’re on the lookout.

10)   Leave People Smiling

I realized during my second week home after having my daughter that it was Hoshi’s time to go. She’d limped along health-wise through my high-risk pregnancy. I really thought she’d miss the birth but she rallied.

Dr. Voll came when I called her and agreed that it was “time,” though she said I could take a few days.

I contacted all of Hoshi’s friends and opened the house for anyone who wanted to visit. We gave her every treat we had, plus people brought her scads of contraband food. Things like McDonald’s cheeseburgers that give a dog pancreatitis were on the menu that week and she was delighted (though I definitely got the “where has this been all my life” look).

On the big day, Dr. Voll came to the door and we sent our daughter out with a friend for a long walk so we could focus on Hoshi. She polished off the rest of a cheeseburger and moved on to the Honeybaked ham, smiling and wagging all the way.

When the medicine was administered, she never knew it.  I’ve repeatedly thought ‘we should all be so lucky.’

Hoshi was my first “baby girl” and I feel blessed to have learned from her.

Do you have pets? What lessons have they taught you? Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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56 Responses to 10 Writing (and Life) Lessons I Learned From My Dog

  1. Your first and now this post about Hoshi stay with me, Jenny. “I want to be the person my dogs think I am.” Words to live by. I never fail to both celebrate and ache for people with service dogs. My grief on losing a pet is emotional and physical. I can’t imagine losing both a cherished friend and a care-giver when it’s their companions time to go.

    I love looking in the window of the door from garage to hallway, and seeing the faces of my two smiling labs. The young one? Helicopter tail.

    Another thing I’ve learned from them is to never stop looking for possibilities — anticipate a positive outcome and eventually it will happen. Even though 90% of their car rides involve trips to and from the vet, both dogs invariable go into glee frenzies when they know they’re getting into the car. “Maybe this time! Maybe this time! Maybe this time will be the time I score a swim in a pool!”

    One last point. (Promise!) I am a horrible parent in the discipline arena. But, Molly and Syd want to please us. We simply need to teach them how. Consistently. We’re investing in dog training at the beginning of the year. I want guests in my home to be as happy to see my dogs as they are to see them.


  2. Jenny, this is so beautiful. I didn’t grow up with pets and I failed miserably when we tried to get a dog. I realize it was a missed opportunity: a chance for me to learn how to live more sloppily but get lots of joy for it. I couldn’t do it. In the end, the puppy went to live with my SIL. I now realize that puppies really are like babies. The amount of time and energy it takes to train them is staggering. So Hoshi was lucky to have you as a mommy for so long. And something tells me, there is another pup in your future. Probably, eh?


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Renee! I decided we would get another dog when my daughter is old enough to beg for one. If she wants it bad enough, maybe she’ll actually help take care of it. 🙂


  3. My heart breaks for you, Jenny. We weren’t pet people in my family. That all changed for me when I met the woman who became my wife. Lauren adopted Layla as an 8-week old pup one year earlier. It wasn’t long before Layla got her paws into me for good. We currently live in a 3rd-floor condo. Layla knows the sounds of our cars. As soon as I get out of the car, I look up to the porch door. Like clockwork, there’s Layla standing on the ottoman, tail wagging, and super excited that one or both of us are home. No matter how lousy of a day I’ve had, I know when I get home, the greeting I get from Layla will make everything right again. Layla is only four so we have (hopefully) have a good decade ahead of us of having her unconditionally loving self by our sides. We know one day we will have to confront the decision no dog owner wants to make. Until then, I’m going to take as many face licks as Layla wants to give me 🙂


  4. amyshojai says:

    This is paw-some, Jenny! And thanks for the link luv. I think that I most cherish the life-lesson that my cat and dog model for me constantly. That is, LIVE IN THE MOMENT, not for when the next thing gets checked off your to-do list, or next week when X happens, or an hour from now when a fav TV program comes on. THIS moment, THIS minute/second. It will never come again–and there are never enough of those THIS MOMENTS . . . I don’t want to regret the THIS MOMENTS that never were. I want to laugh and smile and sleep in the sun and play like a two-year-old-terror every THIS MOMENT of my life.


