10/05/2012 09:16 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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

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