My son John with dog, Henry.
I know there are a lot of people who claim to be dog lovers . . . but man, I’ve had a bunch of dogs! Thirteen of them since the time I could vote. Eleven Saint Bernards, with two boxers as bookends—and that’s not counting the twenty-three Saint Bernard puppies I bred and shipped out!
The time I spent as a breeder was one of the more memorable adventures of my life. My runt, Fwiddie, birthed twenty-five puppies in only two tries. I kept one who I couldn’t stand to part with (not that parting with the other twenty-four was an easy task, let me tell you), and one died after only a day in a tragic accident.
It was some job. There weren’t enough teats to begin with (only eight good ones) and I had to mark each pup with a ribbon to see that it got its share. Three feedings per day, and another at 3:00 A.M. meant that I felt as sleep-deprived as a new father! Luckily, unlike with a baby, the puppies’ feeding schedule only went on for five or six weeks—but during that time, I could never leave the house for more than a few hours. There was also the matter of shots and dew claws—I would carry twelve Saint Bernards to the vet’s office in a small box.
And then, to top it all off, I had trouble selling them. Saint Bernard puppies grow about a pound for every two pounds of food they consume, and they consume boatloads of that . . . especially when you’ve got twelve of them at once! I finally sold them off after considerable expense—I may have cleared $1000 taking care of those guys.
You’d think that might have done it for me, but there is nothing on the planet cuter than a Saint Bernard puppy. So a year or two later, my little mama produced thirteen more. It took me six months to place all of them, and by then the last ones weighed ninety pounds! As cute as they were, after that run I quit the business of breeding. But it was great in so many ways, and I’m glad I did it. You only need to lie down in the yard amongst a herd of Saint puppies to understand why!
I kept the parents for another seven years. Then came Molly (eleven-and-a-half years old), then littermates Maggie and Dudley, and now Reuben, the boxer bookend. Dudley died two years ago, so Reuben took on the role of being Maggie’s new playmate. It’s been a ride for me!
Now let me give any new dog owners some fine advice: When you are training your young dog and you tell him to do something, anything—Sit! Come here! Quit that! No!—See the business through! Even if you have a broken foot, get yourself up, hobble over, and make the dog do it. Never let him get off disobeying you. If you do, he will surely try it again and prolong the training. It may be inconvenient for you just then, but see the lesson through and it will pay off triple in the long run. You can go upside his head with a rolled-up newspaper, but do this very rarely. Do go over to him, grab him, and show him how to do what you’ve commanded. And most important, never miss a time. Whenever you do miss, it will set the training back. If you can’t back the order up right now, don’t issue it.
Housebreaking can be done several ways, so I’m told. Whatever method you use, try your best to catch him in the act. This is not at all easy to do, but just one time will impress the dog much more than marching him back and scolding him at accident scenes he’s probably already forgotten. Potty training kids is clearly different. With kids it’s all verbal, and there must be a hundred theories about it. I have a beloved anecdote about the time I was potty training my son: I was finishing a Number Two one day, and cleaning matters up, when my two-year-old John marched in, stopped and stared, and announced, “That’s good! That’s how you do it! I’m so proud of you!”
For dogs, it takes two years for them to get it all together, move past the primary school stage, and on through the baccalaureate. After that, their training should be complete, and they can get more human in subtle ways, depending on how much you interact with them. Some (certainly not all) pick up actual wisdom.
Despite all the hard work, sleepless weeks, and the pain of losing a few beloved canine friends along the way, owning and raising my dogs has been, and always will be, a passion of mine. If anybody wonders whether owning a dog is worth their time and money, all I have to say is that I wouldn’t choose to live life without the love and devotion they’ve shown me!
My son John with dog, Henry.
It happens the second you pass by the window of that pet shop, you’re holding your kid’s hand, rushing them ahead before they can look into the eyes of the puppy barking at you to stop, but before you can do anything they’re looking up at you with bright, sad eyes.
“Dad, can we get a puppy?”
Before you say no, thinking about the vet visits, dog food prices, holes being dug in your backyard, I want you to take some time to consider the benefits to you and your child if you say yes, and let that puppy steal your family’s hearts. As someone who has bred St. Bernard’s, and someone who raised my son with a puppy sibling, I truly believe that these benefits could be worth your while.
Dogs can teach your children responsibility. I know, I know. Your child offers to take care of the dog, but you know the majority of the responsibility is going to be on you. But this doesn’t have to be the case. While you will have to be responsible for taking the dog to the vet, and double-checking that it is fed, groomed, and walked regularly, these tasks can be assigned as chores to your child as an agreement upon getting the dog. Your child will learn responsibility in taking care of another life, and will teach them the importance of keeping their word. Whenever they want to skip out on a walk or are going to be late to their friends house if they have to pick up after the dog, you can remind them of the agreement they made.
Dogs can be loyal companions to only children, children with disabilities, or any child struggling with loneliness or fitting in. Petting and interacting with dogs has been proven as a stress-reliever, and will provide comfort to children no matter their circumstances.
Owning a dog can lead to a more active, healthier lifestyle for your child. Dogs require getting out of the house for walks every day, running around playing ball, and overall getting up and outside rather than sitting and playing video games all afternoon. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne even claims that owning a pet leads to lower levels of obesity, lower risks for cardiovascular diseases, and fewer minor illnesses and complaints than those without pets.
Overall, owning a dog will lead to general happiness in your child’s life. They’ll always have a happy animal to cheer them up when they’re in a bad mood, give them the feeling of being needed and wanted, and for the rest of their lives they will have memories of the furriest member of their family. I know my son will forever cherish his memories with our St. Bernard, and I will always cherish my memories of the two of them together.
So my recommendation, take a moment to look into the shop window. Go visit your local animal shelter. Maybe just do a trial run with taking care of a friend’s dog for the day. However you go about it, don’t say no to the idea of owning a dog just yet.
Did you grow up with a dog when you were a child? Is it something you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments!