Lesson Learned from a Dog

Yesterday’s post from Joelle Trayers inspired me to tell you a little about the best professional development I ever received – from a dog nicknamed Wonderbutt.

By the time my husband and I got married, I had owned three dogs, and hadn’t done a very good job with any of them.  We decided to get a golden retriever puppy together, and I resolved to do everything I could to raise this one as a properly socialized, well-behaved citizen of society.  I took her to Dog Obedience and Canine Good Citizen classes, read books, and studied every episode of The Dog Whisperer.

Mia, the golden retriever, turned into a model pet.  Because I had obviously become a pro at dog training, I thought we were ready to introduce another dog into the household.  I had wanted a bulldog since I was a child.  During an innocent trip to the pet store with our daughter to get a fish, we walked out with the fish – and a bulldog puppy.


Clancy (named after the bulldog that lived in my grandmother’s apartment building growing up) quickly made it clear that I knew absolutely nothing about raising dogs.  While many dogs can be house-trained using a crate because dogs tend not to mess up their beds, Clancy apparently had no inhibition about this tiny detail.  After the umpteenth time that I had to give the dog and the crate a shower, I came to the conclusion that this was not going to work.  (My husband gave him the nickname of Wonderbutt for more than one reason: first because he had no tail, so his entire butt would wag when happy, and second because of the amazing amount of displeasure the dog could express with that end of his body.)  Despite being given plenty of toys that were appropriate for chewing, he seemed to delight in finding anything and everything that he wasn’t supposed to chew, with the end result that we had to replace the furniture and the flooring in our house.


It took me way too long to realize that the one thing that Clancy wanted more than anything else was my attention, and the more positive attention and quality time he received the better behaved he became.  He wasn’t a bad dog; he had different needs and different ways of communicating them.  Once I threw out all of my ideas of what was “supposed to work,” and realized what he was trying to tell me, I was able to re-train myself.

Clancy became my constant companion.  He loved going for rides in the car, sitting regally by my side.  If I got in the swimming pool, he would wait patiently for someone to put on his life jacket so he could get in, too.  Each evening, he would jump in my lap and snore contentedly as I watched t.v., and every morning we would snuggle together on the couch for a little while before I got ready for work.

Last month, when Clancy was a little over 7 years old, we found out that he had an inoperable tumor on his heart that had already closed his right ventricle.  He had probably been suffering for awhile but I hadn’t known until he stopped eating.  After consulting three different doctors, I had to make the hardest decision of my life.

I look back at all of the Wonderbutt pictures and stories on my personal blog, and marvel at all of the destruction he wreaked in our lives, yet all of the joy and love he gave us as well.  I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to figure out that imposing my own expectations on a dog with a completely different personality was the problem.  But I’ve learned that lesson – and I apply it to people and dogs equally.

After watching Clancy take his final breath, my husband, who suffered in silence as we paid the bills for home renovations and thousands of ruined books and shoes and never once complained that Clancy took over his favorite chair or his favorite wife and even forgave the dog for scratching his face with his snaggle tooth when startled awake one time said, “That was the best dog I’ve ever known.”


8 thoughts on “Lesson Learned from a Dog”

  1. Wow! What a great lesson. As I sit here crying after reading your post, I want to tell you how sorry I am that you lost a member of your family.

  2. I am so sorry for your loss. Dogs really are like people and we learn so much from them. I have an 8 year old Irish Wolfhound Wolfie who has taught us so much. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story with us.

  3. Oh Terri, I feel your pain. I had a very similar experience with my soulmate Susie Q. I too had to make that gut wrenching decision over Thanksgiving break. She and I learned so much from each other and her loss is still felt daily. There is HOPE! I have a new best friend named Layla that we rescued from Snipsa. She is a handful, but as I cuddle her on her bed each night I know what really matters…the joy we bring each other.

    Wonderbutt will be missed not only by you and your family, but by the countless students that got to meet him during your summer camps as well. He was a treasure!

    1. I am so, so sorry to hear that about Susie Q. I wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone.

      That is such a coincidence that you rescued from SNIPSA! Julia’s dog is from there, and we just rescued another sweetie from there. It’s an awesome organization. Chester is the complete opposite of Wonderbutt when he was a puppy, which is probably good for me right now!

  4. I loved this so much. I have learned this exact lesson myself and I am watching the teacher of this lesson climb over the hill to his senior-dom. Hugs to you for your view on life and loss of a fur-child. <3

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