Lesson 108 – When children and dogs become our teachers (Level 2+)

In this story, a six-year-old boy explains why dogs live shorter lives than humans. This story has been taken from the Internet where it is in wide circulation. 

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that dogs’ lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try and live.

He said, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” 

The six-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay for as long as we do.”

Live simply.

Love generously.

Care deeply.

Speak kindly.

Remember, if a dog was the teacher, you would learn things like:

  • • When your loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • • Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
  • • Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
  • • Take naps and s-t-r-e-t-c-h before rising.
  • • Run, romp, and play daily.
  • Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
  • • Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
  • • On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
  • • On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
  • • When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
  • • Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
  • • Be faithful.
  • • Never pretend to be something you’re not.
  • • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. 
  • • When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.

That’s the secret of happiness that we can learn from a good dog.

  • A) Vocabulary :  

veterinarian (noun): a person trained in animal medicine, who treats injured or sick animals; also known as vet (short form of the word)

euthanasia (noun): the painless killing of a human or animal suffering from an incurable and painful disease; also called ‘putting to sleep’ in the case of animals

procedure (noun): an established or official way of doing something; a series of actions done in a certain order or manner; a surgical operation

transition (noun): the process of changing or moving from one state or condition to another 

startled (verb, adjective): surprised by something that happens suddenly or unexpectedly

stunned (verb, adjective): very surprised or impressed by something or someone 

comforting (adjective): making a person feel calmer, less worried or unhappy; offering help and relief to someone in pain or distress

romp (verb, noun): to play in a happy or noisy way

thrive (verb) (usually said of a child, animal, or plant): to grow or develop well, to flourish, to prosper  

nuzzle (verb): to touch or rub gently with the nose or mouth, showing affection 

ecstasy (noun): feeling of great happiness

catch in my throat: a slight choking feeling when a person is trying to control their tears or emotions

slipped peacefully away: to die quietly and gently

piped up: spoke up unexpectedly 

pass up the opportunity: give up an opportunity, let something go without using it

  • B) Discussion Points: 

Q.1. What was the matter with Belker? 

Q.2. What did the vet have to do? Why? 

Q.3. Why did the vet wonder if Shane understood what was happening to Belker? 

Q.4 What was Shane’s explanation for dogs having short lives? 

Q.5. What tells you that the vet was impressed by Shane’s words? 

Q.6. The vet listed a number of things that dogs can teach us. Which of these do you already do? 

Q.7 Which new things have you learnt from the list that you would like to do? 

Q.8. Do you have a pet dog? Which actions from the list does your dog do the most? 

Q.9. Dogs are said to be faithful animals. What does that mean? How can we be faithful? 

  • C) For self-reflection: A dog teaches us to “Never pretend to be something you’re not.” Have there been times in your life when you had to pretend? How did you feel about it? What would you do differently now? 


Exercise 1: Fill in the blanks with words or phrases from the vocabulary list above. (Note: There are some extra words.)

  1. 1. It is very _______ to hold a friend’s hand when one is feeling sad.
  2. 2. Children love to _______ and play in sand.
  3. 3. The mother_______ her little girl lovingly as she put her to bed. 
  4. 4. I was _______ by the noise of thunder.
  5. 5. In the maths test, the quietest girl in the class _______ with the correct answer and surprised everyone.

Word building: 

Words can often be used in different ways in sentences.

For example, ‘comfort’ can be used as a noun: In the intense cold, the log fire provided much comfort. 

It can be used as a verb: I comforted the little lost kitten that was mewing loudly.


From ‘comfort’, we can build the adjective comfortable: I will sit in this chair because it’s more comfortable. 

We also have the adjective comforting, as you have seen in the lesson: I’d never heard a more comforting explanation.

The word can be used as an adverb: I was comfortably seated on the sofa.

Here are some opposites or antonyms of ‘comfort’. 

Discomfort: The cramped space in the small car caused us a lot of discomfort. 

Uncomfortable: Everyone was staring at me, which made me feel rather uncomfortable.

Uncomfortably: I twisted uncomfortably to pick up the eraser which had fallen on the floor and rolled under the table.

Similarly, the words ‘startle’, ‘stun’, and ‘ecstasy’ have the following forms: 

startling, startlingly, stunning, stunningly, stunner, ecstatic, ecstatically.

Exercise 2: Use any five of the ten underlined words given above in sentences of your own. 

Idioms: ‘Catch in the throat’ is an idiomatic phrase. There are many idioms with the word ‘catch’. Note that these idioms can also be used with different tense forms (for example, caught, catching). 

1. Catch your breath: to stop breathing for a moment because of fear, shock, excitement, or exhaustion; to breathe normally after doing some tiring work or exercising

2. Catch somebody’s eye: to attract someone’s attention 

3. Catch somebody napping / catch somebody on the hop: to gain an advantage over somebody by doing something when they are not expecting it 

4. Catch somebody red-handed: to catch someone in the act of doing something wrong

Sometimes a change of preposition can change the meaning of the phrase. 

5. Catch up with: to reach the same level as somebody who is ahead or at a higher level

6. Catch up on (something): to spend extra time doing something because you have not done it earlier; to find out about things that have happened like listening to the news or reading the newspaper

7. Catch on to (something): to understand something 

Exercise 3: Fill in the blanks with a suitable idiom with the word ‘catch’ listed above: 

  1. 1. The police _______ the thief _______.
  2. 2. I _______ when the judges announced the winner of the first prize among us finalists.
  3. 3. That smart boy is very quick to _______ things that older people discuss among themselves.  
  4. 4. Let’s meet on Saturday evening. We have a lot to _______! 
  5. 5. I will have to work very hard to _______ the rest of the class because I missed school for almost a month when I fell ill.
  6. 6. The restaurant was so busy that we had a tough time trying to _______ the waiter’s _______. 
  7. 7. I didn’t want to be _______ so I made sure that all my files were in order and complete before the meeting with my boss.