Ten Life Lessons from a Golden Retriever

“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished.”

—Dean Koontz (author, Whispers)


I have never known a statement so true.  The June before I moved to college I bought myself a red heeler puppy.  He and I did everything together up until the day I left for college.  Leaving him, and home, was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.  That was, until the second day of December when my dad called to tell me he had died.  That was the day I lost my best friend.  Everyone asked me if I wanted to get a new dog, and I said no because I didn’t think Jax could ever be replaced.  Then after a couple weeks, I had come to the conclusion that maybe my old dog couldn’t be replaced, but a new dog would still make me happy.  After shopping around, I decided on a golden retriever puppy for Christmas.


On December 17, my boyfriend and I made the two-hour trip to pick between two male puppies.  Of course, I picked the fat one who chased leaves and named him Dexter.  We spent all of Christmas break at home where he could run and play with all the other animals and people, but then we had to come to Manhattan.  It was a tough adjustment for him because he only had one person to play with, and he didn’t have any dog friends at all.  It was tough for me because I had to wake up earlier to make sure to bring him on a walk before class, and I always made sure he had enough food and water.  Now that we’re adjusted though, things are going well and I have actually learned a lot from Dex.

  1. Never leave a dog unattended with a Christmas tree

The first night we were in Manhattan, I still had my Christmas tree up.  I had brought Dexter into my apartment, went back downstairs to get my laundry, and then I walked in on this…I mean, I did want to take it down so it wasn’t too bad of a deal for me.  Dex on the other hand was terrified.


  1. Always make sure to put the trashcan back under the counter

I’ll take my trash can out from its cubby hole when I cook occasionally so I can just toss stuff in there and not have to open the door constantly…well, it only took coming home twice to trash everywhere to make sure I put it back.  You can get mad at a dog for getting in the trash all you want, but after all, you’re the one who left it out.

  1. Patience

This is probably one of the most important lessons I have learned from my dog.  I have never been a very patient person, but I definitely am now.  From potty training, to teaching him that because even though he’s half my size doesn’t mean he can drag me around on his leash, it hasn’t always been easy. I have learned not to expect Dexter to go potty right away, for him to do wrong two or three times before he realizes he can’t do that, and that accidents happen.  He got excited because he has visitors? Awesome. I’m just glad he’s happy.

  1. Time management

Balancing school, work, and a puppy is tough, especially when you feel guilty for leaving him at home alone. When Dex and I wake up in the morning, we go on a walk.  Usually it is a long one, but occasionally, I hit the snooze button three too many times so out walk if cut short.  Dogs need a ton of exercise, and since Dex is a puppy, he has a ton of energy to run off all the time.  Park trips are definitely Dexter’s favorites, and it’s the quickest way to wear him out, so we try to go two or three times a day.

  1. Don’t get attached to, or value, any personal items

Three months later, and I’m down two pairs of boots, a few books, and wall décor.  Once again, completely my fault for leaving those things where he can get them, but when the boots have been out since he moved in and he didn’t ever touch them until he was here two months, I got confident…don’t ever get confident…or trust your dog.

  1. Unconditional love

Who else will love you after you leave them for work all day, or when you’re sick and can’t go to the park?  A dog.  Don’t get me wrong, Dex gets mad a t me for a little bit when we don’t get to do exactly what he wants, but he forgives me faster than anyone else ever would.  He also never stays mad when I run out of his favorite treats, or soft food.

  1. Don’t spend a ton of money on new toys

Dexter loves his toys.  I won’t lie; I am guilty of spending too much on toys.  I went all out when I first got him, and every once in awhile he gets a BarkBox in the mail.  But, I will also be the first one to tell you that Dex would rather play with a stick, or an ice cube over 95% of the toys I have actually purchased.


  1. To appreciate the small things

The simplest things make Dexter happy.  From a treat, to a visitor, or a walk around the block, he’s always excited and will wag his tail.  I have never met a happier dog that Dexter.  He loves everyone and everything.  Every person or dog we meet on our walks, all the cattle we have at home, and the occasional squirrel.  He thinks everyone is his best friend.

  1. Responsibility

This goes hand in hand with time management, but a puppy is definitely more than that.  Dogs can cost quite a bit of money too.  The initial cost of a puppy can vary quite a bit, but then you have to include all of the shots, flea treatment, heartworm protection, and insurance is another expense if you decide to do that.  The vet is expensive in every shape and form, but if all goes well, your pup will only need to go once a year after his rabies shot.  I didn’t have to pay for Dexter, but I had to pay for his vet expenses.  On top of that, if you get what is considered “good” puppy food, you’re looking at $40-$70 per bag…and that adds up with a large dog.

  1. To be a better person

“Be the person your dog thinks you are.” Unless you have a dog of your own, you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I feel like Dexter has expectations that I’m supposed to live up to.  Maybe they’re not outrageous expectations, but still.  He expects to go on walks, or go to the park, and to get a treat after every walk, and he definitely expects to make the two hour trip home at least every other weekend so he can see all of his other favorites.  You really are your dog’s best friend, and you never want to let them down.  Dexter doesn’t see me do any wrong.  He doesn’t think I’m a bad person, and because I know how much he loves me, I believe I have to live up to that expectation.

In Sisterhood,

Alison Lingenfelter


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