Most Satisfying Moments in Dog-Ownership


Of course we love our dogs 24/7, but we’re not always swollen with pride over them. Seeing our beloved companions snack on some cat poop, or (I think it’s worse somehow), their own poop, can bring us down to earth again, but for a moment, let’s celebrate the stuff that makes dog-ownership such a gratifying experience.

Two training accomplishments above all others are the most pleasurable for me—and thus the most important for me to work on with my dogs: a tack-sharp recall and the ability to walk on leash without pulling. These are the two skills I practice—and highly reinforce—the most frequently. Truly, I do almost no other training with them, unless I need to teach them to do something to illustrate an article in WDJ!

We practice recalls daily. Some are just for practice, though I look for real-life opportunities to call them away from distractions such as squirrels, utility workers (such as meter readers or people delivering packages). But other opportunities are genuine, such as when I call them away from barking at someone who is walking by our (fully fenced) rural property, or, on an off-leash walk, calling them back to me immediately after they’ve spotted a deer or jackrabbit on the trail ahead.

One of the most beautiful moments in my dog-owning lifetime happened recently, and as a direct result of all of our practicing. I was on an off-leash walk with two other people and three other dogs, and my dogs went over the riverbank we were walking near to get a drink of water. Suddenly, Boone, my younger dog, came bounding up the embankment, bouncing like a kangaroo and looking very aroused. I ran a few steps to the edge of the embankment and looked for Woody.

I was very surprised to spot two figures swimming downstream in the river: In the lead was a large male deer with a big rack of antlers, and about 10 feet behind him, Woody. They were both swimming strongly, and the current of the river, swollen by California’s generous winter rains, was taking them downstream at quite a clip! My companions both shrieked, “Oh my god! Nancy! Woody!” I shouted at them to SHUSH! so Woody could hear me, and then yelled, “WOODY, OFF! HERE!” To my friends’ amazement, and my absolute delight and relief, Woody immediately made a graceful U-turn in the water and swam for shore (the deer kept swimming and we saw that he was going to make the far shore easily). Upon reaching shore, he shook off and bounded back up the embankment, seemingly full of pride and happiness at having flushed the deer into the river. I know had tears of pride and happiness in my eyes about his recall! That was one of those instances where I dumped the entire contents of my bait bag into my hands and let him have ALL the treats.

Much less dramatic, but nearly as pleasurable: Walking with my dogs on a loose leash. I am fine with them walking ahead of me, as long as they are not pulling, and they are fantastic at this skill. My sister who lives far away from me was visiting this week, and she’s not a huge dog-lover, but even she noticed and complimented me on how easy it was to take a walk with me and my dogs. She said, “I have some friends who spend the whole walk yelling at or struggling with their dogs, and I don’t enjoy walking with them, because they won’t go without their dogs and their dogs are not fun!”

Well mannered dogs are a delight around children.
Woody is drawn to babies like a magnet. He’s happiest when a baby likes being licked by his giant tongue.

Here’s another moment that fills me with pleasure: When Woody is allowed to greet babies or small children. He is a giant softy, drawn to the small and unsteady. If a parent is game, and their children are reaching for him, I allow him to greet them how he likes to, by licking them in the face or on their sticky hands. His tail is always wagging, his body loose, his eyes soft; he just loves children, even if they shriek at his tongue or grab at his face. Not every parent trusts a big, big-headed dog making right for their baby’s face, it takes some courage and trust in me as his handler, but I know I can count on his consistently kind, gentle response. If I see that a child looks apprehensive, I can ask him to sit still and let them approach him, but his tongue will start licking the air before they even reach him. (However, he can and will restrain himself from licking them if I insist.)

What are your favorite moments with or watching your dogs?


  1. My favorite moment with Katy, a Husky/Kelpie cross, is a quiet moment when she sits with her back to me and then throws her head back so she is looking at me upside down. 100% guaranteed to get my attention.

  2. I could fill a book with all my favorite moments with my new BFF Scout. But if I had to narrow it down to one thing, it’s when she is sleeping peacefully on her bed, and I bend down to kiss her goodnight and her tail starts to wag a mile a minute as if I am the Second Coming. It’s not a gentle thump thump thump…. It’s a crazy lady thumpthumpthumpthump. I’m not sure what we did to be so blessed to get this dog, but I am forever grateful!

