Unsung Summer

Summer succumbed to hemangiosarcoma on 8/25/17. I wrote this on 7/10/17 and have left it as it was when I wrote it: a tribute to a dog who I thought had many years left.

I currently have three dogs: Summer, Zani, and Clara.

Clara is the youngster, and has a dramatic backstory. She was a feral puppy, and also my first puppy. Life gave her lemons and we have made lemonade together.

Zani has “all the cuteness going on,” as a friend puts it. She is adorable, wicked smart, sensitive, and feisty—all at the same time. Whenever I teach anything to all the dogs, Zani picks it up the fastest (unless it’s a verbal cue, in which case she is dead last). Zani has quite the fan club on social media.

Zani helped raise Clara, and they are buddies.

But Summer.

Summer is my oldest dog, currently going on 12 years old, although she doesn’t look or act it. The others tolerate her, and she is part of the group, but they don’t adore her.

But I do.

Summer is not dramatic, except when she is reacting to a delivery truck or an invading dog. She is normally low key. If you saw her on the street, she would be unremarkable. In person, she looks like a rather plain brown dog. She looks beautiful in my blog largely because she photographs amazingly well.

But I have a bond with her that is unlike what I have with any other dog. Even Clara, my puppy, my baby, doesn’t touch my heart in quite the same way.

Brown, sable, mixed breed dog standing in a kitchen looking happy
Summer in the kitchen, ready for a training session

Crossing Over

Summer is my crossover dog. For those who don’t know the term, it means that when I first started training her, I used aversive methods. A year or two in, I “crossed over,” and stopped using such methods. I had used a prong collar on her. I had done collar pops. I had used various other amounts of force.

Dogs who were originally trained with force often act differently from those who never had that experience. Most force training has the effect of discouraging dogs from offering behaviors, and that seems to create a lasting inhibition with some dogs.

I was lucky. It didn’t with Summer. In fact, when I play shaping games with my dogs, Summer is the most creative. She will try anything and make up crazy stuff.

Summer was also my first agility partner, and we “grew up together” in agility. She is an unlikely agility dog, with powerful interests in the varmint department. But we have a fantastic teacher who helped me learn what Summer loves. We used those things in agility, and she came to love agility as well. She runs fast and happy, and reads me so well that it feels from my end like we have ESP.

As she gets older she is more and more of a dream to train, and just gets sweeter and sweeter.

Brown, sable mixed breed dog lying down waiting for a command
Training with Summer

Guests in the House

A few days ago, my friend Charity brought over her Newfoundland puppy, Lizzy. This was their third visit. She and Lizzy have been visiting with me and Zani, who is friendly to people and dogs. I’ve been closing up Summer and Clara together in a room with loud music (so they won’t have to hear us having fun) and yummy Kongs.

Lizzy is still in her socialization period, so it’s extra important that she not have any bad experiences. So I kept Summer (not guaranteed to be dog-friendly) and Clara (guaranteed not to warm up right away to a new human) out of the picture so far.

Brown mixed breed dog sitting in the grass looking happy
Yes, this one is from a training session, too

Today I checked with Charity about bringing Summer out, but keeping a gate between her and Lizzy. She said sure. Summer knows Charity. So Summer was delighted to come out, and she visited with our mutual friend. Then she saw Lizzy (obviously, she had known a pup was in the house) and went straight to the baby gate. Lizzy was on the other side. Head-on meetings are not ideal for strange dogs. Both dogs sniffed each other and were a bit uptight. Summer was a little stiff, so I called her away. It took two calls the first time, but then she came right to me. Lizzy was still waiting at the gate, so after I gave Summer a treat, gestured and said, “go see the pup.” She trotted over and they sniffed again. Then I called her back. We did this about seven times. Summer was just so fantastically nice and responsive, and so happy to be part of the doings.  Nice low, wide tail wags. She even gave Lizzy one of her odd, truncated play bows.

After that, I left Summer on her side of the gate with a Kong and went back in with the others. Summer was so happy to have her Kong and be in visual contact. She brought the Kong right to the gate once, and of course the pup was quite interested and came to the gate. Summer was again very nice (I didn’t catch any lip curl or other resource guarding) but I gestured that she take the Kong to a mat a little farther from the gate, which she did.

