When a Dog Is Not a Lake Dog, What is She?

She is so not a lake dog, my Tessa. Which is to say that she’s not going to joyously leap into any body of water to retrieve a stick or a ball.


Tessa does leap. She leaps straight up and higher than any dog I’ve ever known.  She does this with such joy. Every time.  It’s as if her life’s purpose is to jump higher than any dog has ever jumped before; to always want to better her last jump just like a serious, human athlete always strives to be better than their last event.


How could you know that by looking at this photograph? What’s happening here is the other side of Tessa. Her nose and her intense concentration. Note that her eyes are shut tight. She is not sleeping. Trust me.

See how her nose is lifted? She’s working it really hard. Sifting and sorting the ba-zillion different scents that constantly demand her attention.

I haven’t figured out which is most important to her: the jumping or the sniffing. After almost three years of living with her, I know that if she had to choose between the two, that’s assuming she could actually do that, that losing either one would break her heart.

Which is an interesting turn of phrase and gets us into another conversation – one that, by it’s very nature, can take us into areas of doggie-ness that might become cutesy if we’re not careful.

And that conversation would flirt around the edges of the tendency that people have to be anthropomorphic with their pets.

Heaven forbid.


Tessa does choose. I’ve watched her.  When she’s inside the house and hears noises outside: people talking or dogs barking to name just two of the sounds that will get her mojo working, she leaps up and heads for one of two favorite spots – either the end of my bed so that she can look out of one second floor window or she makes a beeline for my son’s bedroom so that she can leap onto his bed and look out of yet another second floor window … both spots let her see what’s going on and trigger her own barking.

Which she takes very seriously.

It’s only been in the past couple of weeks that I can get her to choose between barking incessantly or stopping and coming to where I am. She and I have been working on this one thing for months.

Without any enticement from me other than my tone of voice, Tessa chooses to stop barking and to leave where she is to come to where I am.

So. If she can choose in this example, it’s not such a stretch of belief to assume that she can choose when it comes to other things.

There are, however, times when she never chooses.  Take, for example, the past three days of almost 24 hour cloud cover that is typical for this part of New York. Where I have to make a conscious choice to keep my spirits upbeat, without the sun’s help, Tessa doesn’t seem to be affected.

She is her happy-go-lucky, carefree self 365 days of the year. If only I could bottle and sell that!

Here’s where this conversation gets a bit sticky. Does Tessa

1)  choose to be happy or

2)  does she choose to ignore the dreariness of these days, or

3)  is this cheery outlook on life just who she is?

I think it’s who/what she is. Which is an honest indication of the terrier part of her DNA. Does she choose one thing over another? Yes. She does. I believe that.

Just like I believe that she has emotions.


That “break her heart” thing? That’s all on us, not dogs.  Someone made up that phrase a long time ago and it stuck. The emotions this phrase describes are as real as the nose on Tessa’s face the nose at the end of Tessa’s muzzle.

You know what else I think? I think that those emotions are just as heart-breaking for dogs as they are for all of us.








  1. Polly says

    If the phrase “breaking your heart” means the breaking of one’s spirit, making one fearful, cowering, apprehensive of attention, withdrawn, then yes, dogs can have broken hearts. Damn the people who break their hearts this way, then apply love to heal it if you can. Don’t make them have to chose one thing or the other – leaping or smelling – obedience or pain – and reap the rewards. The look on Tessa’s face is worth it.

    • htkhp says

      Doesn’t she look like a cat that just swallowed a canary? I think the one thing that amazes me about dogs is that they are resilient in spirit … most of them will keep coming back, a fact that has always humbled me.

  2. Polly says

    Resilience – I look forward to the day when Greta greets me with just the shimmying of her rump, and not with a groveling roll over onto her back with the look of “don’t hurt me”. But it has been only just over four months we have had her, and time can make such a difference. Clifford still averts his head, but will then glance back to look at me (which he did not do before) before pressing the side of his head against my thigh. There was no “tail wag” shimmy from him for the first month we had him, but now he does express happiness quite well.

    • htkhp says

      Coming into our third year of having Tessa, she’s just now approaching my husband showing all of the behaviors that indicate she likes him. Some things take time, don’t they?


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