1. When Dean and Gerda first adopted Trixie, they were told in no uncertain terms, “If this dog does something wrong, the fault will be yours, not hers.” A number of telling anecdotes in the book then demonstrate this quite clearly. Do you think humans are typically to blame for their pets’ misbehavior? Can you cite instances in your own experience that reflect on this idea? Is this a common understanding of canine behavior, or do other sources view the issue differently?
2. In A Big Little Life, Dean writes, “As anyone who has ever opened his heart and mind to a dog knows, these creatures have emotions very like our own.” What episodes in the book were most illustrative of this? Which did you find the most memorable? Has this been your own experience? How does a pet change the dynamics of a family?
3. Dean relates several episodes that illuminate Trixie’s verbal aptitude and explore deeper questions of communication between humans and dogs. What are your thoughts on how dogs recognize words and other ways in which we communicate with them? What did you make of Trixie and the tennis balls? How else do dogs make themselves understood to us and how central is this mutual understanding to our relationship with them?
4. As Dean shows us through the story of X, Trixie was an exemplary judge of human character. Do you think most dogs are good judges of character? Why or why not? Trixie’s evaluation of other dogs seemed similarly astute. How do these anecdotes compare with your own experiences?
5. At a special gathering at CCI, Trixie immediately sensed the presence of one of her littermates–from a substantial distance and after years of separation–and wouldn’t rest until she was reunited with her. Do you think animal siblings can always sense that they’re related? What other anecdotes in the book and in your experience shed light on dogs and memory?
6. Among many gifts, Trixie inspired Dean, and super-charged his creativity. What was the most important lesson Dean learned from Trixie, in your view? Have you been inspired by a dog or another animal? Has your life been altered substantially through this companionship? How?
7. The grief that people feel after the death of a companion animal is often discounted, yet these relationships can be among the most important of our lives. How do you think society views this bond in general? Dean observes that when we bond with our pets, we do so knowing that we will inevitably have them in our lives for only a relatively short period of time. Have you ever had to part from a beloved pet? Do you feel the happiness they bring compensates for the inevitable loss? How did Dean’s recounting the loss of Trixie affect you?
8. What qualities does A Big Little Life have in common with other pet memoirs you have read? How is it different? How do Dean’s ideas about dogs compare to those of other writers? With your own?
9. What anecdotes in the book did you find most intriguing? Funniest? Most touching? Which of Trixie’s qualities do you think was most special? Most unique? Has reading the book changed your thinking about dogs in any way?
10. What deeper themes in life are embodied by the story of Trixie and the Koontzes?