Later, I let Summer come in and do a little training with me while Charity kept Lizzy occupied, and she did fantastic.

We didn’t let the two dogs try to play because 1) Lizzy is already getting big and might play too roughly; and 2) Summer has a history of dog aggression; and 3) Summer is almost 12. But I was amazed at how well it worked out without them actually playing. Just occupying the same area while interacting with their respective humans.

And Summer was quietly magical about figuring out what I needed her to do—and doing it.

Different Dogs

My three dogs all have unique geniuses. All three are game to try anything I ask of them, which is so cool I can’t believe it. But they have different fortes.

Clara has an incredible work ethic and always has. She is up for long training stints.

Zani is a problem solver and usually the quickest study. Plus she keeps me in my place by yelling at me when I don’t train well.

But Summer. Summer is this soft presence, this part of me that got lost and came back via a small town shelter.

So What?

Brown mixed breed dog profile head shot

This probably doesn’t seem like much of a story to people with friendly, non-reactive dogs. And indeed, it would have been great to provide my friend’s pup with another dog she could safely play with or at least hang out with.

We didn’t have that, but what I had was a dog who has not had an easy time in life who nonetheless kept her wits about her in a challenging situation and was beautifully responsive to me the whole time our guests were there.

I wrote this post because I felt like I don’t write enough about Summer’s quiet, solid presence in my life.

Summer started having health problems on July 21, 2017, and left this world on August 25, 2017, after being diagnosed with a very large hemangiosarcoma on her spleen.

Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

44 thoughts on “Unsung Summer

  1. I’m so sorry for your lost Eileen ! Rest in sun spots Summer. I’m sure your mom and sisters will miss you dearly !

  2. So sorry to hear the world, and more importantly, YOUR World will not feel the tread of those gentle feet. But I can’t imagine your tread will ever touch the ground without feeling her beautiful presence beside you. I have loved reading your stories and watching your dogs. I too lost my dog to cancer two months ago. there isn’t a day i don’t ache for him, or feel the joy of his life having touched mine.

  3. oh, eileen, i’m soooo sorry. rmy heart goes out to you. and although we’ve never met, i too will miss your storied sweet summer… 🙁

  4. oh, eileen, i’m soooo sorry. my heart goes out to you. and although we’ve never met, i too will miss your storied, sweet summer…. 🙁

  5. So sorry for your loss. Summer was beautiful! I also lost 2 not-very-old dogs within a year to hemangiosarcoma. But how amazing that you wrote this just days before Summer got sick. That’s the connection!

  6. “But Summer. Summer is this soft presence, this part of me that got lost and came back via a small town shelter”

    Eileen, this says it all and just know that I GET THIS so hard. That one dog that changes things and watches us change for the better…and has no idea that THEY were the catalyst just that they were along for the journey.

    I am so very sorry you lost her. She will remain that soft presence though, even in her physical absence and it will hurt and you will cry and then you will be forever thankful that even through that she is still there.


  7. I’m so sorry and so sad for you Eileen.
    I really love the way you write about your dogs, full of emotion and respect…
    Thanks to you, Summer had a happy life.
    With my deepest sympathy…


  8. Eileen, I am so very sorry for your loss. I truly enjoyed your blog post. I feel honored and privileged to have learned a little about your remarkable dog Summer. She will always be in your heart.

  9. What a beautiful tribute to a lovely dog and your journey together. The magic of Summer’s measured response to the puppy was palpable in your description. Thank you!

  10. I’m so sorry, Eileen. This really touches my heart. You and Summer inspire me to be better with my dogs. Clara and Zani do, too. Thank you. Love from my heart to all of you.

  11. .”But Summer. Summer is this soft presence, this part of me that got lost and came back via a small town shelter” That made me cry. Again. My heart really does hurt for your heart.

  12. Eileen, I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, but this is my first comment. I was deeply moved by your “Unsung Summer” post, and I feel your loss. A crossover dog holds a special place in our hearts. I had one too, some years ago. We learn together, and we delight in our joint progress. We are amazed at the wonders of clicker training and would never go back to the old ways. My first clicker dog was a German Shepherd girl, Ruby, when I was a crossover trainer. We lost her to bloat. Since then, we’ve lost our German Shepherds to hemangiosarcoma. I know the heartbreak of that disease that usually takes the dog away with only a few days warning. We will all miss Summer.