  5. wonderful post, Jenny. made me cry as I thought about your fur baby and two of mine that I had to help into heaven. My two pooches now are such good companions. tidy, clean and lots of fun. thanks for the reminders.


  6. K.B. Owen says:

    Oh, Jenny, what a wonderful pup you had! I’m so glad you got to choose how it was done when it was her time to go. I know you must miss her still. Hugs! Thanks for sharing your “lessons” – all true!


  7. Amber West says:

    Hoshi – what a beautiful dog! I love the relationship you had with her over the years.

    I grew up with dogs as a kid – my dad was amazing with them. The first one I remember was a German Shepherd puppy he brought home in a box (he found her while working). Keesha did everything with us, she even bowed her head to pray at dinnertime. 🙂

    As we got a little older, we took in a few more strays and kept them while we found them homes. And now as an adult, I have my sweet little boy, Dudley.

    I love how intuitive he is. If I’m having a bad day, he seems to know it when no one else does, and just comes over to cuddle. He doesn’t have to solve my problems, just lets me know he knows.


  8. nancyelauzon says:

    Such a beautiful tribute to a beautiful animal. I have had some very special dogs in my life, I can’t imagine life without them. They have so much to teach us. I am currently owned by a very willful Chinese Sharpei. He’s taught me that: wrinkles define who you are, ice cream and bacon are good for you, Cesar Milan is cute, to never give up (Sam is VERY stubborn) and to follow your dreams … or squirrels, rabbits, cats, a.k.a. anything that moves, even if you have a torn ACL in a brace. You have to admire that kind of determination!


  9. This is my first time visiting you, and I loved this post. But what made me stop and laugh was this line: “My husband is holding the nookie hostage in the other room until I do” Are we talking sex? Or are we talking the B&N nook? 😉


  10. Reblogged this on A Writer's Notepad and commented:
    This is a loving tribute to a pet, and a thoughtful look at writing at the same time. Thanks, Jenny, for making me smile and think today.


  11. Good Lord. I’m almost crying.

    I’d love a dog, my kids would love a dog, but my husband doesn’t want one, and he’s the guy who stays at home. So, unless I miraculously start writing full time, this isn’t going to happen. I know my time is so taxed as it is right now that getting a dog would be a mistake. Sigh. I remember the dogs from my childhood fondly!


  12. Patricia says:

    My first “baby” was my little boy Tango. I got to see the entire litter right after they were born and I was promised a puppy, but there were 4 others in front of me who got to pick. I wasn’t sure if I would be left with a boy or a girl puppy so I chose a neutral name. When there were 2 puppies left, it was my turn and I immediately fell in love with my little Tango. I had him for almost 11 years and it was the hardest thing to lose him. It happened unexpectedly but I knew I wouldn’t have him forever.

    He taught me the meaning of being loyal and how to be a better person. He was my buddy and I realized how important having a buddy is. I had been alone for a very long time (13 years) before I met my second husband. I knew that having someone who was loyal and loving was one of the most important things in life. Now my husband greets me with a kiss every single time I come home and my (new ) dog greets me with vigorous tail wagging and something in his mouth for us to play with. (I have a lab and there is almost always something in his mouth – just in case someone might want to throw it for him, he ‘s going to be ready.)

    Thanks for the analogies. Good things to remember.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Tango is a GREAT name for a pet! And he sounds like he was delightful.

      I love how most dogs have no dignity at all. They just get so excited to see you, every single time you enter a room.


  13. tomwisk says:

    I’ve had cats. They’ve taught me a bad day can be cured with a nap. Sharing the joy of getting a reward is wonderful. Don’t suffer fools. (The cat from hell taught me that) Sometimes being close is all you need to make you loved.


