Friday, September 03, 2010

On dogs and babies

Our dog Darwin is growing very quickly, as dogs are wont to do. These little paws walk farther than they used to. When he was a young puppy, though, it struck me how similar raising a young dog is to raising a young child – in the sense that it’s like a preview in preparation of the main event, not in the sense that it’s as hard or as rewarding, of course.

You see, when you have a two-month-old puppy in your apartment, you must focus all your attention on him. Simply being home, as in working from home, is not enough: the puppy needs attention, sure, but also constant supervision. Are all electrical wires out of the way? Is he about to chew on that table leg? Did he just piddle on the floor? Where can you safely set up your ironing board? Our dog was a good puppy, though, probably in part because we watched him like a hawk at first and redirected his attention when it was inappropriate (“Chewing on our things is not appropriate; chew on this toy we bought you instead – good boy!”).

It took a while for the potty training. Again, a few months is still much faster than it happens for babies, but at least babies don’t walk around your home without diapers like a ticking time bomb! (Darwin has only had one little accident in the past month and a half, so even though there were days when we wondered how we would get through it, everything settled into place and we don’t regret getting him one bit.) Still, you definitely spend quite a bit of time cleaning up pee, poop and vomit. You have to get up in the middle of the night for potty breaks. It definitely tests your patience. You discuss food intake and bowel movements like you discuss the weather. You have more questions than you can answer yourself, so you end up talking to your veterinarian a lot (luckily, in our case, our veterinarian is also one of my best friends – I can’t even tell you the time she spent giving me information out of her office!). You buy more accessories than you ever thought you would, and you trip on toys every day. With a long-hair breed, vacuuming is a must, but on the bright side, Darwin is great at licking anything off the kitchen floor before it becomes sticky!

You’ll notice that when you walk a puppy, all the passersby suddenly want to come pet your dog and coo at him – you’ll probably get the same sudden attention if you push a baby around in a stroller. Of course, everyone then thinks it’s okay to give you unsolicited advice and to comment on your methods (feeding, disciplining, potty training, etc.), regardless of whether they actually have dogs (or children) themselves! You end up learning the names of the other dogs who live on your street, but not the names of their humans (just like you know the names of the other kids at the park, but not their parents’ names). And you see the street itself in a completely different way. What seemed safe and clean before is now suddenly littered with broken glass, cigarette butts, trash-can juice, toxic pesticides and poisonous mushrooms. And of course, puppy wants to put everything in his mouth!

One thing that is different than with children, though, is that you get to pick your dog. Of course, the way you interact with him as you raise him has a lot of impact, but you get to pick a dog knowing the characteristics of the breed and choosing an individual with an energy level that matches yours. One thing that bugs me is when people mention how calm our dog is and say it in a tone that suggests that this was divine intervention and that we really have no idea how much we lucked out. Well, the truth is that the Engineer and I specifically picked a labernese, a breed that is known for its calm temper, and then on top of that we picked the calmest puppy of the litter – so we didn’t end up with a calm dog as a random accident. If anything, it would have been surprising had his disposition not been so mellow!

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