Back in February, my family acquired two puppies, the first for our family, by pure luck. Previous to this I had mentioned to my husband that a Golden Retriever would be a great first dog for the kids. I also wanted a pit bull at some point. Well, on February 6, 2015, two puppies romped into our back yard while we were outside. They were lucky to find us as we had already gone in for the night but decided to come out and look at some astronomy related phenomenon. It was cold that week, so we took the two puppies in, a golden retriever and a pit bull/retriever mix. No, the coincidence was not lost on me. The pups were young, 13 weeks old to be exact, and the pit bull mix was starved, undoubtedly due to the Golden Retriever’s urge to eat everything. So we temporarily sheltered them and gave them names because “pup” was not very useful or interesting. We called the Golden Karma and the Pit Bull Mix, Julep.
After trying to find the owner to no avail, we started looking for people to take the dogs. No one would take both, and we could tell that the puppies wouldn’t do well being apart. They were most likely litter mates, which I was assured was possible, something about dog genetics and such… I slept during that part of Genetics class. Eventually, we decided to keep both dogs, unsure of exactly what to expect. Perhaps I should clarify that dogs were a new experience our family. My husband and I had plenty of dogs growing up, but never had to pay vet bills or train them, etc. They were just cute playmates. My children, ages 10 and 12, on the other hand, have never had a dog before now. We do have cats, fish, and frogs, so pets are not foreign to them, but dogs, that’s a different story entirely.
After the initial excitement of having dogs, which they still have, although more guarded, the work kicked in and turned my kids’ lives upside down. I started to hear the funniest things come out of their mouths when they had poo patrol or feeding. Needless to say, having a dog has been an eye-opening experience for them. These dogs have taught my kids many things, in particular, seven lessons that I felt compelled to share.
1. Dogs are environmental advocates.
I remember clearly the first time my son came up to me yelling, “Karma just pooped! And ate it!” Yep, that look was priceless. They could not get their heads around the fact that dogs, and in particular puppies, do eat their poo. They immediately wanted to know how dogs could be so nasty, so I told them they were recycling. Upon getting confused looks, I gave them a scientific sounding reason about how dogs in the wild developed this practice. Due to their digestive systems not being extremely efficient, during times of food scarcity, they would eat poo to get more nutrients. Don’t know if it’s true, but it sure sounds plausible. They seemed to buy the explanation, although it didn’t lessen the sting of knowing where that tongue licking you had been. I will say though, in their defense, they get fed home cooked food. Yeah, you heard that right. We make ou dog food, and it looks like stuff you could heat up in a crunch for dinner. So, their poo pretty much still looks like…well dinner.
Dogs apparently love to recycle many things, like dead animals, vomit (probably from eating the dead animal) paper, trash, etc. Probably the worst of all is the dead animals. Dogs must understand that dead animals carry disease, so they help out mankind by eating dead and unidentifiable things found on the street. They see it as a public service. We see it as just plain nasty. Dogs just want to keep the Earth clean. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from them in this regard. Or, maybe not.
2. If a dog barks, something is there…to kill you
Dogs will bark, it’s a given. Ours don’t bark so much as “woo woo,” but occasionally Julep will belt out a bark that will make you mess your pants. Thankfully they aren’t the type of dogs that bark constantly. However, when they do, they do it regardless of the time of day. The barking especially aggravates my kids as they would bark at something unseen and drown out their TV show. They always complain when the dogs bark and they can’t find the reason for the disturbance. But there is always a reason! Didn’t you see the hot male dog walking up the street? What about the resident groundhog out by the hives? Or the guy in his yard two doors down? Or that tree with the shifty eyes? All of them are trying to kill you!
3. Dogs have to go to school too.
Puppy obedience training was an interesting concept for my kids. They had no idea that dogs had to go to school, much less have homework. It never occurred to them that a dog needed to be taught to sit, stay, walk on a leash, etc. I will say that puppy school was the best thing we could have done as first-time puppy owners. We were clueless how to go about training puppies to not be miniature beasts. Previous to puppy classes, we couldn’t take our dogs out for a walk on a leash without them choking to death. They insisted on going super fast everywhere. The walks also resulted in our shoulders nearly being dislocated. Feeding and treat time often left us dirty and scratched up as they jumped incessantly. Thanks to the classes, our shoulders have healed, and we no longer get mauled with happiness whenever we come bearing food.
4. Dogs are not cats.
The funniest things that came out of my daughter’s mouth was when she had to clean up Karma’s poop for the seven-hundredth time (Karma goes a lot). The first was, “Why does she have to poop?” The second, “Why can’t we give them a litter box like the cats?” Um, because she eats and they not cats. Imagine giving a dog a box, fill it with litter and demand that it goes potty in it. Now get them to do it without 1) eating the poo along with the litter, 2) eating the box, or 3) dumping everything out and then eating it. Yep, you see the problem, but they didn’t.
5. Having dogs means exercise and lots of it.
The arch nemesis of a lazy preteen is a dog. Every day, thousands of lazy children must drag their loving four legged friends on “walkies.” My kids learned the hard way about “walkies.” Either the dogs walk, or they get messy (see lesson 6). Exercise is a problem in particular for my dogs as we were not prepared for them when they arrived. Therefore, during the winter, they stayed in our garage and the summer, they spend the day on a covered deck until the fence is complete. Given their relative confinement, they are in need of many “walkies.” Needless to say, the whole family is busy getting the dogs’ their exercise.
6. Dogs are messy, like 5-year-old messy.
My kids learned this lesson very early, as well as my husband and I. Dogs will chew anything in reach, and in some cases not in reach. When the dogs haven’t had their walks, the need to destroy objects becomes more prevalent. Not only did we learn that dogs chew, but they chew EVERYTHING! The following is just a small list of what Karma and Julep have chewed: the deck, the chairs, their beds, 5-gallon buckets, cardboard, and tools. They also tear up everything they are allowed with lightning speed. No bone is a match for these dogs, and soft squeaky toys? Don’t bother because they will disappear in two days, tops. If I have learned anything, it’s that dogs are socially acceptable rodents. Think about it, what self-respecting carnivorous canine would eat a deck? The actual deck!
7. Dogs are expensive! Seriously.
While my kids do not pay the vet bills, I am sure they have heard an explicative drop a time or two when refereeing to Karma and Julep’s health care. Seriously, I don’t remember having to go to the vet every couple of weeks for shots with my kittens. Between the three vet visits for shots, pest control, and spaying for two dogs, we topped out at well over $1000. To top it off, toys, grooming, and puppy classes will make you wish that you just had another child instead.
There is one thing that I will say for dogs though. Despite the many valuable lessons that you learn while losing your mind, the furry bundles of love are well worth it if you can survive the first six months of a puppy’s life. I don’t ever regret keeping Karma and Julep and even though having them as inside dogs is not an option due to allergies; they have become part of the family. If a puppy is in your future, sit back and let your kids take an active role in caring for them if they are old enough. The things they say and do when they learn these lessons will be priceless!