Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

Tales of a Dog Breeder: What Being A Dog-Dad Taught Me About Fatherhood

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My son John with dog, Henry.

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!

John & Henry2

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!


Parenting 101: Ground Rules

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I’m not someone who has been much of a believer in “ground rules” for parenting, or one right and one wrong way to raise a child. Every family is different, has different beliefs as to how their kids should be brought up, and determines what kind of values should be instilled in them. However, after this past week where one child was left in the woods in Japan as punishment, while another somehow was able to get into a gorilla’s exhibit at the Cincinnati zoo, people are starting to question if maybe there are some “taken for granted” parenting rules worth spelling out.

For one, keeping an eye on your kids in a public place. When you lose track of a young kid, they could end up anywhere—kidnapped, lost, or, you got it, in a gorilla’s exhibit. People have raised the question of keeping all toddlers on leashes or in strollers, while others think that may be heading into “extreme” territory.

I think it might just be worth mentioning that you should keep an eye on all of your kids every couple of minutes—even when another one is needing your attention. Yes, parents aren’t super humans with eyes in the back of their heads. No, that doesn’t mean they are incapable of keeping tabs on their kids, making sure they stay in one spot while your attention is needed elsewhere.

And if you see someone else’s kid getting into trouble they shouldn’t be in, let’s collectively parent that kid and say, “Stay away from there kid!”

As for the parents in Japan, all I can say is, every parent has been in a car with a kid driving them nuts. But one too many, “Are we there yet?”’s rarely has them pulling to the side of the road and dumping them out—especially not for more than a minute, and then driving away without them.

My solution? I can’t say I know what needs to be done about child protection laws, or criminalizing parents for their lack of good judgment.

But I do know that these bizarre parenting stories are great inspiration for children’s authors everywhere! (“That Time My Parents Left Me in the Woods”…anyone else see the bestseller potential?)

What are your thoughts on this week’s bizarre news stories? Let me know in the comments!


It’s Okay to Ask for Help as a Single Parent

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There’s this secret a lot of single parents hold inside of them. A secret they think sometimes they might be judged for, that society would look down on them for, that their children won’t forgive them for. It’s a secret I used to hold inside of me while I was raising my son, by myself for the most part. It’s a secret with consequences I am going to reveal as myths, right here, right now.

The secret is that sometimes as a single parent you just need help.

I don’t know at what point in time parenting started to be thought of as a one-man job. Moms parent, dads go to work; dads parent, moms go to work; if you’re a single parent, you somehow work and parent and figure out how to do that all on your own. But you chose to be a parent, which means you must be prepared to go at it by yourself, right?

Wrong. Why is it acceptable for you to have an assistant or intern at your job, but bringing in a babysitter or live-in nanny means you just aren’t parenting well enough? Society might be more accepting of this way of parenting now, but it still doesn’t erase the guilt I know many of us feel—the guilt that we aren’t giving our children our all, or that we are somehow failing by reaching a point where we have to ask for the help we know we need. That guilt is a tricky little sucker who carries the weight of “unworthy” on his shoulders and plants it in our brains.

I am unworthy of help because I volunteered to be a father. I am unworthy of help because I can work from home. I am unworthy of help because my child needs me to be there. These are all sentences I have told myself before. These are all sentences that hold no truth.

It is okay to accept help as a single parent. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t there for your child, or that you aren’t parenting well enough. Sometimes it actually means you are parenting better, because with help, nothing slips through the cracks of your son’s or daughter’s childhood. They will always have the help and support they need, always have someone taking care of them, and not your half-attention when you’re trying to work and earn a living to support your family and raise them at the same time.

Throw away your guilt when you enlist family, friends, or professionals to help your raise your children. It takes a village to raise a person to be their absolute best, and you’re doing the best you can.

Have you ever felt the guilt of asking for help as a single parent? Share your story with me in the comments!

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