Must (at Least) Like Dogs


My grandson Liam doesn’t really like dogs all that much. Maybe that’s too strong; he’s more or less indifferent to dogs, though this attitude can tip over into mild interest at times – mostly to humor me, I think. I think the genes for this indifference came straight from my husband, who has a friendly, “roommate” sort of relationship with my dogs, and tolerates my foster puppies, but who would probably be happier if I had no dogs at all. My husband’s son (my stepson) professes to like dogs more, but not enough to own one. (My own son is as dog-crazy as I am, and so is his fiancé, so I have high dog-hopes for my genetic grandchildren, if and when they may arrive.)

My husband and I are fortunate to have the opportunity to have Liam come from the East Coast and stay with us for a period of time each summer – and we pull out all the stops to make sure he has a memorable time. My husband built a massive treehouse for Liam when the boy was just six years old (he’s nine now). We have a trampoline, a super fun rope swing where Liam spends practically an hour a day, and last summer, we built a 150-foot zip line from the tree house to the other side of the pasture. We take him swimming someplace (various town pools, the nearby lake or river) almost every day, and we read together almost every night. We treasure every single day we can get with him.

Someone else here does, too: my almost-six-year-old dog Woody. In Liam’s memory, Woody has “always” been here, like the furniture. But in Woody’s mind, Liam is our most special visitor. When we came home from the airport with Liam earlier this summer, Woody practically levitated with joy, leaping around the kitchen and trying to smother the travel-weary boy with kisses. I know when Liam’s feet have hit the floor out of bed every morning, because I will see Woody grab a toy and race to Liam’s bedroom, greeting the boy with a strong tail-lashing and wiggles and moans of excitement before Liam can rub the sleep out of his eyes – that is, I saw this every morning until Woody started pushing Liam’s bedroom door open every night and joining him on his bed to sleep. Woody’s adoration of the boy is unconditional.

The funny thing is, Liam acts like he barely notices Woody, or, when he does notice the big dog’s excited greeting, he tends to push Woody away with an annoyed-sounding “Go AWAY, Woody!” In truth, I know he likes Woody and feels safe around him; if a movie we are watching gets at all scary, Liam will unconsciously slide off the couch and go sit next to Woody, or lay across Woody, on whatever couch Woody is currently on. And when we go swimming at the river, if he’s at all worried about the current, Liam will call Woody to his side, knowing that he can grab Woody’s tail and get a strong tow to shore with the muscular dog. But through most of the day he ignores Woody, and the fact that Woody is always following him around.

Reading time

I don’t usually foster dogs or puppies when Liam is here, because we often travel with him, but my shelter is full to the brim right now, and a young litter of eight puppies – and no mom – were brought in by someone who told the shelter he “found them under his house.” (I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this, and I always worry and fret about the poor mother dog, whether she was truly a stray or an owned dog, whose pups were presumably all stolen from her overnight.) This time, when the shelter called looking for fostering help, we had already done the travel we planned to do with Liam, so I said I’d take the pups until they were at the age of adoption. Besides, it was a good opportunity to model some community service to Liam – and to compel him to help with said service. He’s been helping me feed the puppies and herd them from place to place on the property, as the temperature requires (into my office for mealtimes and during the heat of the day, back outside into a pen under the big oak tree the rest of the day, when we’re not playing with them on the lawn). And he helped me round them up and get them in the car to take them back to the shelter for their first vaccinations and deworming.

Over a series of weeks, Liam has seen their development from barely conscious little grubs, who waded into the pans of formula and soaked kibble and had to be wiped clean afterward, to curious little explorers who can run in all directions and are learning to sit on cue for treats. Helping me with their care tasks, he’s made observations (“Gosh, we have to do EVERYTHING for them!”) that have led to good talks about the role of parents and other caretakers of small beings.

He’s seen with his own eyes how little ones can lack certain skills or cognitive abilities one day and suddenly have them the next. This came up as we discussed the pups’ early inability to recognize the hazard presented by edge of a concrete slab, about a foot off the ground; a week or so later, he realized that the puppies had developed the awareness of its danger, and they would avoid it – and a week later, he saw that the small “cliff” had morphed into a fun obstacle for the puppies to overcome, up and down, many times a day. (This led to some very pertinent talks about the development of good judgment as it relates to personal safety and gravity.)

He’s asked endless questions about “if they were humans, how old would they be NOW?” He’s obsessed with what age they will be when they are “older” developmentally than him – a fascinating thought!

I’m not sure that Liam will ever be a “dog person,” but I’m thrilled with the brain development and dawning social consciousness he’s gained from puppy care this summer. (And for his help!)


  1. Liam is going to have so many great memories of spending time with you guys!!

    I can’t believe Woody is SIX!!! It seems like just yesterday you were debating about being a “foster fail” with him. 🙂 (That phrase kind of bugs me… “foster fail” when it means you are keeping the sweet pup/cat, etc.

