Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 24, 2011

10 Lessons I Learned From My Dog

by Jenny Hansen (@JennyHansenCA)

Hoshi Smiling

This weekend marks the ten month anniversary of saying goodbye to my beloved dog, Hoshi.

She was everything a dog should be: loyal, loving, sweet-tempered, funny. She got my jokes (I swear that dog laughed) and she was around for all my big milestones – turning 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 almost eleven months old.

There are so many up sides to pet ownership – companionship, exercise, preventative healthcare – but the biggest down side 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 Ten lessons Hoshi 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, it’s easy to let the small simple gifts in our world pass through unnoticed.

3)      Treats Help Everything

Hoshi Hunting Treats

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 angel food cake hostage in the other room and I want some!

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 saggy 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 and, 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 pregnancy, which was very high risk. 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.’

Watching a 4th of July Concert

Hoshi was my first “baby girl” and I feel blessed to have learned from her. What lessons have your pets taught you?

0 comments on “10 Lessons I Learned From My Dog”

  1. Jenny, I'm very touched by your tribute to Hoshi. She was obviously a wonderful friend. The lessons she taught you are invaluable. I learned many of the same lessons from my beloved cat children, about whom I will soon publish a very personal memoir on amazon.

    One lesson I would add to your list is patience. Like our human babies, our pets require buckets of that precious quality, and in teaching it to us, they help us deal with many aspects of our lives. As a writer, I've found patience a necessity: patience with myself when I can't quite get my thoughts to come out right on the page, patience with the interminably slow publishing world, and patience with family and friends who don't always understand why I'm constantly writing, re-writing and re-writing again.

    Thank you for sharing Hoshi with us! Lyn

    1. Lyn, my husband would say that NO ONE has taught me patience, even a stellar puppy like Hoshi-Moshi. 🙂

      However, I do agreee with you and I can't wait to see the memoir on your cat children.

  2. Lump in my throat. Ahem.
    My wife and I had Syd for years - she'd had him since before she got me, but he was "our dog" for most of his life. He lasted sixteen years, a tremendously long time, even for a terrier, but the day he skipped his meds we saw how much discomfort he was really in. Although the short lifespan of pets is a terrible thing in many ways, it is also often the first experience children have of the death of a loved one. Our Eldest Weasel was seven or eight at the time and stoic enough (Middle Weasel listened to the sad news, waited a beat and said 'Can we have a kitten now?') but appreciated our feelings. We remained dogless for almost four years and a move to Canada, and there were times I couldn't believe we'd ever get another dog because it wouldn't be Syd. Moose isn't Syd, obviously, but having a dog is the right thing for us. We've still got lessons to learn, it seems.

    1. Oh, Damien...that put a lump in MY throat. I'll bet Moose is a great dog. Nope, there will never be another Hoshi or Syd but there shouldn't be - they've earned their place in the Dog Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

  3. I love these lessons, and especially "smile and wag" and "love without conditions." I too am facing this -- with a 9 year old lab that has horrible arthritis. And it's so hard. Thank you for writing this and sharing the hard road. So sorry for your loss!

    1. Thanks, Julia! Are you using Adequan and Rimadyl? You can't really go hard on the Rimadyl because of their liver but we called the Adequan injections "puppy prozac" because she'd get a bundle of energy every time she got to move so freely. For the last few years (before kids...it's a little pricy) we also bought her some underwater treadmill sessions and that was the key to her staying mobile for so long. Good luck with your lab!

  4. Thank you for sharing Hoshi with us. We should all be so lucky to have such a wonderful and devoted friend. I have never had such a relationship with a pet and I am definately feeling deprived. Thank you again.

    1. Shellie, thanks for stopping in - it's exciting to see all my #AuthorBrand peeps over here at WITS! Mary used to always shake her head and say, "That dog has no idea she's an Akita" because she was so submissive and laid back. She got to be more of a diva in her old age, but I think we should all reserve that right. 🙂

      You will meet your special pet one day and remember that we had this conversation. See you on the Write it Forward loop!

  5. I'm adding a few more dog lessons:

    1. Sit (in the chair so you will write)
    2. Stay (at it, because it's not going to be easy)
    3. Play dead (to the sting of rejection)

    Dogs, a writer's best friend.

    1. LOL, Beth...I love your lessons, especially #3. Do writers ever really master that one completely? I have the hardest time with 'Sit' but for Hoshi, it was 'Stay.' She'd do it, but only as long as she could see me!


      1. I don't know if writers ever get through #3, but rejections don't bother me much until I get to the level where I rejected by the editorial board. Then it bugs me.

