10 Lessons a Puppy Teaches

We recently added a new member to our family. His name is Duke. He was in the foster care system, saved from a rough beginning in Alabama, and now he’s all ours. Yes, as the title indicates, he’s our new puppy, and that makes us a three-dog home.

This means that we have a nearly fourteen-year-old dog (Sam), an eight-year-old (Vito), and now…a baby. It’s definitely making life interesting—and often challenging. Since it’s been eight years since I’ve had a puppy, I find myself reflecting on the many lessons having a little one in the house offers—not just about dogs, but about life. I thought I’d share the top ten that come to my mind…


  1. Life’s messes are best cleaned up sooner rather than later.

Potty training a puppy—at least in my experience—is never a journey without accidents. They’ll need time to learn that poops and piddles occur in certain places. And when the inevitable accidents happen, if you’re able to clean them up right away, the fallout is lessened immensely. The difference between spying a recent “link” on the floor versus poop that has been inadvertently smashed into bedding can be, as Trump would say, “UGE.” Same in life. If you make a mess by hurting someone’s feelings, dealing with it right away rather than letting it fester and grow usually results in much less “clean up.” Remember that dude in college who didn’t bother to really clean the puke that his buddy spewed in the backseat of his car? And then he offered you a ride and you nearly lost your lunch even with the windows down? Yeah—like that.


  1. Sometimes we make things hard on ourselves. 




Puppies aren’t always aware of what they are doing—like making a choice to bite one’s own leg. In life, we can do the equivalent by being hard on ourselves. I don’t mean we’re busy biting our own legs (though I’m not ruling that out), but I do think that the person who is the toughest on us is usually…our very own selves. Unfortunately, changing that is not as simple as pulling the leg out of our mouths, but it’s still something we need to transform.


  1. Though it’s hard, we need to work through and then let go of those things from our past that mess with our heads.

Our little Duke had a rough start. He was found walking the streets with one mama and seven other puppies. Then he went to a foster home that had several dogs and didn’t really take the time to make sure that each of them ate enough. Consequently, Duke has ridiculous table manners. He lunges and gobbles and inhales…It’s going to take some time to reassure and teach him that he doesn’t have to worry about having a full belly in our home, but when he does…I know he will lose some of the anxiety that is a part of his world. We, too, are healthier when we learn to evolve to where our past issues don’t make us gobble through our todays. We, too, can have “full bellies” when we grow past letting the past mess with our heads and know that we are enough.


  1. We can all learn something from each other—no matter our age or experience. 

I am a firm believer in having dogs of varying ages. The older ones help the young ones learn, and the young ones renew the spirit of the older ones. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and it’s true for us, too. Whether at the beginning, middle, or end of life, we each bring our own wisdom to the world. Listen and learn.




  1. Life is chock full of distractions. 

It’s amazing how focused a puppy can be on being unfocused. Duke has taught me there are a gazillion sights and sounds in our backyard that are much more interesting than trying to poop…And while those distractions are drawing him away from his true purpose, they sure are interesting! But I readily admit that I’m just as squirrely as he is, and I can be very easily distrac…..




  1. It’s important to know that you matter and you’re loved.

Even though all three dogs are lavished with love, when one comes up to me for some attention, the others quickly horn in and need to be reassured that I’ve got pets and sweet words for them, too. They continually need to know that they rank super high on the love-o-meter. Who doesn’t?


  1. Respect one another’s boundaries. 

Little Duke is very comfortable taking possession of any and all toys or beds. Sometimes Vito and Sam tell him, “Enough!” in their own special way. Duke needs to learn that the whole world doesn’t revolve around him. Sometimes we, too, need a visit from Copernicus to remind us the very same thing. Of course…there’s always the alternative of sharing…




  1. The importance of play…and rest.

When the dogs romp and play, I feel my spirit lift. Their joy is infectious as they bound across the yard or play chase. After, they flop into naptime to recharge and do it all over again. Undeniably, we need way more of this in our own lives. Watching is great—and doing is greater.


  1. We simply want to belong.

Wild dogs roam in packs—and domestic dogs also need their “pack.” While the pack has its own hierarchy, the main things is…belonging to one…knowing that you are a part of something bigger than just you. When Duke joined our family, he wanted to know that he wasn’t a square dog in a round pack (I know because he told me). What a relief it is for him (again…he told me…) that we all want him as part of our family and pack.




  1. Love wins.

Adding a puppy to our world hasn’t been without challenges. Between potty training and having our schedules altered and restricted during this phase, it can be pretty stressful. Through it all, though, the neck snuggles or the flashing of the puppy eyes remind me why we took this on. Love. Puppy love. It doesn’t take the stress away, but love trumps stress. Love wins.


puppy eyes


That little brat is lucky. He once decided to use his poop as his art medium, creating a stinky Pollock of poop.

Thankfully, for him—and us—love covers a multitude of poops.


All photos are my own.
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10 thoughts on “10 Lessons a Puppy Teaches

  1. I have so many comments, but I’ll just share these:
    1) Three Dog Night- nothing else to add on that one
    2) You could rumble- dogs against people (though rumbling would go against the core message of your post)–tug of war maybe?
    3) How long did Sam let Duke stay next to him on the bed?
    4) At how many dogs does a dog person officially become akin to a cat person?
    5) I love them all and am excited for you that they are in your lives!!

    1. 1. I’ve thought the same thing. 🙂
      2. We call it wrassling…though it’s only for the 4-leggers. I fear we would lose if we took them on!
      3. A looong time. All three of them snuggle with each other at times. It’s very sweet.
      4. Definitely not three.
      5. Thank you!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  2. Duke is adorable and I
    love that he’s both fitting
    in and doing his own thing!
    I’m so glad that your older
    dogs are okay with him ~
    I’ve had friends try to introduce
    a “newbie” to the pack and
    it didn’t work out….

    Yes. These creatures
    teach us so much. And
    those eyes ~ they melt me!

    xo Suzanne

  3. Your words make me look forward to the summer when we plan on adding a four-legged bundle of love to our house.

  4. Lisa, I recently came across your blog post on huffingtonpost.com. My fiance and I adopted our puppy Mayes from LOST DOG RESCUE in April and she is almost an identical twin to Duke, it’s almost scary! I wish I had your e-mail so I could show you how identical they really are! Mayes is now going on 11 months and she’s a cocker/terrier mix. How crazy would it be if they were siblings 🙂

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