Did a Childhood Dog Help Shape Your Life?

The Dogster team grew up with pups, and they helped make us who we are today. Hear how, then tell us about your childhood dogs.


Simply put: We love dogs. The entire team at Dogster — writers, editors, and community managers — have this in common. Some of us fell in love as adults, and others grew up with pups by our side. With the latter in mind, we decided to share memories of our childhood dogs. We hope you enjoy reading about them, and we want to hear about yours. Please share your stories and photos in the comments.

Pamela Mitchell, Dogster senior editor: SMIDGEN

My constant companion as a kid was a sweet Boston Terrier mix named Smidgen. I remember curling up with her on the floor of my closet, a favorite place to read. She tagged along as I solved mysteries with Nancy Drew and explored the fantastical world of Narnia.

The most vivid memory I have of Smidgen, though, involves returning home from a family vacation and not being able to pick her up from the vet’s office, where she stayed, because it was Sunday. I had missed her while we were gone, but was downright miserable knowing she was just a few miles away, sleeping in a cage instead of at the foot of my bed. Monday couldn’t come soon enough.

When I decided to get my first dog as an adult, it was a given that the breed would be Boston Terrier. First came Dolly, then Spot. They have been by my side now for almost 13 and 11 years, respectively, and are members of our family. Smidgen made that possible by showing me how strong the bond could be between a dog and her human. So many years later, I still think of her and thank her for that.

Annie Phenix, Dogster resident trainer: CRICKET

Yelling at each other was something of a sport in my family, and we were gold medal winners in it. The only calm constant was my dog, Cricket. He saved me.

I grew up in the ‘70s, and no one neutered or spayed or fenced or leashed their dogs in our neighborhood. Cricket just showed up one day, and after it seemed as though he had always been there.

Cricket looked like a German Shepherd in his coloring, but his body was kind of like a hunting dog, with a houndy tail that went up over his back.

He followed my bus to middle school. At each stop, Cricket would try to board the bus — his eyes asking the bus driver politely, “May I board?” At each stop, the driver yelled at him. At each stop, I called to him from my seat, sometimes fighting with a window that would not easily come down.

Cricket followed my bus all the way to school. He’d then wait outside until recess, when he would come find me and we’d sit together under a tree. My arms wrapped around him, I thanked him for loving me when no one else seemed to.

Every bus trip to and from school required him to navigate a four-lane highway. I was sick with worry twice a day, but Cricket always made his way safely. The joy that dog brought me at recess kept me invested in living.

One Thanksgiving, his back legs gave way. I spent the entire holiday outside on the back porch with him because he wasn’t allowed in the house. We lived in the South, so Cricket and I weren’t cold — at least not from the weather. I warmed him, and he warmed me.

He didn’t pity himself, and I learned much from his acceptance of what was happening. To this day, when I feel put upon by the world or by my dysfunctional human family, I think of Cricket and his stoic demeanor. I think of his unconditional love, and I try to live up to his love for me.

Melvin Pena, Dogster writer: VIOLET

We got Violet when I was in elementary school, and she lived until my junior year of college. She was the only dog our family ever had.

My childhood home had a spacious backyard, which my dad and I fenced in ourselves. Within this self-contained idyll, Violet rarely knew a leash or any other kind of restraint, living a long life filled with ease, peace, and love. She was named for one of the principal characters in Pound Puppies, a mid-‘80s animated TV series and film. Particulars of the story have long faded, but my memories of the dog who took that name remain vibrant to this day.

She wasn’t sprightly or energetic, and I know she never received a moment of structured training. In spite of the latter, Violet was a kind, gentle, pushover of a dog. She didn’t really require any pushing, though — if you got within three feet, she would just flop over, cheerfully and patiently waiting for a belly rub.

Violet was content to sit with me in the driveway, on the deck, or in the backyard for endless stretches of time during every phase of our lives. Whether I was recounting the events of the elementary school day, telling her about the first girl I had a crush on in middle school, or explaining why I had to go across the country to continue my education, she would just sit there and wag her tail happily.

I never knew, nor cared, what breed she was; she was always just Violet to me. Though it’s been nearly 20 years since she passed away, there is an essential part of the person I am now that was defined by my experiences with that beautiful and excellent dog.

Wendy Newell, Dogster writer: RAMBO

When I was about 12 years old, my dad told my sister and I that we were going to work with him. He was a real estate agent, and that had never happened before, but we were up for the adventure. When we got to our destination — surprise! — there was a litter of Terrier-mix puppies. I don’t remember being told we were getting a dog, but I do remember sitting down in the middle of them and being ridiculously excited.

Figuring out a name for the sweet boy we eventually brought home was tough in a family in which dad was regularly outvoted by two daughters and a wife. I’m convinced one of the reasons he steered us toward a male dog and to his name, in particular, was to help even the odds in our house.

