Friday, April 24, 2009

A Dog's Life

I think every house with small children should have a family dog. Not just because of the romantic notions left over from years of watching Lassie, about kids bonding so well with pets or being protected by them, although there’s that, too. Mostly, it’s the clean-up crew that dogs provide that I don’t think I could live without.

We got our dog a year before having our first child. He was our test-run on parenting, and I think we did pretty well with him. He was easy to crate train and never showed any anxiety because of the training. He quickly learned that any food for him would be in his bowl, and no food outside his dog dish was up for grabs. He has never growled or snapped at anyone. He sits obediently outside the room while we cook and eat dinner, waiting to be invited in when we are finished.

When our first daughter came home from the hospital, the dog was curious but never jealous, and readily accepted her as part of the family pack. When she became a toddler, leaving trails of cheerios throughout the house, and a vast array of food around her high chair after each feeding (which it was his job to clean up), she became his favorite person on the planet. Sure, it undid some of that careful training, and now when he finds a half-eaten bagel on the coffee table, he’ll glance at me as if to ask “May I?” where before he never would’ve considered it. And we had to spend a good chunk of time training the kids not to feed him all the food they’d rejected (and my kids reject a lot of food), but now we’ve got a nice balance going.

If it weren’t for the dog, I’d spend an awful lot of time on my hands and knees, mopping up spills or collecting bits of food that were too sticky for the vacuum. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched him carefully devour every stray grain of rice from inside a high chair, or meticulously clean spilled milk from the floor, and been grateful that I had a little help keeping up with these expert mess-makers.

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