Before I was married and had kids, I was a proud puppy parent. I loved my dog more than anything else in the world at that time. However, as I have become a parent to children, my relationship with my dog changed. She is no longer the center of my world, but she is still a very important part of my family.

I grew up with a dog and firmly believe that a family just isn’t whole without a dog. There are so many things a dog can teach you. Here are just a few things I’ve learned from growing up with dogs.

Unconditional love – Your dog loves you no matter what you look like or how much money you have. Their love isn’t based on what they can gain from being friends with you, they just love you for you.

Not to judge a book by its cover – Dogs can sense things that people can’t. If my dog doesn’t like someone, then there is a reason why. I might not know what that reason is at the time but I usually find out later that that person who looked to be harmless to me, was really not a nice person after all.

Getting outside is good for you – My dog scratches at the door or barks when she wants to go out. Dogs need exercise and they want you to enjoy it with them. I always feel better when I make time to go outside and get some fresh air.

It’s okay to play no matter what your age – Even my old dog still loves to play. She is still a puppy at heart. There is something so freeing about letting go of your responsibilities for a little while and just cutting loose.

You can learn to love again – When our favorite pet dies it kills us inside. We think we can never love another as we have loved that one, but somehow, we do. We are able to move on. We will never forget them, but we know we can love again.

Joy Larson is a mother of four boys, graduate of the University of Montana, animal lover and writer.