Any name we threw out, my dad put to the test by chanting the following sequence. Take the name Fuzzy: “Fuzzy. Come here, Fuzzy. F.U.Z.Z.Y. Fuzzy.” That name and many others were followed by a “Nope, don’t like it,” from my dad. When somebody suggested Rambo, it passed my dad’s name test and satisfied the entire family.

It was the perfect name for the little mutt who resembled a skinnier, less photogenic Toto from The Wizard of Oz. In those days, you didn’t use the term “mix” or combine breed names, you just proudly said, “Mutt.” Rambo was our mutt!

If you threw the ball for him, which he loved, and tossed it over the bushes, Rambo would leap, seeming to hover in a Superdog pose. It was his thing. He would show off his powers of flight for visitors, too.

Rambo was an outdoor dog, so not much of a cuddler, but he was easy to love — and I loved him with my whole heart.

John D. Williams, Dogster customer service manager: PAL

What does it mean to have a dog while growing up? I’ve written about my childhood dog, Pal, a number of times, but I don’t know if I’ve ever fully answered that question. Perhaps I came closest to doing so in the stories I told about Pal surviving being hit by a car and saving a petting zoo. I’ve also documented how Pal spent a good deal of his life chained up out back, which still haunts me to this day.

I often felt misunderstood growing up. More than likely, I would have tested positive for ADD, a disorder that didn’t match up too well with a stern, disciplined father. Maybe that’s why Pal and I got along so well. We were both filled with energy that all too often spilled out at the wrong moment. Pal’s energy got him tied up out back, and my energy got my backside tied up with … well, let’s just say I was a disciplined child and leave it at that.

Did having a dog make a difference in my life? Most definitely! Pal kept me company while I burned the trash in the big drum close to his doghouse, and he helped me burn off a lot of the energy that seemed to get me into trouble more often than not. Who knows how many lickings I was spared because Pal had helped me get the wiggles out?

We know that giving a puppy to a child just because the puppy is cute is the cause of all too many older, unwanted dogs being dropped off at shelters. That being said, when the right dog is matched up with the right child, you have a growth partner that teaches a child lessons in three key areas of life: laughter, loyalty, and love.

Pal nurtured my love of laughter with his funny antics; he taught me what it means to stay true to someone even when they have let you down; and, greatest of all, Pal showed me that for love to be unconditional, you really have to drop the conditions. He greeted me with the same joy whether I had spent five hours or five minutes with him the previous day. All Pal cared about was that I was with him in that moment, and he loved me completely. How much better the world would be if we treated each other the way Pal treated me?

Laughter, loyalty, and love. Three mighty big lessons taught by a little dog with a big heart.

Teresa Tobat, Dogster writer: PRINCESS

Growing up, my life revolved around three dogs: Spot, a spunky black-and-white Terrier mix; Penny, a sweet brown Toy Poodle; and Princess, an apricot-colored Poodle whom my family referred to as the “mama dog.” She earned this nickname partially because of her size — she was bigger than the other two — but also because she was caring, mostly toward her partner in crime, Penny.

When my family went to the shelter to meet adoptable dogs, Princess cowered in the corner. Until Penny entered the room. She then transformed into a playful dog with boundless energy. There was no way we could just take one of them home. In fifth grade, I remember writing that rescuing Penny and Princess was the best thing to happen all year.

From the beginning, Princess was the true heart and soul of our dog pack. She was authoritative without ever being aggressive. She was the most confident dog I have ever known. But that doesn’t mean Princess didn’t have a sweet side. If you called her name repeatedly, she’d paw the air over her face — like a bashful star in front of the paparazzi. I snuggled with her often.

It was no surprise to me that she was the last of the three dogs to pass away, two summers ago. Her death in so many ways was the end of an era. It meant a very firm goodbye to my childhood and one of the first dogs I ever loved.

So many things come and go. But Princess was always a steady source of companionship, from elementary school through to my very first job. Even though my life is now different, I love and still miss her. Princess, thank you for being my anchor. Thank you.

Heather Marcoux, Dogster writer: POGO

Pogo the Scottish Terrier was adorable, with fluffy black fur and sweet dark eyes. He was the kind of dog every kid wanted — a bundle of awesome Terrier energy, pounding through the snow as if his paws were springs (hence the name).

One day, Pogo got hit by a car in front of our house. I remember being so worried for him. My mom put his bed in the living room and took care of him there until he was better. Eventually, Pogo was back to playing with us in the yard.

It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve seen that dog. I can see Pogo clearly in my mind, but these memories are the only images I have of the pup who sat on the back porch with my siblings and me as we ate mustard sandwiches.

Back in the ’90s, we didn’t document our lives the way we do now — film was expensive, and so were cameras. I don’t have a picture of Pogo to share, but I do have about a million of my two current dogs, GhostBuster and Marshmallow.

Now it’s your turn, readers. Tell us about your childhood dogs in the comments — and we’d love to see photos, too!

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