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

In honor of National Puppy Day, I’m sharing my favorite post about Hoshi with y’all. There’s just nothing like an awesome pet and my first baby girl was the best.

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 first grader.

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!

Jenny

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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!
This entry was posted in Holidays, Inspiration and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. MichaelEdits says:

    I’ve always known I was learning life lessons from my various dogs, and now my cat. But I didn’t realize there were some writing lessons in there too. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. K.B. Owen says:

    This is such a wonderful tribute, and fab lessons learned! Hoshi sounds like a special girl. With a special mama. Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Okay, I’ve stopped crying now so I can post my comment. I have a 13-year-old yellow lab whose on “end of life” care as my vet calls it. He still gets around really well and tries really hard, but some days are hard. I know it’s not time yet, but that time is getting close. He’s such a good dog and I wholeheartedly agree with everything you posted above. I especially like this part:

    “. . . things that tend to squeeze the human brain down the narrow path of judgment.” Boy, oh boy don’t we all do that and how grateful I am that my good ole boy does not. I’m going to miss him.

    Thanks for the lovely post and the great tribute to your Hoshi, may she rest in peace.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Patricia. I’m so sorry your sweet boy is getting older and slowing down. They tug so hard on the heart when they’re seniors, but aren’t they AWESOME?! They kind of become more of who they are at that point in their life, and they give even less of a damn about the unimportant things in life. If they feel like sleeping on the cushy couch, they do. And if they want a walk, or a treat, they make it happen. I love senior pets and their attitude.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a sweet baby girl! And I loved that she got to enjoy all that contraband food.

    I’m a cat person. They are so zen. (well, most of the time) They demand love and attention and consider it their due course for being so spectacular. I could use a little of that confidence!

    Oh – and naps are very important!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Naps ARE very important. I wish I took them better than I do. (They make me groggy.) I need to go on Facebook and see these cute kitties of yours! I like cats, I’m just allergic to them so I don’t have them. But a huggy, loveable dog? I’m all over that.

      Like

  5. Our last pup died in July 2015. Kidney failure forced our hand, but Nuala told us when it was time. When you accept the possibility of joy into your life, you’re also accepting its loss. Dogs make us better people.

    Liked by 1 person

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