  2. I love reading the Journal and so many great pieces over the years — this has to be one of my favorites. I moved to Bay Area from east coast several years ago, and have been super-involved in boxer rescue, and I too have a granddaughter (now 11) who is just not so much a Dog Person. They did have kitties for a bit but they are gone now. My Lola, and Lucy and Maya before her, adored her and were like Woody with their joy and exuberance in seeing and being with her, and it was only returned mildly. Sigh. We are who we are, and she does care about animals just not ever going to be ga-ga about dogs (like me!). Thanks for this one, Nancy!

  3. Can you adopt me as your grandson? I am only 68… When I was that age, I could barely wait to visit my grandparents and go to the farm with my granddad! There was usually a litter of puppies to get to know, either beagle or fox hound. Like Woody, I would follow my granddad around everywhere he went. The best times were at the farm or sitting outside the grocery with the other retired farmers and ranchers talking about important things like the weather and whether or not I ever found the knife I lost at the farm 2 years ago. Liam is lucky and will remember his visits fondly and would give anything to be able to go back in time and do it again. He will also remember the big goofy dog that used to pester him and bring him toys and wonder if he will ever have a great dog like Woody.

  4. What a wonderful experience you are giving Liam! And don’t worry about his feelings about dogs….I grew up with dogs always in my family, and was much like Liam at that age…but as I grew older I noticed life just wasn’t “right” without them. I have full confidence that Liam will follow in your footsteps…..something Woody already knows!

  5. You are so awesome Nancy! You are awesome grandparents, and together with Woody, are providing your grandson so many valuable, unique, and critical life experiences and lessons that Liam will carry with him through his lifetime. This was a magical and powerful piece!

  6. Am raising my second Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He was the runt of the litter and very different personality from my first. He is 3 months old and seems almost incontinent as he wets his bed, and everywhere else he chooses, with quite frequent intervals. The vet says there is no sign of infection, and that he might have structural issues Ike ectopic
    ureters, which she has no ability to treat, or diabetes. Do you have any experience with this problem, and if so, what else can I try to help my little boy, before I have to put him through more aggressive testing?

  7. Thank heavens I have three wonderful grandsons within spitting distance. Now that they are older -a rising senior in high school, a rising 10th grader in same school and our “baby, SAM” who is turning 11 next week, they all are around dogs. Simon, the goin’ to be senior, is a dog lover and animal lover. Always has been! Right now his family is raising chickens with their two dogs and he takes care of both. Will probably study marine biology in college.

    Our almost 11 year old is a dog nut. Stayed at our house a lot and from the time he was toddling, he loved our dogs and they love him. His parents have two dogs and he worships them, so much that his parents just bought him his “own” dog, a precious Aussie doodle! Then there is our middle grandson, who ignores my dogs, his dogs and any dogs. He is not a dog person at all but I secretly think because of the loss of the two family dogs when he was about seven, it caused him to be afraid to love again!

    He does help his parents with their family dogs, but shows no interest in them. I just wonder if, when he gets to be an adult it will change. How could he be in this dog loving, nuts over dogs, crazy dog people family? Opinions, please!

  8. Nancy, I just love this blog post!! Thank you so very much for being transparent and allowing us a glimpse into life with your family, especially your grandson. He will never forget times spent with his granma and grandpa, nor will he forget that lovable mutt who shared Liam his heart.
    Ps I, too, would love to be your grandkid!! 😉💖 God bless you all!

  9. I enjoy your posts, especially when it comes to your new “fosters”. I am an animal lover, always have been. As a child, I could not wait to visit my aunts and uncles who either had farm animals as well as dogs and cats, or just dogs. Unfortunately, I have a husband who is not keen on having pets, but puts up with my dog(s). I am fortunate to have a son and daughter-in-law who love animals and have a home full of domestic animals, turtles, and fish. My step daughter is a dog lover too. My grandchildren were much like Liam. As adults, they are indifferent to animals, not inheriting the “animal” lover gene. My heart and soul would be empty without at least one dog to love. If I had my way, I’d have more to love.

  10. Love your blog post! (This one and all of them!) I’ve always found it fascinating how some people are “dog people” and others aren’t. I used to think it had to do with being exposed to animals, but I’m not so sure. I know people who had pets as children and have no interest in having one as adults. I was petrified of dogs (having been knocked over by an over-exuberant neighborhood hound) when I was 4. That same year, I came face to face with a sweet Dalmatian and within minutes I was smitten and have LOVED and been obsessed with dogs ever since (a half century+ ).

  11. My nephew became a dog person in self defense. He wants to come to my house and my house has doggoes so you either adapt or it’s no fun. Like Woody my dogs adore their boy. He has grown from a six year old who would tire of the adoration easily and ask if we could “put them away now” like toys. That led to conversations about caring for living beings and what that entails. He eventually got used to being followed, licked and loved as I helped all three of them learn to be gentle, obedient and (for my nephew) calmly commanding “like a dad”. Now he is 13 and loves my pups deeply. He got his first dog this year during the pandemic and has been diligently training him and coming to realize it’s more work than we make it look like :). His pup is adored and adoring and they are starting a journey together that warms my heart. So you never know what will happen in the future with Liam. You may be growing a dog loving boy with every wonderful interaction.