  13. I am so sorry, Eileen. I remember watching you and Summer in rally when we were in Hot Springs– your bond was clearly so strong and so special. The dog I had with me, my black lab River, left a year ago last week, also a hemangiosarcoma. Also about 12 years old. And also my heart dog. I recognize so much of us in your description here and my heart is absolutely broken all over again for you. <3

  14. Oh no!! How terribly sad 🙁 losing a dog is so heartbreaking, even when you know they’ve lived a long and full life. Rest in peace lovely summer ♥️

  15. so sorry Eileen. I wasn’t expecting the ending to your beautiful tribute to summer. 🙁

  16. Eileen, this is one of your most beautiful posts. That was a great day for Summer, and the post was perfect as it was. Now it has turned into a lovely tribute to Summer and to Summer-and-Eileen. I am so sorry that she has passed, but am sure that she is nestled in your heart forever. Great big hugs from Boise.

  17. Eileen – I have been following your posts for a few years now. This was a beautiful tribute to Summer, and I am so very sorry for your loss. You clearly have many wonderful, warm and special memories of her to cherish. She was so fortunate to have found you!

    My best to you,
    Harriet Markell

  18. I could feel in every word the special place that Summer has in your heart. She is your spirit dog. I’m so sorry to hear of her passing. You were lucky to have had each other.

  19. I’m so sorry. But how lucky you two were to have each other. And, of course, she will live on in your heart forever and in all the pups you ever have contact with since that soft presence is now part of you. I don’t know you but I know your pain. Sending hugs and Kleenex…

  20. I so enjoy reading your blog and thinking about the concepts you share so generously. My heart breaks for you today. I was so sorry to read that you have lost Summer. Her smile was so bright and She was truly a lovely dog!

  21. Oh Eileen…I have to admit sometimes I look at my mail in the morning and don’t have time then to read your Blog, so I go back to it at a later time. This morning, although I am busy, I was drawn to open the email and read it. I am so glad I did. My heart breaks for you. The Blog melted my heart. Our dogs are all so special to us in so many different ways. Your bond with, and love for Summer, shows in her sweet, happy face in the photographs.
    Here is a poem someone sent me years and years ago when I lost my very special Jack Russel Terrier, Amstel:

    Grieve not,
    Nor speak of me with tears,
    But laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you:
    I loved you so.
    ‘Twas Heaven here with you…

    Thinking of you and Summer.

  22. beautifully written, i too have a summer among my pack, she is a small, plain, black mixed breed her name is pi, she is to me, all that summer was to you. So glad you had each other, so sorry for your loss, they break your damn heart every time. Big hugs to you

  23. This is a beautiful story of your wonderful companion, as well as a fitting tribute. I hope you find solace that she lives forever in your heart.

  24. Eileen. . . when I read about your loss of Summer, my heart fell to my feet. I am so very sorry of your loss. This tribute is so incredibly lovely — a perfect way to honor her memory. I love that you wrote this before knowing she would be leaving you. The tone was completely celebratory without the shadow of loss. Your Song for Summer. Blessings for all that you share about your life with these amazing creatures.

  25. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing Summer with us through your writing. I will keep you, Clara and Zani in my thoughts.

  26. I am so sorry, Eileen. I know nothing can really ease the pain of losing part of your family, I hope you are doing ok.

    Sometimes, I find that our reactive, “problematic” dogs seem to weasel their ways into our hearts and settle there and some people don’t quite understand it.

    Thank you for sharing a different side of Summer, she was well-loved.

  27. Oh Eileen I am so sorry. My heart dropped as I read to the end of your beautiful Summer Story. Take strength in the warm responses and know we are all with you in spirit, ss Summer will always be.

  28. I follow your presentations from the UK and always learn a lot. Please accept my sincere condolences but the love that they bring to our lives overcomes the brevity of the time in which they have to do it. You have my thoughts and best wishes.

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