5 Things My Dog Made Me Learn the Hard Way

by guest blogger Maya Rodale, writer of historical tales of true love and adventure

When I was 21 years old, I made a list of reasons why I can and should have a dog of my own. After reading it to my mother, she sighed and said, “Maya, you’re a legal adult and live on your own. If you want a dog, get a damn dog!”

A few months later, Penelope arrived.

A few days after that, I called my mother crying. Penelope was adorable, but she was an evil demon spawn that wanted to bite me to bits with her tiny, razor-sharp puppy teeth. In spite of thoughts of throwing her out the window, I vowed to love this dog if it was the last thing I ever did. Love took a year—a long year—during which Penny trained me as much as I trained her.

Penny Lesson #1: You are unreliable until proven reliable.

Penelope swiftly discovered that I cleaned up after her on the street. She would look at it, then give me a pointed look as if to say, “You’re going to clean that up, right?” Now she just walks away and leaves me to the job, confident that I’ll take care of it because I’ve proven it a thousand times. Likewise, she doesn’t need to remind me to take her out because I have demonstrated that I will, at the same times every day, no matter what.

I’ve noticed that some humans get annoyed when they aren’t immediately given tons of responsibility or big tasks. You should just trust me. But really, you have to get up every day and demonstrate with your actions that neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor temper tantrums, nor lack of credit will stop you from getting the job done.

Penny Lesson #2: It’s all my fault.

Once, Penny ate my new cellphone. It was still ringing, but the entire plastic casing and all the buttons had been nibbled off and left on my bed. Was I mad? Hell, yeah! Was it my fault? Absolutely. Because I had established a system where she could chew on stuff lying around (her toys) and I would remove banned items (my stuff) from her reach. On this occasion, I left my phone lying on the couch. I broke the rule.

If you don’t like the way people are treating you, just double-check to make sure you’re not sending signals saying that kind of behavior is OK.

Penny Lesson #3: Tough love is true love.

Have you ever eaten chocolate cake in front of a dog? They give you Those Eyes. They beg, plead, cajole, and tug at your heart. It’s adorable. But you have to say no because chocolate is toxic to dogs, and because you know better. Likewise, you must diligently prevent puppies from eating electrical wires or stop them from sprinting after squirrels into oncoming traffic, much to their tremendous irritation.

Penny toughened me up to be able to do the right thing even when the wrong thing was oh-so tempting or just plain easier. And you know what? Most of the time it’s no big deal. You finish the cake and everyone moves on, and the dog still loves you.

Penny Lesson #4: You can’t rush sh*t.

Literally. Puppies will not go potty on command. They will especially not do so when you are late for a meeting or when it’s 30 degrees, it’s raining, and you have a fever. All you can do is provide the time and opportunity for success. And by succeed, I mean do what you want. It takes planning and it takes patience, and it teaches that venting your frustration accomplishes nothing. So chill out and plan better.

And when the desired behavior is achieved? Don’t be shy with praise.

Penny Lesson #5: Ask for what you want…and go get it (just look freaking adorable while you do it).

Most of the time, Penny is pretty well trained. But if you’re eating something and she wants it, she’ll ask. If she’s outside and wants to come in, she’ll let you know via a particularly high-pitched bark. Is it annoying? Sure. But I have to love that she is totally free of that “girl guilt” about asking for what she wants. I am inspired.

Sometimes she asks for stuff (say, chicken pot pie) and we say “No!” And then we later find her standing atop the kitchen table eating piecrust and licking up crumbs. (See again “Lesson #2: It’s all my fault.”) Are we mad? Hell, yeah! But she just gives you that adorable puppy smile and scampers off until you are over it. Another Penny lesson: Sometimes, you just have to go do it and ask for forgiveness later.

After a year of proving myself to Penny, she finally deigned to accept me. Final Penny Lesson: Love—or anything—is so much sweeter and more rewarding when you have worked your tail off for it.

I have also immortalized her as the heroine’s pet fox in my new book, Three Schemes and a Scandal, available now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Like Penelope, this fox has a fondness for sleeping on pillows, begging for bacon, and refusing to come when called.


Maya Rodale is the author of multiple historical romance novels, as well as the nonfiction book Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained. She has a master’s degree from New York University and lives in Manhattan with her darling dog and a rogue of her own. Her latest book is The Tattooed Duke. Learn more at mayarodale.com


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18 Responses to 5 Things My Dog Made Me Learn the Hard Way

  1. Bonnie October 5, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    Sounds about right!

    Long time dog, cat & miscellaneous pet owner.

  2. Amanda October 5, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Brilliant! I am hanging this in my office 🙂

  3. Gina October 10, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    How very true! I love my pooches.

  4. Kathleen October 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    seriously? you think it’s an amusing line to want to throw your puppy out the window? in this world where that actually happens????
    and is swearing really necessary? it didn’t improve this article for me at all…..

