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Friday, April 21, 2017

The Acquisition of a Dog

By Beppie Harrison

History being what it is—the story of people—it is not surprising to discover that people living in history, i.e. before we do, loved dogs in many of the same ways that we do. That their dogs were their cherished companions. That they even had dogs portrayed in their portraits, and sometimes even a portrait all of their own. But since the nature of dogs has not changed over the years, anymore than the nature of human beings has, they must have had to learn some of the same lessons that puppy owners learn now.

I have a puppy. She has just turned 7 months old, which seems incredibly ancient to me. We got the puppy because I wanted a dog, which is a fairly standard reason for getting a puppy. Some sensible people wait until puppies are young dogs before acquiring them, but since our last dog was 15 years old when she died it had been a long time since I was acquainted with the requirements of a puppy. Particularly because the interim between the death of our former dog and the acquisition of the puppy was 12 years—really more like 13, which is better since 13 is supposed to be an unlucky number. Unluckily, I’d forgotten a lot of facts about puppies.

1.     Puppies poop and pee in the house.
2.     Puppies do not have bladder or colon capacity to sleep all night without pooping or peeing, in or out of the house.
3.     Puppies have astounding amounts of energy.
4.     When a puppy attaches itself to you, it does so whole-heartedly. It goes where you go. Wherever you go. Upstairs, downstairs, across the room, around the house, into the bathroom. You and puppy, you first, puppy following.
5.     Puppies do not understand English. Or French, German, Spanish, or Esperanto.
6.     Telling a puppy to “come” is a waste of breath until the puppy has learned the command. Slowly.
7.     Teaching a puppy to heel (i.e. to walk at your right side) becomes necessary unless you want to be tied up like a maypole with the puppy’s leash whenever you take the puppy for a walk.
8.     Your puppy will love you. Unfortunately, at least to start out with, love does not equal obey.

This means the acquisition of a puppy involves a learning curve for both of you. In the case of my puppy and me, it was not just the two of us, but three. A month before we were due to get the puppy reserved for us, I tried to walk down a flight of stairs at midnight without turning on the light. Made all of the stairs safely until the last one, which I missed, pitched into the wall facing the staircase and broke my hip and wrenched an already-arthritic knee so that it had to be replaced. The puppy, of course, was delivered on schedule. Fortunately my husband soldiered up while I was post-surgical and in and out of the hospital, and he got stuck with basic puppy care, in particular the night shift. Even more fortunately, he is still around and has also fallen in love with the puppy, poor susceptible man that he is.

So is it all worth it? The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes yes yes yes yes. Having one creature who does not answer back, who accepts your frailties, who loves you unquestioningly, who exercises with you even when you didn’t much want to exercise, who curls up in your arms is something people who have dogs thrive on. Well, those who have large dogs have to hug their puppies where they stand, since they rapidly grow out of the curling-up-in-your-arms stage. Since I love cuddling my puppy, and am totally committed to cuddling my dog, I decided to get one who stayed a cuddleable size. Your requirements may vary.

Some people say puppies are puppies for the first year. Others said puppies are really only puppies for longer—maybe two years. It is to be seen how long my puppy and I stretch out this business.

Is she house-trained?
            Well, sort of. If I am alert for her signals, and take her out, she’ll go out and perform
            there. If I miss them, she figures there’s always the upstairs hall.
Does she heel?
            Most of the time. All the time when it’s just the two of us. When there are others present,         
            Maybe. Maybe not.
Can she sleep all night?
Does she obey “come”?
            Not on your life. But if my husband whistles, she comes. I never tried to teach her that.
Do dogs have an important part in literature?
            That depends on which dog. And which literature. She will sit on my lap while I read, if
             that counts.
Do I regret getting her? No way. No how. And I’ll mourn for her puppyhood when she’s a grown dog. The same thing happened with my children.

I suspect the same has been true down the corridors of history.

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