Older Might Be Better


By Sharon Kay

Not everyone has time to raise a puppy. An adult dog may be the solution. I’m glad I didn’t read about Konrad Lorenz’s research until I was old enough to know better. Lorenz was a naturalist who studied animal behavior in the 1950s and ’60s and came up with a theory he called “imprinting.” Imprinting, he explained, meant that there was a brief, critical period in a young animal’s life during which it became attached to other beings. He theorized that, if a person wanted a dog to recognize it as its parent, the owner needed to obtain the dog as a puppy, so the owner would be “imprinted” on the puppy. His research, incidentally, was done with geese.Many potential dog owners subscribe to the theory that the only way to make a dog a family member is to raise it from puppyhood. My encyclopedia has three paragraphs under the heading “Choosing a Dog.” It talks about what to look for in a puppy, choosing a mongrel puppy from an animal shelter and buying a purebred puppy from a breeder. Nowhere does it mention adult dogs.Where does that leave the person who doesn’t have the time and energy to raise a puppy? Some people get one anyway. My neighbors are such a family. The puppy spends his day in the backyard while the family is gone. He cries for hours. Frequently, he up ends his water dish, which can have serious consequences in the Arizona sun. Some days he digs holes all day. Yesterday, he ventilated the garden hose with his sharp puppy teeth. Then, while tossing the hose in the air to attack it, he managed to wrap the hose around the legs of the barbecue grill. Down went the grill, spreading ashes all over the yard. Of course, he received a beating when the neighbors arrived home. The puppy is unhappy, and the neighbors are exasperated.One of my son’s friends comes here more to play with our dogs than with my son. His parents don’t have the resources for a puppy, so they got him hamsters. I suppose that’s a better answer than paddling a puppy every night, but the hamsters aren’t much companionship for the kid. He’s welcome here, and my dogs love him, but he’d really rather have his own dog.The answer to these problems is so obvious it’s heartbreaking: the adult dog. Today’s paper lists a dozen adult dogs available to good homes. Many of them are already neutered, and the vaccination records are available. Some of them, such as the 1-year-old male Keeshond and the 15-month old Samoyed, have AKC papers. All of them have known personality traits. The Terrier and the Spitz mixed breeds prefer adults; the Keeshond is excellent with children; the teacup Poodle needs an older woman without kids; the Sheltie needs a yard.Of course, any dog, puppy or adult, needs attention and love. Adult dogs just need much less custodial care. The housebreaking is usually complete, and the chewing stage is over. The energy level of the adult dog is much more compatible with a household where everyone is in school or at work during the day.


What about the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? Although it’s true the pre-owned dog comes with its own set of personality traits and habits, they can be modified to suit our family life, usually much more easily than training a new puppy.I housebroke an adult Beagle in a weekend. Iwatched her closely after she ate and when she awoke from naps, and deposited her outside when she started to relieve herself. With praise for a job well done, she readily grasped what I wanted. After she learned how to let me know when she needed to go out, the job was done. She wanted to please me, had an adult’s bladder and bowel control, and had a longer attention span than a puppy. This made training her much easier that any puppy I’ve ever tried to housebreak.

Mindy, my Shepherd/Chow mix, had at least two owners before me. She joined our family with habits I was grateful for, habits I can live with and habits that had to be changed. Whoever taught her to ride in the car has my undying gratitude. She immediately retreats to the floor behind the driver’s seat, where she remains the entire trip. This behavior was so strongly ingrained in her that when I put the back of my station wagon down for a long trip, she tried to burrow under the platform. Eventually, I coaxed her to ride on top of the seat, but she still remains right behind the driver. If I could teach my other dogs such good manners, car trips would be a lot easier.

Mindy is extremely possessive of her food. If she thinks anyone is trying to take it away, she becomes a snarling, threatening monster. So I feed her outside on the porch, where she isn’t threatened by the other dog, the cat or any family member who happens by. I can live with that behavior.

Jumping up on people was a behavior I couldn’t live with, so I modified it. It took several training sessions with cooperative friends, but Mindy now sits and extends a paw to visitors. They think it’s cute, Mindy gets the strokes she needs, and l got rid of a behavior I didn’t want.


The other major advantage of an adult dog is that you know what you’re getting. Because I worked for a veterinarian, friends of my parents asked for help in locating a new pet when their old dog died. They gave me a shopping list of qualifications: small, non-shedding, housebroken and well behaved in the car.I knew of a Miniature Schnauzer named Muffin who was going to need a new home, and I made the necessary inquiries. I was waiting for a reply when the family called to say they had gotten a dog being given away at a flea market. It was, they told me, a Cockapoo puppy. While I questioned whether they really wanted a puppy, a Cockapoo was small enough to meet their needs.

Then I saw the dog. I suppose I should have told them my suspicions, but my uneasiness was based on nothing more than having seen a lot of puppies in the years I worked as a veterinary assistant. They admitted that the information regarding the dog’s background had never been volunteered during the transaction, merely confirmed by the man giving the puppies away. He had agreed that the puppy looked like a Cockapoo and that it must be a few weeks old. They didn’t have the name or address of the man giving the pups away, and they hadn’t seen the mother of the litter.

Benji, as they named the puppy, is now Big Ben. One parent was probably part or all Newfoundland, as Ben weighs more than 100 lbs. Housebreaking was never an issue: Ben can’t be in the house because of his slobbering, shedding and bearish behavior. Their once-attractive backyard is Ben’s domain. They feel responsible for Big Ben but declare they will never get another dog.

For the Schnauzer, the outcome was much happier. She has belonged to an elderly woman who had been admitted to a nursing home. The little dog was begrudgingly adopted by her son’s family. Unfortunately, Muffin didn’t like the other pets in the family, the children or the noise. She had become depressed and surly. To make matters worse, the daughter-in-law had tried to clip Muffin’s coat and had made a mess of it. I found Muffin a home with a recently retired couple. They were reluctant to take on a new dog, as they were planning to travel, but they missed the Sheltie that had been a member of their family for many years. They agreed to meet Muffin, however, and her manners and attitude won them over instantly, despite her haircut. They took Muffin home with them, and she never looked back.

I called some time later to check on how Muffin was adjusting. I left a message on their answering machine, and their son returned my call. He reported that Muffin was fine. The three of them were vacationing in Florida. Muffin not only enjoyed riding in the car, she also liked flying in their private plane. According to his mother, the son said with a laugh, what Muffin liked best was riding in the bow of their boat when it was going high speeds.

I wonder what Dr. Lorenz would say?

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