  5. Christine October 10, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    Geez Kathleen, lighten up and get a life. Life is way too short to be so critical and way,way over the top sensitive. I am a huge animal lover. I have personally rescued a minimum of 20+ animals since I was old enough to show my parents I was responsible. I, although being disabled, currently have 6 dogs, 2 ferrets and a cat that I take care of that are all rescues. But even I have had thoughts at one time or another that ‘if those darn dogs don’t qu barking I’m going to kill them’. I never mean it nor would I ever do it, but the point is it was just a way of releasing frustration in a non-harming manner. And I would be hard pressed to believe that you’ve never ever had a frustrated thought about a person or animal or even said a curse word. That’s all the writer was doing in a very cute story about the things her dog taught her. Like I said in the beginning get a life, “life is literally to short” to be so over the top sensitive.

  6. Kathleen October 10, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    Thank you, Christine….I actually do have a life. I also have 11 cats, two dogs, and I’ve had many more as well who were all rescues. I also don’t swear. I also happen to be a writer, and swearing isn’t professional whether it’s ok with you or not. I don’t need you to explain to me what the writer was trying to do. I think I can figure that out. However, look into the world and you will see that people actually do things to their “pets” that are worse than anything you can imagine. So yes. I am sensitive to the issue. I lie awake at night nautious because of things done to children and animals. You have your own heart. I have mine.

  7. Kathleen October 10, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    Oh yeah, I also know how short life is. My son died when he was 19.

  8. Sandy October 11, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Thank you for an interesting and amusing article. Reminds me of my crazy Dalmatian, Sam, whom my hsband and I rescued. He was only 9 months old and we were his 3rd family. He had taught me many things–never ever leave any food out, and just about anything is edible to a dog (a telephone wire while on the phone with the IRS on April 15th…) But, most inportantly, he taught me to laugh at the many absurdities in life and he taught me loyalty (and never ever leave out apple pies at Thanksgiving). To Kathleen, my heart goes out to you. My son Sean died in 2003. There is no greater pain a loss of a child. I sincerely believe that the author meant no disrespect and was just voicing frustration. Please accept my condolences. Hugs and prayers to you.

  9. teresa mendes October 14, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

    You are offended by someone saying damn. Really…get a life!!!!!

  10. Brenda November 19, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    I enjoyed the article and the analogies!

    Kathleen, I respect that you are entitled to your opinion…but you are much too sensitive and flew off the handle before you were able to absorb the lesson in the comment about throwing the puppy out the window. I am all too familiar with the horrors of animal abuse. I am also familiar with the frustrations of puppyhood. The beauty that you missed was that she said despite all those frustrations she vowed to love the dog if it was the last thing she did. This statement is telling people that although you can’t always control your thoughts and feelings you can control how you react to them. This is as far from abuse as you can get.

    So Kathleen, I read your comment and thought you were very mean and unprofessional. But that’s just my opinion.

    I think I’m going to look for some of this author’s other works now because I enjoyed this piece! 🙂

  11. Walter November 20, 2012 at 3:23 pm #


  12. Chrissy November 20, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    Really, “damn” and “hell” ruined this adorable article for you? I’m thinking the internet is no place for someone with such a thin-skin and a lousy attitude.

  13. Shell November 22, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    I agree with you Chrissy. In the world today with everyone scared to say anything for fear of being politically incorrect about every subject on the >(damn)< planet, one should look at their own faults and stop looking at everyone else's. I agree, turn your computer off Kathleen, its to much for you.

  14. Bonnie November 22, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    I always cringe for the pet when “untrained pet owners” decide to get a pet. They have an idealized idea of how fun it will be, when actually there are lots of personal adjustments to be made.
    Hopefully they are quick learners.

  15. Claudia December 2, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    Maya, loved your article. Reading the comments I am surprised by how people perceived it. No sense of humor! I think your article was a great tongue and cheek piece with great advice too. Keep up the wonderful writing!

  16. Andrea April 29, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    get a life kathleen and a sense of humor while you are at it. you are an asshat

  17. Conbon April 30, 2013 at 4:21 am #

    I think Kathleen had every right to feel the way she felt.
    Christine I see where your coming from but I’ll disagree with you.
    Writing is like art, expression of one self. no need for it to be trashy. I personally wouldn’t talk in public with that language.
    And if you read books on Phycology thoughts can become actions. A lot of people abuse animals, it’s a very touchy subject. Most people that read these articles are animal lovers… We animal lovers don’t want to hear or imagen a poor animal having to suffer.

    Kathleen: I’m sorry for your lost.

  18. Judi April 30, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    Loved the article! We have a not quite two year old rescue that has become a member of the family. In the puppy days, there were times the window looked like a good idea to us too. I’m sure the cats would agree (rescued too). Truth is, he wouldn’t fit. There’s no reason to be so critical unless it makes you feel better about your self-righteous self. I would, however, think a “writer” would be able to spell.

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