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Hearts, Dogs, and Heart Dogs

Our dog blogging and dog training friend KB from Romping and Rolling in the Rockies recently posted a quote that got me thinking. Have you heard the term “heart dog”? Well, it makes me wonder … what happens before and after your heart dog experience? And, what is a heart dog, anyway?

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life, gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.” — Unknown

Remember, I grew up with dogs — total of 4 in my childhood.

Without a doubt, I adored Penelope Grace (a Dalmatian), the first dog of my very own as an adult. And, clearly I love, love, loved Cody (a yellow-lab mix). There is even a special place in my heart for Gilbert, who I failed. And, who cannot love Ginko beyond all measure?

best dog blog, champion of my heart, photo of Lilly (a border collie) with wildflowersSo, what makes Lilly different? What makes her special? Why have I bonded with her in bigger ways than any other dog in my life?

  • Maybe it’s the level of training we’ve done together … exponentially more.
  • Maybe it’s that I’ve finally found my breed match. Truly, there is something eerily similar about border collies and writers.
  • Maybe it’s the particularly trying time in my life.
  • Maybe Lilly *is* the dog that finally changed my heart over to all dog.
  • Maybe she is indeed “the one” in a more cosmic sense.

If I wasn’t so tired, I’d create a little blog poll about what makes a heart dog. Instead, let’s just talk about it.

  • What do you think makes a heart dog?
  • Have you had your heart dog yet?
  • If so, how does that impact your relationship with subsequent dogs?



Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Tammy - October 27, 2012

I just lost my heart dog to Lymphoma. He was entwined in my heart and soul. He loved people and loved to just come and cuddle with you. He wanted to please you no matter what. Maybe it is his breed–flat-coated retriever, or maybe it was his rough beginning–he was a rescue at 10 weeks old, but he just was so happy to be by you. He had t-cell lymphoma–super aggressive and was happy and sweet up until a few days before his death. He definitely took a large piece of my heart with him.

    Roxanne Hawn - October 27, 2012

    Oh, Tammy. I’m so sorry for your loss. Take good care of yourself in your time of grief.

kb - October 14, 2011

For me, a heart dog is a dog who I become a partner with. We seem to read each other’s minds and move in sync.

My first heart dog was Acadia. I think that our experiences as a SAR team led to that partnership that turned her into a a heart dog for me.

After Acadia, I knew the relationship depth that was possible with a dog. However, my dog K didn’t immediately become a heart dog. It was while I was in the midst of a 6 month very painful recovery from a lumbar fusion surgery that we found our bond. I loved having K next to me while I wiled away the days lying supine, and K decided that her job was to take care of me. I asked friends to come over and take K out for romps since I couldn’t do it. K refused to leave my side for those romps (and hurt the feelings of my friends who came over specifically to take K out for a fun time!). After that, our relationship became much more of a partnership than a leader and follower. For me, that’s the starting point for a dog to become a heart dog.

Donna Hull - October 14, 2011

I haven’t had a pet in many years. But I do believe in the concept of a heart dog. I’m glad you found yours.

Merr - October 12, 2011

I feel like you know your heart dog when you see/feel are around your heart dog. There is a special connection…something almost tangible but very very real and indisputable. You. Just. Know.

Love this topic.

Pup Fan - October 11, 2011

This is a very good question. I have had many dogs, but two stand out. Scotti was definitely my best friend as a child, and although I have a different relationship with Bella, it’s still a very strong connection.

melF - October 9, 2011

What a great question. I have often heard the term “heart dog” as well and wondered about the term. I labeled my dog Indy my “heart dog” a while ago. We had a bond that was strong. She was already well-trained and we did some training together, but nothing like you and Lilly. So it can’t be that. The only thing I can think of is that Indy exuded pure joy throughout her life with me and as if from osmosis, I often felt that same joy when I was with her. When she died, I was devastated for months afterwards. Even my mother, whom she lived with most of the time, was devastated.

But now, there is Daisy and Jasper and I love them both dearly. Daisy is my baby. She has come so far. I watched her transform from a scared dog to one that is friendly, mostly confident, and happy. How can you not commit your whole heart to a dog that you have invested so much time and love and patience in?

Jasper makes me laugh every day. He challenges me and pushes me and we have worked together on training which has bonded us. I cannot imagine my life without him or Daisy.

Maybe a heart dog is a dog that you commit your heart to in the moments you are with them? I don’t know. The more distant I get from each dog I have lost the more I wonder if every dog I have is a heart dog.

