Learning from Pets

Learning From Pets – Especially doxies

Learning From PetsLearning from doxies and living with doxies are synonymous in our home. For years, I denied pets in my home. The mess. The strain. The extra work. The nagging of children to care for them. The responsibility. Ugh! The list to not add a furry mouth to our home greatly outweighed any benefits.

My five children pled. Begged. Demanded. Cajoled. Compromised. Covenanted. The battle was incessant. Each time we passed a dog while outdoors, the negotiations would begin. A shopping trip inevitably led to a cacophony of little voices explaining a desperate need to visit a pet store. I only agreed to the dog to give myself a little peace!

Enters Samoa, a red, wild boar, long-haired miniature dachshund. She was three pounds when I brought her home. I’d been tricked into believing she wouldn’t be much trouble. Ha! Someone needs to warn new owners that having a puppy is as bad as a teething toddler, capable of driving any sane person over the edge of a cliff.

The first night, I was determined to kennel train the new puppy. Poor baby sobbed and cried. Hours. It wouldn’t stop. Finally, a little after midnight the puppy settled down. Battle one won. Wrong. In the morning, I found the puppy curled up on the top bunk with my seven-year-old son, Colin. With great determination and a splash of patience, I explained the need to kennel the not-potty-trained hound.

Learning From Pets
Samoa being held by my oldest daughter, submissively allowed herself to be dressed up in Build-a-Bear clothes.

Samoa returned to the kennel the next night with the exquisitely painful howling, growling and crying. Hours. A closed door and a pillow over my head did not drown out the agonizing sounds. Somehow, I found a way to fall asleep. (I’m sure I slept through the noise because of the exhaustion from carrying the small beast to the backyard a hundred times during the day to persuade her to go potty -not indoors!) The morning demonstrated I had not won the kennel battle. Or rather, I won the kennel battle but not in the method I’d expected. Curled up beside the tiny puppy was the boy. Colin drowsily rubbed his eyes as I shook him away. “Mom, she was so sad. She’s just a baby. You wouldn’t have shoved me a kennel when I was a baby.”

This continued for another week until I gave up. The dog slept with people.

Four years later, I had remarried and had adopted another dachshund. I named him Tagalong because he was a chocolate with caramel accents. (Yes, our family definitely loves those Girl Scout cookies. How could we not when we have so many teenagers?) Tagalong immediately became my dog, following behind me within a step or two. When I travel, he cries until I return home. Repeatedly, my husband and I were approached to breed these lovely pups. We finally heeded the invitation and had our first litter. What a marvelous experience!


Eight years later, I cannot imagine my home without a pet or especially a dachshund. Our nieces and nephews love to visit and play with our grown dogs and new babies as they appear. But greater than this lovely benefit of family visits, has been the lessons we’ve learned. Image may contain: one or more people

What do you learn from having a pet?

Here’s what we’ve learned …

  • PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – Although many of our children have participated in sports, having a pet has added extra activity, especially for the parents. Each morning I wake and walk my dog, Tagalong. We enjoy our mornings together. The kids are also responsible for walking dogs. This is not an activity which is restricted to just parents. Dogs need to be exercised no matter the weather. There are no excuses. We no longer look outside and decide that it is too humid, too wet, too cold, too hot or maybe we’re just too tired. They need a walk.
  • SOCIAL SKILLS – Having our doxies has taught our children to be more social. Some of the six children are more social than others. Some naturally have skills needed to communicate while others have needed an extra nudge whether they are a little more introverted or not. Our children (and me for that matter as I tend to be more introverted) often find conversations on our walks. People approach us to pet and love on our dogs. We have even found a Dachshund Festival nearby our home. We attend each year and thoroughly enjoy the outing. 
  • LEADERSHIP SKILLS – This may seem like an odd skill to develop, but it is necessary and does occur. Every member of our family learned the needs of our dogs and how to protect them. When we have new litters, there are rules that are adhered to strictly, especially as we are repeatedly asked to love on and handle our newborns. Our dogs don’t always know what is best for them and need to be protected.
  • BUILDING FAMILY BONDS – Who knew this would happen? But it has! Our children proudly acknowledge that they participate in a family resolve to breed, raise, train and care for our dogs. They take an active part in this piece of life. Their opinions are valued as we choose who will get our new babies and how we will handle any dilemmas.
  • LEARNING – Basic skills have been needed in caring for our dogs. Every day our kennel gets cleaned. The dogs have blankets which will be washed daily. When we have babies, there is one load of laundry to do daily. Other skills my children have learned has been how to feed newborns when there were too many in a litter. How to wean dogs. Potty training. Teaching tricks. New skills are needed as new challenges arrive like when we bought a house without a fenced in backyard. We learned how to train our dogs to stay in the confines of the yard boundaries.
  • BOOSTS SELF-ESTEEM – How can self-esteem not be boosted as children valuable and transferrable skills? People with pets are happier and less stressed (Stieg, 2016).
  • THERAPEUTIC – Having animals provides our children with a therapeutic component. My favorite example comes from Kathryn, our youngest daughter. When she is upset, she hugs Thin Mint (yep … that would be a third adult doxie living with us) tightly to her chest. This silly dog licks and loves on her until she is comforted.
  • COPING WITH LOSS – Pets also provide the ability to cope with loss. My children have learned the sad reality of death as we’ve lost three babies to natural causes. Our hearts broke and we cried as we have lovingly buried each of these three ounce newborns. It is devastating to watch a child cry during this loss but they’ve bravely approached these experiences. With each of these deaths, we’ve had family talks about what we think, feel and the natural consequences of death.
  • RESPONSIBILITY – There is no doubt that having pets leads to teaching responsibility. Each child participates in caring for, cleaning up after, bathing, feeding … Whew! So much to do for each little dog. But the responsibility leads to compassion, trust and even patience.

As our family greets another litter, we lovingly hold each bundle and kiss the top of their little heads. (Well, not all of us will kiss the top of the poor, little puppy heads. My husband absolutely refuses to kiss the puppies.) We look back on our journey and gratefully list what we have learned and what we will learn next from these sweet babies.


Stieg, C. (2016). A Strong Bond With Your Pet Leads to Greater Self-Esteem. Retrieved from: http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/wellness/news/a39878/strong-pet-relationships-self-esteem/

By Tracy Atkinson

Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband and spirited long-haired miniature dachshunds. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners. She has published several titles, including MBTI Learning Styles: A Practical Approach, The Art of Learning Journals, Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the mid-west with her husband. She loved storytelling and sharing her stories with her children. As they grew, she started writing her stories down for them. She is a teacher, having taught from elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, masters in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. Her husband, Kerry and Tracy breed miniature dachshunds and love to spend time with their growing family. She has published several books including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel's 8 and Securing Your Tent.

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