Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Because Of Dog, Home Will Never Be the Same

May 9, 1993

For years we knew better. We had our hands full with seven children and two cats. Why would we want a dog? That would be like adding a toddler to our lives when we knew we were too old for another toddler.

We avoided getting a dog for years, When it came to the mention of a dog, we turned mean and cold-hearted. We weren't even tempted. As satisfied cat owners, we regularly counted our blessings of not having a dog.

After the timely demise of our very old cat - the age of a child who thinks she is old enough to drive a car - the incessant drumbeat for a dog started, primarily from our 12- year old son.

At first my wife held firm but my son was clever.

First, he filled our house with library books about dog breeds. Then he enlisted the aid of three older sisters and his 6-year-old brother.

We were out numbered. They enticed my wife to a trip to the pound and made outlandish promises about being responsible for the dog - an attitude that would warm any mother's heart.

Somewhere in my wife's heart, her mothering instinct told her that a boy and a dog were a good thing. She also instinctively knew she would be the one to train and care for the dog.

The second trip to the pound did it. They brought home a half Dalmatian, half Labrador puppy.

I couldn't believe it. I reminded my wife of the fact that this dog was going to be a BIG dog. Emotion at the pound had melted her common sense.

My wife convinced herself that it had small paws and some unknown small dog ancestor. I wasn't fooled. She was going to be a big dog.

Did I say she? Even though we've had the dog for a few months now, I have trouble learning to use the feminine pronoun.

There is nothing feminine about her. She has brought new meaning to the word "animal." She has the insatiable appetite and crude eating habits of our 12-year-old son who definitely isn't feminine.

Now we know why he and the dog get along so well - he has more in common with her than he does with his sisters.

We brought her home in a blizzard in the midst of one of the colder winters in South Dakota. Training a puppy was complicated to say the least. We immediately sought advice from all the dog owners we knew.

We heard all this wonderful and authoritative advice, none of which was the same. Evidently training a dog is an art and not a science.

We trained ourselves to regularly stand in the cold weather waiting for the dog to do her thing. With our frozen winter, even our son expressed amazement at the extent of his news scooping duties.

The dog has a fetish for chewing up dirty underwear end socks. After ruining 40 pairs of their underwear, my high school age daughters have learned to pick their clothes from the floor and close their bedroom doors.

It was a miracle! We thought our daughters weren't untrainable But on the other hand, they definitely fit the "slow learner" category. Sheesh! 40 pair?

We also learned that she was a smart dog. She knows when she is in trouble and takes off with her newly-founded treasure and hides. Her jaws are strong and she thinks tug-of-war is great fun.

She learned to tip over garbage cans and dirty clothes hampers to help herself to their delicious contents. This dog has a goat's appetite - if it fits her mouth, it will do fine.

We bought a gate to protect our living room from our new pet. After the dog grew a little - I mean a lot - in a few short weeks, she learned that by bouncing her paws against the gate she could knock it over.

It was a bad idea anyway. We had to do the high hurdles in our own house.

Having ruled out any late-life babies, we wondered what our 6 year-old boy would do with a younger sibling. We read that a smart dog has the intelligence of a 5 or 6-year-old.

They are well matched. They go round and round. Their roughhouse play turns into fights that need to be broken up. Great! Just what we need - a hurt and angry little boy demanding justice and revenge.

When they do play well together, it is still quite a eight - a boy and his dog. They belong together.

We have another rivalry that is not so friendly. Our cat does not appreciate being the object of so much noisy attention of this massive and yelping intruder.

A dog owner friend reassured us that dogs reach adult statue around age four or five. They mellow out and become good dogs.

He says, in the meantime, they are like kids. You love them anyway and you can't get rid of them. Four years seems like a long time.