Stacey Chappell - October 8, 2011

I love all my dogs differently. I think my heart dog is the one that needs me most at the time. Right now that’s my shy girl.

Kerry - October 8, 2011

I know we’re talking of dogs here, but I think it is possible to have that sort of connection with other animals too. My mother had two cat I think she’d have felt fit in with this, and I know a man who has an owl that would qualifiy, too.

    Roxanne Hawn - October 8, 2011

    I love the idea of having a heart owl. Very Harry Potter-like. - October 8, 2011

I received my first dog at the age of 8 and I was hooked from that point forward. I think because I involve my dogs so much in everything that I do; they all know me very well.

I’ve never not connected with any of my dogs and I think that each of them holds a special place in my heart.

But “yes”, I’ve had a heart dog and better yet, I’ve had more than one heart dog.


Vanessa - October 7, 2011

I’d not heard the term “heart dog” before, but I have refered to Mischief as “my four-legged soulmate,” and I’m sure it’s a similar sentiment. We share a heart and a brain. My husband thinks we must communicate telepathically, but really Mischief and I can just read each other very well. The husband occasionally gets jealous of the dog, but he loves her, too.

Cherie K. Miller - October 7, 2011

I love the term heart dog and totally understand it. One year ago my son, who works at a vet, called me and said someone had dropped off a three- legged, starved to death pit bull and I NEEDED to come get her. I’ve never in my life wanted a starved, three-legged dog and ESPECIALLY not a pit bull from all I’ve heard about them.

But I took a chance on Lucille and she’s become my heart dog. I’ve had dogs before, but it’s hard to explain the difference. She’s gotten me into volunteering at the local Humane Society. I do pet adoptions every weekend at Petco for them. I now have a blog. My life was totally changed by this one dog.

How do they do that?

Hilary - October 6, 2011

What a great post–I gotta say that my dog Frisbee is my heart dog. The most challenging, frustrating, reactive, and most loving dog I’ve ever had. He made me a better dog trainer–he makes me problemsolve! And also, he’s my heart dog for many of the same reasons you cite re Lilly. But also, he can “read” me like no other dog has. Every success he has makes my heart sing. His decline is killing me a little bit each day. He will be the one I miss most when he’s gone, even though I’ve loved (and continue to love) all my dogs.

MyKidsEatSquid - October 6, 2011

My first dog was a golden retriever named Taffy. Smart, smart dog. Our second retriever, not so much. Now with my own family I’ve got a rescue dog, a pom mix of some sort. Love him. People always comment about how trusting and sweet he is–he loves being carried. And well, we indulge him (hum…maybe he is the smart one).

Maery Rose - October 6, 2011

I don’t know if I have had a special heart dog. I love all the dogs that have been in my life and have had a unique connection with each one. It’s been the same way with horses. What I do know is the longer time I have with an animal, the closer I grow to them. Horses that have passed in and out of my life (usually because they were not suitable for me) are only memorable for the number of times they injured me.

Julie - October 6, 2011

Hmmm, this is tough for me to answer because Cali is my first dog and I can’t imagine loving another dog the way I love her!! I can say that I felt that way about a couple of “my dogs” that I walked on a daily basis when I had my dog walking business. Dogs are just special 🙂

    melF - October 9, 2011

    Julie – I did too. I had certain dogs that I connected with in a special way when walking them. Maybe it’s the ones who connect with you most?

Hawk aka BrownDog - October 6, 2011

Hi Y’all,

Just stopped back to tell y’all that you’re nominated for “My 7 Links” — stop by to see my post tomorrow.

Y’all come by now,
Hawk aka BrownDog

sheryl K. - October 6, 2011

I love the term “heart dog.” It’s that special connection when you gaze into each other’s eyes. Really. A silent understanding and comfort. I’ve found that in some, not all of the dogs I’ve owned over my lifetime. But when you have it, it is the BEST feeling.

    Casey@Good. Food. Stories. - October 8, 2011

    Exactly – I couldn’t say it any better. I find myself gazing into my cats’ eyes more often than I’d like to admit!

Crystal - October 6, 2011

Very interesting question. Maisy is, without a doubt, my heart dog. My love for her is deep and inexplicable. When I first met her (and fell in love at first sight), I needed to get landlord/boss permission to bring her home (I lived at work-long story). I was on pins and needles waiting for the response, and I knew even then that I would have quit my job and found somewhere new to live if that’s what it took to have her in my life.

I have no idea why this is. I don’t know what made the bond so immediate and deep. It’s crazy. But Maisy is absolutely my heart dog.

