Thursday, January 16, 2020

Should We Humanize Our Dogs?


We had a major obstacle to getting a dog; my wife likes to think hard about things. However, when we’d been doing that for two years already, I was ready to contact breeders. A few months ago, she was out of town for two weeks, and I enlisted my son, age eight, to do some research with me on the internet. We entered traits we wanted in a puppy and came up with a short list of breeds within an hour.

After trading messages with two breeders, one in Texas who even offered to fly the dog to us, a trip to the second breeder eight hours away in Indiana followed. I wanted my son to see where puppies come from.

We drove down a 1/4 mile dirt driveway, past corn fields and parked in front of a red barn with an old tin Coke sign in the center column between its two sliding white doors. It didn’t take us long to get inside the living room of the farmhouse and start playing with our puppy. Really, it was just me who tried to play with the pup while my son went for the whole liter. The breeder took the pup out of my hand and explained that our pup was only 7 1/2 weeks old and may not be as playful as expected.

I already knew this and said that the best bonding occurs with younger puppies. I was given this bit of wisdom by a neighbor. There are several theories on how dogs evolved from wolves to become more like man and one of them holds it was when early humans started taking care of young wolf puppies.

Still, we felt bad hearing her whimper as we drove out the driveway knowing this was probably the last she’d see of the rest of her pack. To alleviate some guilt and anxiety, I stopped at one of the first PetSmart locations. I didn’t want her to be without, so the bill was well over one hundred dollars. I remember the same feeling and need to flex my consumer muscles when shopping for my infant daughter at the baby store.
Puppy At 9 Weeks
 (Photo By Aldo Cantellano)


I spent the first night in the basement sleeping next to the puppy’s shiny new crate. There were bathroom breaks to take her outside.

After that first night, our routine continued and so did the nightly bathroom break(s). I started to develop the droopy eye complex that is common among parents with newborns complete with all the complaining.

Things were going well, generally, but there was a lot of biting in the early weeks and at one point I contacted a pet behavioral-psychologist from one of the more affluent towns in the Twin Cities area. Someone from her staff got right back to me with full pricing for the initial consultation and assurances that this was a behavioral issue that could be dealt with. The assistant also mentioned the possible use of medication. But I was on guard, knowing the over-medication craze that is sweeping America and figured we would ride the biting out and use a variety of methods found on the internet. We also enrolled her in a puppy class.

Socialization was an objective of her first puppy classes and the instructor encouraged age appropriate play with other dogs in the class as well as in our neighborhood. The thought of setting up play dates became a new source of anxiety with many of the same feelings I have for my kids – what if they’re  not accepted and get along and on the flip side, what if they get in with the wrong crowd.

As our dog became more confident in its potty duties and puppy play, I felt she was ready to travel with us as an infant would for Thanksgiving. I looked into airfare, but it was the last minute, so we decided driving to see friends closer to home made more sense. She stayed with us in an Airbnb and was present for the Thanksgiving meal.

We let her roam a bit and this may have led to her first visit to the emergency room at the St Paul Campus of the U.

“Something’s stuck in her throat,” I said to the skeptical admission clerk as my puppy bounced around. I filled HIPPA forms out and made sure my wife was listed in case results needed to be shared (it’s a privacy thing). Luckily, her vitals were normal. I was able to take her home and monitor her there. Within an hour, I helped her dislodge whatever it was by turning her upside.

She is entering her teenage years now and showing signs of teenage behavior: Tuning me out when called, willfulness and making some bad choices in her eating habits: She’s developed a taste for rabbit poo nuggets that have been frozen by the Minnesota winter.

Despite this gross behavior, I still feel she is entitled to be treated to human comforts like the couch, television, fireplace, warm clothing and lots of company whenever possible. The internet is filled with posts on the dangers of humanizing your dog – and it’s something I didn’t expect to engage in, but I do it every day.