As a boy I was deathly afraid of dogs. On the way home from school each day, I would turn onto our street, pause for a deep breath, then run as fast as I could past the dogs chained in their yards. They barked ferociously as I dashed past. I was terrified. I have no recollection of how this phobia started, but I know when it ended. One afternoon an elderly neighbor stopped my running and told me to stand straight, breathe slowly, and calmly approach his leashed collie. That big dog did not eat me. She smiled and wiggled and wagged. I smiled back. Our family had a succession of three dogs after that: Bagel, Jenny, and Tabasco. They taught me a lot.
Dogs can be great for kids and their families if we let them. They teach the value of consistent, quiet praise. They instruct us in the simple, soft language of cuddling. They ask us to gather the courage to face our fear of them, and then they lick us in congratulation. They make us know the right commands, use them dependably, and praise effusively. More than that, dogs train us to pay attention to our posture. They attend exquisitely to our intent. They ask, with their eyebrows and tails --- their posture --- "Did you really mean that?" They summon our authenticity and will love us unconditionally for it.
The way dogs train us to be ourselves has always made me wonder how much they really know. Maybe they are shaggy Zen masters. In "Thomas Edison's Shaggy Dog," Kurt Vonnegut speculated that dogs are our masters. I mean, who cleans up after whom?