I was in my early 20s when I first noticed that my disdain for dogs wasn’t the norm. I would be walking with a group of friends when we would approach a dog. I would naturally stand back or even cross to the other side of the street when I saw a dog, but my friends would do just the opposite. They would actually run TOWARD the dog. They would ask to pet it, ask its name and talk to it in excited voices.

What was going on? Why did other people seem to love dogs while I disliked them? Why did other people run toward dogs, when I ran the other direction?

I was definitely NOT a dog person.

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I started thinking about why I had such negative feelings toward dogs. I realized that a few of my earliest childhood memories involved dogs. And they were all bad. I had a few traumatic experiences with dogs when I was very little.

And since I had never owned a dog, I had never had a dog for a friend. I didn’t know how to communicate with dogs, like other people did. I didn’t know how to relate to them.

Somehow, despite my disinterest in dogs, I gave birth to two daughters who were obsessed with dogs. We called our oldest dog the “dog whisperer” because she seemed to have a way of calming dogs. She loved all dogs, and her younger sister seemed to share her affection. Both girls have been begging for a puppy for most of their lives.

Despite my effort to at least not hate dogs, I still had no interest in actually owning one. Who would want to pay money for an animal that would drool, stink, poop, require vet visits and food, and then eventually break my heart by dying? But a few years ago, we met a dog that captured my heart. He was a Goldendoodle, and his owner told us about how he didn’t shed, he was super smart and had a great temperament. We began to entertain the idea of possibly getting a dog.

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During the past year, as we sent our son to college and I adjusted to so many changes in life, I couldn’t stop thinking about how a dog might bring a fresh change to our house. A few weeks before Christmas, we took the plunge and got our very first puppy, a three-month-old Goldendoodle named Cooper. In fact, he was the very first pet I’ve ever had during my entire life!

Having a puppy has been far more difficult than I ever imagined. I didn’t know about puppy biting, jumping and potty training. I didn’t know how much work it would require to teach a dog manners and learn to communicate with each other.

But in the midst of training our dog, I realized he also has been teaching me a few things about life as well.

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Here are my top three puppy life lessons so far.

  1. LOVE AND BE LOVED

I’ve been thinking about a dog’s place in the world. What kind of challenges can I give our puppy to keep him entertained during the day. I’ve realized that his main goal in life is to be loved and to love others. Cooper loves every person he meets. When someone walks in the room, his tail starts wagging vigorously. You can’t enter the house and NOT give Cooper love.

He will sit down to be petted, and he has no problem rolling over on his back to let you know he is totally open to having his tummy rubbed. Cooper is ready and willing to give just as much love as he receives. We are working to calm his over-achiever status when it comes to showing love and affection by teaching him not to jump on people and beg for attention. If you need your face licked, Cooper is ready for the job!

Cooper has been teaching me to slow down and show love. I need to do this not only with my dog, but with everyone in my life. Don’t be in such a hurry. Stop and chat. Give a hug. Find out how people are doing.

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2. CHANGE TAKES TIME

Cooper is incredibly smart and can learn a new command on the first or second try. We have been amazed at how quickly he understood words like, “sit,” “come,” “Cooper,” and “leave it.” But actually applying those words to everyday life situations takes time. In fact, dog trainers say it will take at least a year for a dog to understand that “leave it” when referring to a small treat at home also applies to chasing a squirrel outside.

I’m often so hard on myself when I am trying to change a bad habit. I expect to be able to make a change overnight. Cooper has been reminding me that change takes time and practice.

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3. ROUTINE IS IMPORTANT

Puppies thrive on routine. They like to go for a walk at the same time everyday. They like to eat at the same time everyday.

I love going for a walk every morning, and for years, I’ve been telling myself I should get outside no matter what the weather is like. Since bringing Cooper home, I haven’t had a choice but to go outside for a morning walk at 6:20 a.m. Not only does the walk help him go potty, but he also needs to release his puppy energy before I head out to work.

It doesn’t matter if it’s freezing cold, snowing, windy or pouring rain, Cooper and I go for our morning walk. This routine has been great not only for him, but also for me. I wouldn’t be able to force myself out the door just for me. But having a puppy has motivated me to go outside, no matter what.

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It’s hard to believe that I’m actually becoming a dog person in my 50th year of life. I often can’t wait to get home so I can see my puppy and be the subject of his endless supply of love and affection. I don’t think of myself as “old,” but I guess you really can teach a (slightly older) dog new tricks.

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