7 Things Having a Dog Teaches You

1. Dogs tell you a lot about your family.

Because dogs learn to see the family that takes care of them as their pack, you can learn a great deal about family dynamics from them. For example, our dog Annie is submissive and deferential to everyone in the family, with the exception of my niece Mary.

Annie, who’s part Border Collie, tries to herd Mary into various corners of our apartment when Mary visits. Thanks to Annie, then, we know definitively that Mary is lowest in the family pecking order and that if we’re ever attacked by a large jungle cat, she’ll probably have to be sacrificed.

(Truthfully, that was already our plan vis-à-vis jungle cat attack, but Annie made us feel more justified in it.)

2. Dogs keep you level.

It’s difficult to get too down on yourself when, every time you return home, you’re greeted by a couple a creatures who are totally thrilled to see you.

Likewise, it tough to get too full of yourself when you’re standing on the sidewalk waiting for a squatting creature to squeeze off a grumpy, knowing you’re going to pick up what’s being evacuated.

3. Dogs are like children.

They they need to be fed, they need attention, they poop unexpectedly, and they cry when they aren’t getting what they need. They are almost totally dependent on you.

Having successfully had a couple of dogs for a couple of years, and having not accidentally killed either of them, I’m pretty confident that I could take care of an infant for up to 48 hours without incident.

4. Dogs are not like children.

Turns out that when going for a walk with a dog wearing a diaper in a stroller while dragging a naked two year-old on a leash behind you, you might get some dirty looks from people. You might also get arrested and be told by counsel not to write anything else about the incident.

5. Dogs create empathy.

Looking at my pooches, with their soulful eyes and pleasantly swinging tails, and thinking about how sad I’d be if anything happened to them, has made me empathize with all living creatures. Like cows, which also have soulful eyes.

So now, if I want to eat a steak, I’ve got to first think about the cow from which it came committing a bunch of violent crimes, being tried a jury of its peers, and then being summarily executed. That way, my having a delicious steak is actually an act of deterrence against future bovine-perpetrated violence and I get to feel like I’m tough on crime.

6. Dogs can change size. But only when you’re not looking.

The amount of destruction a dog can create is wildly disproportionate to what their size and the amount of time they’ve been left alone suggests would be possible. Therefore, Occam’s razor tells us that as the door to one’s apartment closes, all dogs turn into mastiffs.

(I’m also working on a theory about secret opposable thumbs.)

7. Dogs teach you about sharing.

Occasionally Otis, our terrier, ends up with something Annie, our mutant Border Collie-Dachshund mix, wants, like a particular toy or spot on the couch. When Annie notices this untenable state of affairs, she’ll run to the front door barking, giving Otis the universal signal for “There’s someone strange here and we may have to bite/lick them!”

Otis, not being the brightest bulb in the chandelier, will dutifully spring from his spot and charge to the door, whereupon Annie reverses field and claims whatever it was that Otis had. Otis will remain at the door for several minutes before realizing he’s been bamboozled.

Learning from this, when my wife has the remote control or the good spot on the couch, I’ll say something like, “Honey, did you leave the stove on? I smell something burning,” or point to the window and yell “Bearshark! Bearshark!” Then I take her spot when she gets up. She’s a good sport about it and I’m a quick healer so the bruises don’t last too long.

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7 Things Having a Dog Teaches You

In Which I Learn about Fire and Hubris

Last weekend I took my lovely wife, our nieces, age 15 and 9, and nephew, 11, camping in the Catskills. (“Camping,” in this instance, meaning “backing the car up to a spot, complete with fire pit and picnic table, that was reserved online and setting up the tent about ten feet away.”)

After having the kids help out with setting up the tent, and feeling quite uncle-like in the process, it was time to get the fire started.

As I knelt down at the fire pit, I thought to myself, “Hold on, my oldest niece is in a New York Public High School, surely she’s got some experience with starting fires. And, by asking her to start ours I can get some serious ‘I trust you and think you’re capable’ points and then, when it doesn’t start, I’ll get a generous heap of ‘I am a wilderness master Eagle Scout’ points.’ Win win.”

So I asked my niece if she knew how to start a fire and if she’d like to put that knowledge to use. I busied myself with other tasks while she went about her business, though from the corner of my eye I thought I could see a great deal of paper being tossed in along with a suspiciously large amount of wood.

She called us over when it was ready for a match. I was delighted. The pit was filled with a solid foot and a half of variously sized wood haphazardly stacked. Clumps of ripped up paper bags were randomly distributed through the mess. It looked as if a very large, very drunk, bird had quickly tried to build a nest. In the dark.

As she got ready to light it, I offered, “You know, in the Boy Scouts we’d only get one match to start a fire…” and readied my most humble “oh well, I guess I’ve got to step in” expression for when nothing happened.

You know where this is going.

Damn thing went up like a Roman candle. Serves me right.

In Which I Learn about Fire and Hubris