  14. Clare Scott says:

    My sweet, gentle, gorgeous ‘puppy’ (Border Collie) is now almost 13 and how I recognise your words about getting prepared. Her limbs creak, she is almost blind, but she is happy and still loves a frolic with her favourite old squeaky toy and her best doggie friend – the frolics are just shorter and less energetic now 🙂 Our last dog was a rescue dog who, although hilarious with people, had issues with other dogs. She was no pleasure to take anywhere. So like you, we began training Kelsey immediately and what a delight she has always been. She is a dog with a conscience too and used to put herself ‘on mat’ – her version of the naughty corner – if she had done something she shouldn’t – even before we realised. Now she’s far too dignified to do unseemly things but she feels the guilt when her furfriends do and tries her hardest to literally steer them away from potential trouble. She’s watcher and protector of my little grandies now my human babies have grown. She’s been to kindies and schools and old folks’ home as a farm dog, ‘trained’ dog, ‘collector’ dog, companion dog, pet dog, and just for fun. She’s been there as a puppy and now a senior. She’s walked in parades and has patiently sat for photos or petting sessions as new migrants (unused to the joys of canines) learn to trust her. She is a darling and my eyes are filling knowing her time here is limited. I’m feeling your sadness about your beloved Hoshi (((hugs))) Happy memories! I know I’ll be a cotcase when it’s finally Kelsey’s time – but for now we adore each other and pace activities around her loves – a slow rambly wandering walk, sniffing the peemail, sunning the belly, and being adored. Not too bad for a dog’s life. They sure leave pawprints all over our hearts!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      So funny! Hoshi used to put herself into “time-out” at the top of the stairs when she was B-A-D (that was a word that we only spelled). How cute that Kelsey has a “naughty corner.” Your comment makes me want another dog. Thanks for sharing yours. 🙂


  15. Favorite post ever!

    You know how I feel about dogs. Tess is my one and only baby girl. She’s like a child to me. I treasure, love and adore her and listening to you write about the loss of Hoshi and how that came to be was like looking into a crystal ball. Tess has had 2 major surgeries the last 2 years and is getting more and more arthritic every few months. At 11 years old, I know my days with her are numbered. I keep hoping that she’ll surprise me by lasting to a ripe old age of 14 or 15 but it’s hard to say because quality of life is what’s most important to me. Watching her age has been one of the toughest things I’ve ever gone through.

    Before Tess, I had Enigma. My gorgeous black cat. He quite literally slept on a pillow just over my head for 13 years. Hubby even had to accommodate him. LOL! He was an SPCA Christmas present so he was already older when I got him but I felt honored to have 13 years blessed by him. He was my little man. Like Hoshi for you, Enigm and Tess saw me through so many ups and downs in my life and both have always a huge comfort to me. When I had to put Enigma down in 2010, it was with a very heavy heart. Toughest decision ever. I miss him every single day.

    Tess and Enigma taught me about trust, loyalty and unconditional love. They also taught me how to feel pure joy in my spirit and soul. They showed me that a cuddle and a hug can go a long way to helping a person feel better. They showed me that just being together in silence is comforting. They taught me about passion, joie de vivre and happiness…they brought more to my life than I could ever even have imagined…

    It has been my true honor to have my life blessed by both of them! I only wish I had them both longer.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You’re getting me all sniffly with this comment, Nat. I think Enigma is the coolest name for a cat. (And of COURSE Hubby had to accommodate him, and not the other way around.)

      I’ll tell you, a great vet is the best blessing when you have a senior pet. I would never have thought to have another 6 years with Hoshi when we had that first visit with Dr. Voll. You never know what they can do with those big hearts of theirs. 🙂


  16. I loved how you were able to relate traits of your sweet dog to writers. You always have something good going on here. RIP Hoshi. I know she was an amazing pet and part of the family.


