Since dogs romp through life at an eight-to-one-year ratio to humans, there are many lessons they can teach us about our thoughts and behaviors.

This is the story of Billy Bragg, our alpha German Shepherd. For eight years, he roamed the Sierra Nevada mountain range with Sherry, me and the rest of our dogs.

Even as a pup, Billy liked to separate from the pack and gallop after low-flying hawks. I always wondered if he was trying to chase them or join them. (Message for humans: There is a joy in pursuing lofty goals, even if those around you think you are a bit nuts.)

Billy Bragg never learned how to give dog kisses. Instead, he showed his love for Sherry and me by nipping at our faces, particularly our noses. Facial nicks became a status symbol in our home. (Message for humans: Love is shown in many ways. Be open to accepting unconditional love, even if it smarts from time to time.)

Billy Bragg received no training and knew no tricks. And yet, throughout his adulthood, he led as alpha dog with a natural and flawless aplomb. (Message for humans: People will respond more to your behaviors than your rules or stated expectations.)

Whenever our other three dogs ran toward the front fence to scuffle with our neighbor’s dogs, Billy Bragg would cut them off at the pass and assertively steer them back to the house. (Message for humans: Prompt action can avert serious problems. Leaders rush to the fire.)

Late one night, a black bear entered our home through the living room window. Fortunately, Billy was there. He gave a growl so frightful that the bear jumped right back through the window and scampered up the mountainside. (Message for humans: Friends come to the rescue, even during dangerous times.)

The day before Billy Bragg yielded to a fast-moving cancer, he joined us for a joyous winner’s lap around his mountainous property. He led the pack as he always had, with authority and dignity. (Message for humans: Live your life to the fullest, finish your responsibilities and continue to love until the end.)

Often, as we continue to hike our three German Shepherds up Billy Bragg’s mountain, a single hawk flies low against the deep blue sky. (Message for humans: The spirit of life continues with the pack we leave behind.)