Lilly – A dog story


             When I was eight and ruffling our German shepherd’s fur on the family room carpet, he suddenly lunged at me with open jaws and barred teeth. My older brother arrived just in time to push Jagger off before he bit my face. That experience has traumatized me ever since, and after Jagger died four years later from old age, I wanted nothing to do with a dog as a pet. I even hated movies with dogs in them.

That’s why I argued desperately with my mother nine years later when she informed the family she planned on buying a Yorkshire terrier.  I had no idea what a Yorkshire terrier looked like or how it behaved, but because it was a dog, I knew I didn’t want it in our house or around me.  I remembered Jagger’s teeth, his menacing growl, his dark eyes.  “No way,” I told my mother at the dinner table. “Not another dog!”

I was older (17) and a little embarrassed to be so wimpy, but dogs were unpredictable. Right? My older brother was gone, living petless on his own. Who would defend me from this new dog?

“I’m getting us a yorkie,” my mother insisted. “I’ve already made arrangements with the breeder.”

I slumped in my chair and ignored the rest of my meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I felt doomed.

The next day, Mom showed me pictures of cute Yorkshire terriers and assured me they were gentle, but even with her assurances I wasn’t comfortable with getting another dog, even if it was small. Nevertheless, two days later Mom returned home in the after-noon with a four pound Yorkshire terrier.  She named it Lilly. She gently cradled the little bundle of brown and tan fur in her arms and smiled. Then she dropped a bombshell.

“Keith, you’re going to train Lilly.”

“What?” Did I hear her right? She wanted me to train this dog? Didn’t she remember that I hated dogs?

“You will feed her before you go to school and again at dinner.”

I glanced at Lilly whose eyes darted around our family room, as if looking for a place to settle in. She was definitely more frightened than I was. “But I want nothing to–“

She raised a hand, stopping me. “Plus, you will potty train her and teach her to behave.”

“Me?” I still could not believe this was happening. “How am I supposed to know what to do?”

Mom smiled and walked away. “You’re an A student, aren’t you?” she said over her shoulder. “Do your research.”

So I did. Over the next week, I researched Yorkshire terriers at and talked to friends at school who were experienced dog owners about the methods they used to train their dogs to go to the bathroom outside and to behave.

Lilly at first tried to behave like an alpha dog, nudging me to pet her, barking to be fed, or pulling on her leash when I walked her. Yorkies can be demanding, and Lilly was no exception. She had that small dog syndrome, which I learned from Sharon Maguire on the Dog Breed Info Center website that dogs like yorkies should not be seen as cute and cuddly just because they’re small. They have to know their limits.  If she barked at friends, I put her in the bathroom and closed the door. If she barked at other dogs outside, I yelled “No” and made her sit until the other dog passed. A dog’s size, I learned, does not matter regarding its behavior.

Lilly would run and jump when I came home from school, which I interpreted – incorrectly – to mean she was excited to see me. What she needed was exercise, so I took her for long walks to tire her out. If she pulled on the leash, I stopped until I decided we would continue so she knew I was walking her, not her walking me. I let Lilly sit in my lap when I wanted her to and to sleep in my bed if she behaved, but only at my feet.

Without me truly recognizing it, we developed a bond. We even depended on each other. Lilly needed me for food, walks outside, and guidance; I needed her loyalty and affection.

It took five months but the training eventually paid off, and Lilly became an obedient and friendly dog, although she still barked at strangers, especially the pizza delivery guy.  Lilly helped me overcome my fear of being threatened by dogs and, in fact, feel more confident now about my ability to train one and control a dog’s behavior. When Lilly passed fourteen years later, I grieved for those times when she licked my face and cuddled with me on the couch. I missed our long walks together and even her yapping at strangers.  I especially missed her friendship and loyalty which made me come to love a dog, not hate it.

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