  12. Wonderful piece, as is usually the case here. Thank you.
    It is a story that is more profound than the words seem to convey. The messages within are so important; putting in the effort to understand the dogs, raises one’s own self awareness.
    By teaching humans how to care for animals, we help the animals, we become aware of love and obligation that comes from being a benevolent caretaker, and hopefully educate humans that being attentive and loving will alleviate suffering. This awareness leads to humans treating humans with kindness and non judgment, hopefully improving society and raising its cumulative consciousness… four-legged or two-legged being at a time.

  13. Your post and the comments brought me to tears. I have loved all animals as long as I can remember, and was fortunate enough to have a lifetime taking care of them, both personally and professionally. Getting Liam involved with dogs “automatically” broadens his perspective on all species. You might be surprised what he retains when he grows up!

  14. My grandson also seemed indifferent to my dog, Hunter. It wasn’t until I had the vet come to my house to put Hunter to sleep, that I understood what an impact this dog had on my very high functioning autistic grandson. My daughter explained to him, at 12,that Hunter was going to be euthanized and he insisted he be there. She brought him over and Keith held his head and stroked him as he passed away…then helped carry him to his burial place on our property.
    Weeks later I decided to make a photo album of Hunter’s life. To my amazement, 90% of his pictures were with Keith….always in protective adoration. He was a chocolate lab, so many times I didn’t even see him in the background when I was taking family photos…especially of my first grandchild!
    Sometimes we don’t see what is as plain as day, right in front of us!♥️

  15. WOW, An incredible piece & I agree the tears were welcomed. I truly believe Liam will have memories that will last a life time. And I to believe those memories one day will remind him that a life without a loyal dog buddy in his life is not life!
    Nancy, personally I believe you touched on a great topic. Liam`s response to dogs as much like many adults & their children. The problem we never know if their dog is as safe as your dog (Woody).
    I believe Woody recognized Liam`s behavior as he is not sure about Woody. I’ll bet Liam does not have a dog at his home? Which gives another reason Liam`s behavior of I’m not interested? But deep down Liam might be saying WOW, I wish I had a dog at home like Woody. When a kid has something like a cool dog all the other kids want to come over & hang out. I believe Woody understands Liam far better than Liam understands. Woody knows he needs a buddy & a friend too hang out with.
    Most people never sit down to “observe” their dogs behaviors. Although every dog can read our behaviors, some are far better than others at reading our emotions & needs. Like Woody to Liam.
    Awesome story. I loved that picture & it spoke so much to me. After I trained & taught AAI for 15 years.

  16. What a great learning summer for Liam. Good job!
    My daughter was never nuts over my dog. Oh, she would play with her or him (depending on the year and dog) but she was missing something. Then I brought home a stray Doberman I picked up walking on our country road. I knew he didn’t live in the area and later when I saw how attentive he was to pick up trucks (I figured he was dumped off). I had a year old female GSP and a fenced dog yard under a shade tree, with a dog house. I introduced them to each other and the rest was history. I told my daughter I was going to keep him if I could not find his owner unless she wanted him. She wanted him. And from then on became a dog rescue off the roadside person (like her Mom) and with each new dog that she didn’t find an owner she became more obsessive over their health and well being . I saw her anguish when her last Beagle was taken to the vet to be put down (I forget the illness but it had been a stressful summer). She had made up her mind that this time she would be there for her dog and then they wouldn’t let her come in due to Covid and they refused to do it at her car. That was wrenching for her. And then there were the months that there were no dogs at the shelter to be seen and no adoptions either. It was a year before fate stepped in and brought 2 Beagles into her life. They are hers and she is theirs.

  17. Our granddaughter is mortified in the presence of our 2 very large and rambunctious dogs; Boxer, a big one at 90 lb. (He’s almost 10yrs) and a German Shepherd (8yrs and can be intimidating). The dogs are under socialized.. we live in the country and what with Covid…they had never seen a child. The Boxer wants to love her, but outweighs her by 60 lb of muscle. We are always attentive to the dogs and how they behave and want to foster a relationship between the dogs with our granddaughter. The problem is my step daughter, the Mom keeps perpetuating the “scary dogs” vernacular and picks the child up, as if to protect her.
    It’s hard. She’s not my daughter, who like us is a dog lover. So it’s hard to be the one to say something. My husband is too soft and doesn’t want to upset the apple cart. Unlike your visit with Liam, perhaps indifference would be preferred in this case.
    Both Hank and Newman, the dogs are trying to have a relationship, but aren’t allowed.
    When dogs are such an integral part of your life, they don’t understand being locked away nor is it good for the whole vibe of the situation.