  17. Cory Imhof says:

    Awe Sis,
    I’m sorry you are missing the Big Baby Girl. She was such a blessing to your life. Our kitties are starting to age bit these days. We dont know how long they were on the streets before we rescued them but Thomas is at leaste 12-13 and starting to get a bit creaky in the knees. Johnny, who has FIV, is still doing pretty good but they are both on a strict diet, they get kitty massages once a month and I adjust them when they let me. Hopefully they make it another 5-8 years to at least see hubby graduate from college and maybe our first baby. I think animals, like people are in our lives for a reason, usually to make us better people.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I am missing the Big Baby Girl! I think it’s great that you guys have fur babies while you go through all the college and early career stuff that you must do.

      p.s. I’ve never heard of kitty massages! And you’re really telling me that you can adjust a CAT??


  18. A post after my own heart! Dogs are the best teachers and writing partners, hands down. Sounds like you and BBG shared a remarkable kinship. They keep special places in our souls, IMO.

    My dog keeps me responsible and on a schedule. She makes me take breaks, which prevent brain fog-itis and overwork-induced headaches. 😉 The cute and makes-me-LOL factors are total frosting. *gush*


  19. The Hook says:

    Hoshi sounds like a wise and wonderful companion. Very moving and insightful post. Thank you.


  20. Beautiful post and a great tribute to Hoshi. I’m a cat person and my first cat Topi was the epitome of persistence. We moved twice with him and for months he returned to his old hunting grounds despite the distance. Tomwisk has a good point about naps. Cats also have a wonderful way of showing when they’re happy. The purr is irresistible. And they can teach you a thing or two about being independent.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I love the name “Topi,” Reetta. I don’t know what it means, but it’s darling. 🙂

      I adore cats, but I’m crazy allergic to them. Hence, I usually love them from afar…


  21. kimpdx says:

    Too late! Crying over my keyboard. What a wonderful girl you got to spend time with. Beautiful smile, too.

    I love these lessons. I’ve also learned from my pets–dogs while growing up, cats now–to keep coming back and to rearrange things until they are just how I need them to be. They will go away if I don’t clear lap space for snuggles because I’m writing, but they will come back a few minutes later and a few minutes after that until I remember to look up and move things around so that *all* of the important things in my life are getting taken care of. They remind me to stay balanced and give attention to all the things I want to keep in my life. Also, they give adorable kitty kisses, and the younger one sits up and begs in a prairie dog pose when I have yogurt. 🙂


  22. Karen W says:

    What a beautiful tribute to beautiful Hoshi! I’m not a dog person but I belong to a cat and I can tell you that mine has taught me the meaning of love – as seen by a cat. Sending them on their way is so difficult and no matter how long we take preparing ourselves, it doesn’t make it any easier. Kudos to you for keeping your eyes open for that moment and not making her hang on.

    P.S. I love the line about the nookie!


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  24. Jane Sadek says:

    My Shih-Tzu, Precious, turned twelve this year and it’s been like a light switch in terms of her health. Her hearing has radically decreased, she’s had several bouts with diarrhea, she’s had problems with her eyes and now there’s a series of odd spots growing on her – the first of which we had removed a few weeks ago. Until this year, her single ailment had occurred when she decided to bite a bee. I very much identify with your love for Hoshi.


  25. kasey8 says:

    This is fabulous! Reminds me of my Kodi Bear – my first baby, rescued from the pound like your Hoshi!


  26. Vero says:

    What a wonderful post, on so many levels. Thank you!


  27. Hoshi was beautiful. That bottom photo caption should read ‘a snuggle waiting to happen ‘. This is such a wise post and so true. Pets are priceless. We always had cats, dogs and for a few years a pet squirrel named Arnie … all at the same time. Travel makes having pets impossible for us right now but we have several photos of our last soft-coated wheaten, Maggie, around our home and she still speaks to us … always will. Like Hoshi.


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