There are many ways to share a quiet moment with your pet. I recommend using your Labrador retriever as a pillow. Flop down next to him on the kitchen floor, nestle your head on one of his broad haunches and just … be. This is how I communed with Dexter. Our family’s beloved black Lab had a slightly exotic origin story. In the late 1990s my wife, Carla, and I promised a retriever to our daughters. But we lived in Tokyo, where I was a Tribune correspondent, and the logistics were impossible. For one thing, a big American dog was as rare in Japan as a big American car. In 2000, though, we moved to Beijing, where the tight-knit expatriate community included Julie, an American veterinarian. She helped us through several tragic experiments with local bunnies and chicks. She also cared for Liu Liu, a pint-sized Tibetan spaniel who found his way to us. Still, we pined for a big, friendly companion for the girls. I wanted a dog I could run with and wrestle without crushing. Besides, Liu Liu made it clear he belonged to Carla by following her around like a personal mop. Then in early 2002 came word that Julie had played matchmaker. An American-bred Labrador retriever from Texas, owned by an expat, had given birth to a litter of puppies sired by a British-bred Lab whose master was the Serbian ambassador to China. British Labs are stockier than their American counterparts, with big, square heads and longer tails. Dexter was the last available pup of the litter. He had enormous paws and grew to full British size. Life in Beijing was an adventure in which we tried to balance embracing Chinese culture while raising three American daughters. We ate local food and explored the city, but the girls attended international school. They communicated in simple English and Chinese with Xiaoyen, our housekeeper, whose most polished English phrase became "No, Dexter!" Labradors are demonstrative creatures. Dexter took it up a notch. His tail didn’t wag, it whooshed back and forth with the energy of a swashbuckling fencer. We learned to protect drinking glasses and fragile curios at higher elevation or Dexter's tail would send them flying. At the front end, he led with his enormous pink