Our dog, Boise, turned 3 years old this month. That's 21 in human years, prompting my teenage son to crack: "Daddy, you should take Boise out and buy him a beer."


Boise is a 15-pound poodle/spaniel mix who earns his keep every day by spreading around chew toys and unconditional love. It has only recently dawned on me what a stress reducer he can be.

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Mark Kennedy

Like all families, we have moments when our collective stress reaches critical mass. Then in walks Boise — wagging his tail with a bone in his mouth — and sponges up all of our radioactive thoughts. All our after-school, after-work angst melts into a family scrum on the bed with Boise in the middle as we all play keep-away with a stuffed animal.

That's one example of how dogs are therapeutic — but the list is long. Here are nine random things I've learned from my four-legged friends.

* Don't be afraid to chase your tail. There's a lot to be said for mindless entertainment. Some might say a dog chasing his tail is a sign of low intelligence. These are the same people who play Candy Crush and watch "The Bachelor." Sometimes we just need diversion.

* Do wag your tail. Tail-wagging is a dog's way of smiling — although some would argue that dogs can actually smile with their mouths, too. People who learn to smile proactively radiate goodwill and lighten their own load.

* Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. Boise has an annoying habit of whining for table scraps. I say it's annoying, but it also works. He would be silly to stop negotiating for his slices of pepperoni. My point: Humans should not whine, but they also should not be afraid to ask for what they want.

* Live simply. If you feel like you're becoming a slave to consumerism, observe your dog. Once you have a bed, food and water and a loving family, everything else is icing. Beyond the basics, you can get by with a couple of toys and an occasional treat.

* When in doubt, take a nap. A dog's life consists of long naps interrupted by short, intense bursts of activity. Any counselor will tell you that sufficient rest and regular exercise are crucial for maintaining good mental health in humans, too.

* Don't take your family for granted. This is a biggie. If we are gone from our house for over an hour, Boise greets each of us as a long-lost friend when we return. If we all practiced this kind of loyalty and affirmation, most family conflicts would melt away.

* Don't soil your bed. Dogs, by instinct, keep their bed clean and watch where they sit. OK, I'm going to interpret this to mean we all should keep our houses reasonably clean. For me, clutter is draining; order is energizing.

* Use your ears more and your eyes less. Humans are over-reliant on our dominant sense, vision. Consequently, we often judge people instantly on how they look, instead of taking time to use our ears and listen to what they say.

* Life is short, so stop and smell the roses. I believe dogs intuitively know that their lives, on average, are shorter than ours and so they live every day to the fullest. They embrace a lifestyle that boils down to this: Eat, play, love.

We humans could do worse.

Mark Kennedy is a resident of Signal Mountain. His columns appear in the Times Free Press on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Contact him at or 757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at