  6. Loved the entire post, but the "bring your A game" part really hit home with me today. I have beagles and they do everything thoroughly and with enthusiasm. They always bring their A game. Why should I do less?

    I'd only written about 300 words today and was thinking of calling it a day out of pure laziness. But now I'm back to the keyboard - bringing my A game.


  7. Recently I've been remiss in reading the FFP blogs because, well, life happens. But I discovered your entry, read every word, wiped an errant tear that somehow appeared on my cheek and decided to comment. I have three "furry babies" (they're dogs in case anyone had circus sideshow visions) the oldest one is fifteen, not bad for a shepard/husky mix. The middle one is a huge 130 pounds and the youngest a little 15 pounder. Huge and little are best friends. Old is kind of a grumpy senior citizen. I don't think life would be as fun and full of love without them. They have taught me the same lessons Hoshi taught you although I think I'm harder to train that they are...

  8. I loved this post so much! Thanks for sharing--and linking to my "health benefits of pets" blog. This is one I'll be referencing, too. *s* Reminds me so much of my last dog, my "furry muse" who actually was inspiration for my aging dog book.

    The lovely thing about dogs (and cats...gotta slip that in, too)--they don't KNOW they live on borrowed time. As long as they feel good today, this moment, and have their most favorite human (or cheeseburger!) nearby, they stay happy. The live in the moment, and don't worry about deadlines, or word-counts. Pets appreciate the here-and-now. So for writers, another dog/pet rule--write like a dog, "be" fully in the moment and remember why you fell in love with writing/reading in the first place.

    1. Amy, I didn't know you were doing a book on aging dogs. I'll look for it when it comes out.

      It's funny, because I did a free-form list of lessons when I started writing this blog and "Live in the Moment" was on it. But I promised to not go on forever and so limited myself to ten. Thanks to all these fabulous pet-loving commenters, I got to have the others in after all!

      1. That's one of my most favorite things about dogs and cats. They don't care if your breath or socks smell (actually they probably like that better!), don't know if they're going to the seashore or the vet tomorrow--today is what matters. I get caught up in the "what ifs" of the future, when I should cherish what I have THIS day. *s*

        Oh, the dog book is out--2nd edition, now back in print and Ebook, listed with the others on my http://www.shojai.com site.

  9. Great post. All the lessons resonated within me. We are given so much by our animals and they don't ask for much in return, although my two would step on me for their treats. ; )))
    Hugs. It hits home every time. I laughed and cried (especially reading the last part) I thought of my own that have gone to the big field filled with bones to chew. I'm crying now.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Sandra,

      "..the big field filled with bones to chew." Now that's the kind of thing that will make me reach for more Kleenex. I'll make sure my pal Stephanie tunes in so that she sees there are other people whose dogs will trample them for food.

  10. Jenny, would you mind if I reblog this post on my blog sites? I think it would find quite a few readers, and of course I would give you full credit. Lyn

    1. Lyn,

      We never turn away traffic for the site and I love the idea of more people getting to meet Hoshi. You blog away, then come back and give us the link so we can come see your magnificence.


    2. Lyn,

      On the posting to Blogger, send me an email to 'jennyhansensmail' at AOL and I'll pull you into a remote session so we can see what the issue is. We're 2 hours behind you, but I'm around tomorrow AM, say 11 o'clock your time.


  11. [...] by Jenny Hansen (@jhansenwrites) This weekend marks the ten month anniversary of saying goodbye to my beloved dog, Hoshi. She was everything a dog should be: loyal, loving, sweet-tempered, funny. She got my jokes (I swear that dog laughed) and she was around for all my big milestones – turning the big 3-0, the death of my parents, YEARS of dating, my en … Read More [...]

  12. Beautiful, my friend... Hoshi lived well. Now she continues sharing her zest for life through your wisdom. Life moves through us - lessons can be learned everywhere. Thanks for reminding us!

  13. Our dogs teach us acceptance and peace. My old girl is 15. She has arthritis and has lost much of her vision and almost all of her hearing. But her wagging tail shows she still finds joy wherever she can and she smply deals with the rest of it. We should all age so gracefully.

    1. Oh, Linda...those are good lessons (and hard ones). I'll bet your old girl lives for the walks and pets you provide her. It's a poignant time, that golden period for our doggies - every moment with them is precious.

  14. Tears with this one. On a daily basis I think of my dog of seventeen years. My very best friend. Not a day goes by I don't think of her. She taught me patience I never knew existed and the same for the dogs I have now.
    Great post!
    Cierra James

  15. What a great dog, and what a great post! I had a dog that saved my life and taught me that time really does heal all. She's been gone ten years now, and I still can't think of her without crying. Thank you for sharing Hoshi's story.

