What a Puppy Is Not . . .
A puppy is one of the most appealing creatures on earth. He's the embodiment of exuberance, humor, and affection. But there are a great many things that a puppy is not, and these negative aspects deserve some thought before you bring a puppy home.
A puppy is not a toy to be enjoyed while he is a novelty, then set aside in favor of a new diversion. He is a living thing whose physical demands must be met constantly for as long as he lives.
A young puppy needs more sleep than a human infant, even though your children may be in the mood to play with him. He needs to be fed regularly and often, even though his meals may conflict with family plans.
A young puppy is breakable. Very young children can inflict unintended tortures on a puppy, especially one of the small or fine-boned breeds. And his broken leg is much harder to fix than the broken wheel of a toy truck.
A puppy is not a teaching aid guaranteed to instill a sense of responsibility in children. If a child loves his dog, he will probably enjoy brushing him, taking him for walks, filling his water dish, and other tasks. A sense of responsibility may well grow out of the relationship, but it is unfair to the animal to put his entire well-being into the hands of young children.
Even the most dog-loving youngsters tire of daily chores, and parents who try to force the regime will be asking for friction. Unfortunately, it is the puppy who is the loser in this battle. Responsibility lessons are better left to household tasks that don't involve a pet. The essentials of feeding, housebreaking and discipline training will fall to an adult member of the household. Youngsters can help with the less essential jobs of grooming and walking.
Dogs and children do give each other something very valuable -- time and attention that adults are often too busy to offer in sufficient quantities. This is the main function of a child-dog partnership.
A puppy is not cheap. Whether you pay a nominal fee at the city humane shelter or what seems to be a king's ransom for a really special pup, the money paid to make the pet yours is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what it will cost to keep him.
There will be veterinary bills to pay for both emergencies and regular vaccinations and checkups. There will be city and county licenses to buy. And there are legal aspects of dog ownership you may never have considered -- not just personal injury claims, but replacement of shrubbery or grass or neighborhood children's clothing torn in play. And there's the wear and tear on your furniture and carpet.
A puppy is not a spur-of-the-moment purchase, or at least he shouldn't be. The wrong dog can be an unending nuisance t household - and its much easier to acquire a pup than it is to get rid of a grown dog who didn't work out. Animal shelters are bulging with dogs who were acquired for the wrong reasons, or without sufficient investigation.
If your family has decided to buy a dog, by all means take the time to learn about the breed you have in mind. Every breed has characteristics of temperament, and some of these traits may not fit in with your lifestyle. Some breeds are prone to physical problems such as hip dysplasia, ear cankers, and eye abnormalities. If you are aware of these problems, you can do a more intelligent job of selecting your puppy.
Many towns have kennel clubs whose members are reputable, knowledgeable, and generally helpful. Most breeders will be glad to answer your questions and to help you locate the pup you want. A veterinarian can put you in touch with the nearest kennel club.
If you take the time to do some investigating before you buy, you will know what the going prices are for your breed. Pet shops are never a bargain, no matter what the price because they often sell pups of very low quality for show-dog prices simply because few buyers bother to check. Always buy a pup from a reputable breeder - one who has been recommend by your local kennel club.
Many puppies are bought impetuously because they looked cute in the pet shop window; because it was a nice day for a drive in the country and there was a kennel with a "Visitors Welcome" sign; or because another family pet had died. Pups bought without being genuinely wanted -- and planned for -- too often end up at the animal shelter.
A puppy is not a gift unless the giver is certain that this particular pup will be wanted. Not only now, but a year from now, ten years from now. And even then the puppy should be selected by his new owner rather than by someone else. The pup that appeals to one might very well not appeal to the other. Its a matter of chemistry, like love at first sight.
A puppy is not self cleaning. There will be puddles on rugs, vomiting occasionally, dog hair on clothing and furniture. There may be worms to be dealt with. If these prospects are intolerable to the housekeeper of the family, then perhaps the pleasures of owning a puppy will be overshadowed by the tensions it will cause.
Long-haired breeds need to be groomed -- not only while the pup is small and new, but also week in and week out, for years. The heavy, silky coats of breeds such as cocker spaniels, Yorkshire terriers, and Lhasa Apsos become matted in a very short time, especially in the areas of friction, such as legs and flanks. If the dog's coat isn't combed thoroughly and frequently, it becomes unsightly and uncomfortable. The mats pull and irritate, and they make excellent hiding places for fleas and skin disorders.
A puppy is not an adult dog. He has neither the physical nor the mental ability to perform as an adult dog would. He cannot go for long periods of time without relieving himself. He cannot tolerate harsh training methods, not can he differentiate between what is chewable and what isn't. Nor will he make any distinction between food and objects that hurt him if he swallows them.
He will try the patience of the most devout dog lover in the household, and at times he may drive everyone mad. If he is very young, he will cry during his first night or two in his new home. He will require patience and understanding from everyone in the family.
A puppy is not a puppy for long. Before you succumb to the charms of a clumsy St. Bernard pup, or a sad-happy hound, or a limpid-eyed cocker, be very sure that you want not only the puppy he is now, but also the gangly, unattractive adolescent he is about to become, and the adult dog who may fall short of what you hoped he would be.
If you've faced all the negative aspects of puppy ownership and still want him, chances are good that your new dog will be one of the lucky ones who finds a permanent happy home. And you will enjoy the rewards of planned-parenthood dog ownership -- rewards which far overshadow the drawbacks.
Reprinted from Better Homes and Gardens, February 1973
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