I don’t know what that means for future dogs. I can’t imagine ever loving another dog as much as I love her. I’m almost a little afraid that I will never get another dog- how could another compare? Is that silly?

Alexandra - October 6, 2011

Great picture of Lilly! I had heard “heart daughter,” but not “heart dog”. (A “heart daughter” is a daughter-in-law.)

Aly - October 6, 2011

Clementine is without a doubt, my heart dog. We were both shy and fearful when we met, and through her I learned how to be more confident and outgoing. Now maybe we need to learn how to scale back a little bit 😉 She knows everything I’m thinking, and I know everything she is thinking…its a connection that I don’t have with my other dog… even though we are getting there.

Jane Boursaw - October 6, 2011

My heart dog was Jennifer, whom I got as a puppy when I was probably 8 or 9, and spent many, many happy days with her roaming around our cherry farm, riding my horse, taking her with me in my first car, a baby blue VW bug… And she was a border collie, too. I adored that dog.

Alisa Bowman - October 6, 2011

I think you have a Karmic connection. Like she was your mother or child or something in a previous life. That’s what I think about my current dog. He’s just a bit more special, more in tune with me.

Sheryl R - October 6, 2011

I love all the dogs I have had, but there are several that I would call my heart dogs.

A lot of people refer to their “heart dog” (implying just one), however, I don’t think heart dogs are limited to one per life.

And I absolutely LOVE the quote in your post.

(P.S. Can anyone tell me how to put an avatar photo on my comment?)

    Roxanne Hawn - October 6, 2011

    Sheryl … you can upload your avatar on this site. I think it’s the one that our blog recognizes and will automatically add.

    If not, let me know.

      Sheryl R - October 6, 2011

      Thank you so much! It worked!

      melF - October 9, 2011

      Well poop! I’ve tried the Gravatar thing several times and I still can’t get it to load the picture. Hmm…

Pamela - October 6, 2011

Given the common description of “heart dog” I’d say I’ve had two: Duchess, my childhood dog and Agatha, my first adult dog.

Duchess was my refuge in a very dark childhood.

In one case, my heart dog was the dog I needed the most. In the second, my heart dog was the one who needed me.

Living Large - October 6, 2011

Well, I’ve had many dogs in my life and like many others, all of them were special in one way or another. Smokey, the Shepherd/Collie mix I had as a child was always there protecting me, much like Lassie. I bonded deeply with Angel, my first Maltese, especially in her later years. And Hershey, our first rescue, was special to both Dale and I because she literally went everywhere we could take a dog. I think though, my heart dog at this point would be Emma, our Shepherd/Rot mix that saved me from a horse attack shortly after we rescued her. She disappeared last year and I’ll always believe she knew she was ill (we had her scheduled for an exploratory surgery on a very large what our vet called a mass) and wandered off to spare both of us dealing with a lengthy illness and ensuing treatments. I dreamed of her afterward and she was “smiling” as she always did, licking my face and somehow telling me she was now ok. It’s been over a year and my heart still literally hurts when I think of her. I think that qualifies as a heart dog.

Hawk aka BrownDog - October 6, 2011

Hi Y’all,

I have had many dogs, each of whom I thought was the most “special” in my life. A few haunt my mind more than others. The most recent was my Flat Coat retriever. Whether any are a “heart dog” I doubt. I rather feel that each is individual and settled into my life and became part of my heart in different ways.

BrownDog’s Human

NoPotCooking - October 6, 2011

Oh, if I can just add to my comment that I’ve had 11 different dogs in my life!

NoPotCooking - October 6, 2011

I definitely know what you mean, that there are some dogs that you just connect with and who somehow get you too. But I honestly think it would be too much if every dog was that way. I have 2 and my parents have 2 that I take care of a LOT and if I had 4 dogs that were my dog soul mates, it would be a lot to handle I think. I guess I tend to think that you connect with different dogs in different ways, kind of like children and that you can’t ever pick one that is a favorite.

Edie Jarolim - October 6, 2011

Like Kristine, I have little basis for comparison. Frankie has my heart but whether or not he is my “heart dog”.. jeez, I feel guilty even questioning it!

Kristine - October 6, 2011

I asked a question like this myself a little while ago. I’ve only lived with two dogs, the one from my childhood, and the one I have now. While I had and have very strong feelings for both of them, I don’t feel comfortable using the term “heart dog” to describe my relationship with either. Maybe it’s something that will grow? Or maybe I just haven’t met the right dog?

Comments are closed