    1. Piper,

      Our animal children live inside our hearts forever, I think. You're going to tell us your dog saved your life and then leave us hanging? You tease! Come back and tell us about it...

      1. Lol. Well, I'd love to give you some dramatic story about falling off a boat into shark-infested waters, and my dog fighting off a great white and dragging my inert body to safety. The truth is not nearly so glorious or interesting. I lost my first husband to mental illness. It was a very dark time in my life, and I daily considered offing myself. My dog, Bear, a chocolate lab/Australian shepherd cross, was extremely protective of me and had not been properly socialized as a puppy. I got her at age 2, and only two or three people on the planet could get near her. I knew if I did myself in, they would have to kill her to get to my body, and I wasn't that selfish.

        After a couple of years, Bear found my current husband for me, too. We were on our second date, and he had committed what I thought of at the time as a terminal faux pas. (I now understand the minds of engineers, and I get that it wasn't.) Anyway, I wanted a touch of revenge before I cut him loose so when he got me home, I introduced him to "the dog." Bear woofed twice, sniffed his ankle, and then ran to get her ball to play. I was floored. This was a dog who needed careful introductions several times before she would even be in a room with someone without growling. I decided this man was worth a second look, and Bear could not have been more right about him. We've been married 18 years. He and Bear were best buds until she died. 2-24-01.

        We've had other dogs since, and they are all very special, but she's the one I think of every day. Like I said, nothing glorious or interesting here. Just a furry angel watching out for a broken human until she wasn't broken any more.

    2. Holy cow, Piper...Bear was a rockstar! It sounds like your husband was too. Hoshi put her stamp on my guy, Steve, in a similar way...it was awfully sweet and (of course) she was right. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

  16. What a wonderful story, and I loved the way you connected it to the writing tips. When our daughter and son-in-law decided it was time to send their faithful old dog to doggie heaven, they did a similar thing with the food. They gave him a week of eating whatever he wanted, and I'm sure they got that same look, "Where has this been all my life?"

    I have not had the opportunity to send my pets off like that as most of them have been so sick they were not eating, but I can see how this can start the healing process for the owners.

  17. What a touching post! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I think the biggest thing that I've learned from my very unique cat, Dre, is to trust my instincts: when I'm tired, sleep; when I'm hungry, eat; when I need to focus, do nothing but focus. Too many times, my mind and my body have not been aligned because I was not following what I needed to do, and I ended up crashing and burning. Plus, there is the fact that he is unconditionally "there": no matter what mood I'm in, there's that constant stability, which I put forth into my relationship with my boyfriend. I could go on, but I would fill the screen and potentially crash my computer, LOL. All of these things tie into my writing quite well, since when I trust myself, it heightens my confidence level: yes, I WILL write my chapter by my personal deadline, I WILL meet the deadline for my article, etc. The sky is the limit in terms of how much we can learn from our pets, and how we can input that knowledge into our writing.

    1. Krissy, it sounds like you and Dre can move mountains together. Good for you on your writing goals! Keep at it. My secret weapon for keeping on is my fellow Writer In The Storm, Laura. She's a pitbull (in a good way)!

      1. That's awesome! I find that my blog is my pitbull--it helps keep me focused, and holds me accountable for what I want to accomplish. I don't know what I ever did without it. 🙂

  18. Dear Jenny,

    First let me thank you so much for your article "10 lessons...". It was so warm and helpful, probably the first for me this kind after the completely unexpected death of my beloved friend from the "other species". Honestly for me the best teacher for living my life not too rational and definitely more emotional. My terrier Gatsby. An Irish Glen of Imaal Terrier. He showed me every day how simple, wonderful and widely different life can be. Thank you Jenny for memento! Thank you Gatsby for such a loving and instructive friendship!

    In this way two different creatures teached me almost the same one more time.

    There are so much grateful and gracious words in my heart and mind. But unfortunately your native language isn't my native one, really not. And my English-teaching lessons lag about 30 years. But nevertheless your loving words were so much helpful for me in this time of absence. Therefore I beg you pardon the incorrectness of my speech. Only appreciate the same deep feelings to this species. Both of us beloved dogs.

    All the best for you and your family and our deceased. No matter  which species they were.

    Dietmar from Germany (near by Cologne)

    1. Dietmar, I'm so sorry for your loss. I love the name Gatsby - he sounds like such a special dog. We appreciate you taking time to comment (your English is just fine).

      Because you made the effort, how about I try some of my college German for you? I don't have umlauts but I'll do my best.

      Danke schoen fur sie freundlichen worte. Dieser hund war wirklich mein kind. Ich vermisse sie.

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