  3. I love catching them napping together on the front walkway in the sun. (Fenced yard and locked gate) Usually Diana pawPrints will plop herself down and sprawl on her side, then Freyja Grey will notice and go over and lay near her, sometimes on watch and sometimes will also lay on her side or occasionally on her back, belly up and legs spread. I love to see them relaxed and enjoying the outside.

  4. Oh how I would love to have a recall like that for my husky mix Gus! I loved your story. Gus was dumped in our neighborhood, and likely survived on squirrels, ducks and cats for a couple of months. I have even seen him listen for, dig for and EAT mole crickets, which tells me he was pretty desperate for food. We’ve had him almost two years now and he’s turned into a wonderful pet. He’s super athletic and we give him lots of exercise. I work him daily on sit, down and come. But my “Gus come” command does not register with him when he is in full alert on a cat or bunny. It’s like he can’t even see or hear me. The call of the wild is too loud and crowds out all my training. I try working with him on recalls at dog parks now, because dog play is a distraction less primal than his hunting instincts. But even if he is never perfect at recalls, I am beyond proud of him and will never give up on him.

  5. Almost three years ago, I adopted Sully, a then 4- or 5-year-old black German shepherd, from a shelter. Bar none, he’s the most amazing dog in the universe. Who would have ever given this dog up, I’ll never understand.

    Sully doesn’t really like to be petted, but we show our affection for each other in other ways. My favorite is when I come home and there he is in the hallway. He welcomes me with either a deep greeting stretch or what I call his “helicopter tail”: he’s not just vigorously wagging his tail back and forth, rather it makes full circles. Around and around. And around.

    When he sees a wild animal, e.g. deer, fox, rabbit, wild turkeys, he looks at me. I calmly tell him “no,” and he continues walking (he’s not on a leash when we’re home on our four acres — I’m always with him). On rare occasions, when the deer have been decimating my plants, I’ll let him give chase. Just long enough to get them off the property and then I call him back.

    His recall is flawless. It has been since his eighth day with me when, very late at night, I took him outside. At that point I had him on a long lead line when we were on our property. Carrying my pocket flashlight, I wasn’t paying attention as we walked. But he saw something and took off. I fell forward and lost hold of the line. Immediately, I knew he was after a deer. And I knew where they were headed — across the street is 90 acres of woods. “OMG. I’ve just lost my dog,” I thought. I was stunned but not hurt and as I stood up, I figured I might as well try: “Sully! Come!” I heard a rustling and there was Sully, coming through the woods, straight back to me.

    Sully LOVES to play ball and we play outside several times a day (and night) — no matter the weather. He has dysplasia in both hips, which means I have to limit his running and jumping, so we play a modified game of soccer. I kick a ball (we usually play with 5-6 balls at a time) and he traps it in his front paws. Sometimes he’ll do a header. He’s also good at deflecting the ball I’ve kicked with one of the the football-shaped balls he always has in his mouth when we play. His joy is infectious. It can be raining buckets — or we’re playing in the middle of a snow storm — and we always have a great time.

    For the first month I had Sully, he watched me. All. The. Time. Like a giant computer sucking in every possible bit of data, he knows me so well it’s as if he can read my mind. He is beyond good. And he’s exceptional at communicating with me. If he needs to go out or have his water bowl refilled (he’s perfect, but I’m not), he’ll get his red, gumball squeaky ball and stand still, several feet away from me. Clearly it’s not an invitation to play; he needs me to do something for him.

    At night, when we’re playing indoor ball as I’m reading or doing a crossword puzzle in bed (it’s very easy to multitask and repetitively toss a ball to him), when I’ve had enough, I’ll say, “All done,” and without any fuss, he’ll turn around, take his ball to his bed and lie down.

    Sometimes I delight in just looking at him as he sleeps. He’s a gorgeous dog. And just happens to be a genius as well. I can’t call him my dream dog since I never imagined dogs as amazing as he is existed (other than in the movies) but he is the most phenomenal dog in the universe. At least in my universe.