I scanned the internet with a flicker of excitement. Maybe, just maybe, we should get our son a puppy for his 12th birthday. I tried to remain stoic, stymie my enthusiasm and think like a responsible adult.
Small animals do something to our brains.
Their squished noses and big eyes impair our ability to reason. I was fully aware of this fact and yet helpless to properly fight it at the same time.
In our case, there was nothing to fight. Everything lined up. A friend of a friend made the connection, there was one puppy still available and it was ours. We surprised our son on his birthday and Chase, the golden retriever, became part of the family.
That was months ago. And it was one of the best decisions we have ever made.
Chase, our growing pup, is growing our kids in ways we never expected.
1. A puppy teaches diligence
Our first few days with Chase were straight out of the movies. He snuggled for hours and was passed between our four children endlessly. We bought him toys and puppy food and took countless pictures. And then he had an accident. In the house. More than once.
Training our children to help train our dog was a bit of a circus at first, involving climatic shouts of, “He sniffing. Mom, he’s sniffing. Someone get the dog! Quick, someone get the dog!!!” And then all of us re-hashing how this is supposed to go down while dealing with the aftermath.
I won’t glamorize this. It wasn’t cute. Or fun. But we all learned to be watchful when Chase was in the house. He learned. The kids learned. And we really only had a few accidents along the way.
The story has been much the same when training him to sit or behave properly. Teaching him diligently is breeding diligence in my children along the way.
2. A puppy teaches selflessness
Justifiably, our kids are born with a pretty great sense of their own needs. As newborns they cry when they are hungry or need changed. And they continue on fully aware of what they feel need in any given moment, while becoming increasingly adept at articulating those needs. (Feel free to wander the toy aisle with young children if you need any evidence of this fact.) But as they grow we strive, sometimes awkwardly, to make them aware of others needs as well.
Chase needs care and attention. He needs to be fed, even when we get home late on the 4th of July and you would rather go to bed. He needs to be played with, even when you don’t feel like playing outside. Chase is doing a great job of teaching my children to think past what they feel like doing and consider the well-being of something else.
3. A puppy teaches humility
We took Chase on one of his first camping trips recently. We were staying in this beautiful RV park near Mt. St. Helens and he was thriving in the great outdoors when he relieved himself right in the middle of the park’s bustling playground area.
My husband and I explained the art of the little green bag, generously provided for such purposes, and my 12-year-old was mortified. “Seriously? You’re kidding, right? I have to walk out there with that bag in front of all of those kids I was just playing with and pick it up?”
My mind instantly flashed back to a day years prior, when I was taking this very child to the eye doctor. It was a routine appointment to check out his enlarged optic nerve and as we were walking in he mentioned his stomach hurt. I didn’t think too much of it until minutes later he got sick in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. He gave little warning and his reach was incredible. We covered the carpet and the wall and, at least in my memory, nearly everything in sight.
I rushed him to the bathroom to cleaned him up, feeling half sorry for him and half mortified. That might be a lie. I was 90% mortified. And now, at 12-years-old he was asking me the same questions I was asking myself that day, “Do I really have to walk out there, in front of all those people, and clean up that mess?”
Chase the pup is getting the job done. My kids are learning humility at an early age.
4. A puppy teaches patience
Chase is taking to walking on a leash quite well, until he sees a four legged friend and pulls with the force of a sled dog. He slept quietly near the door of our camp trailer while we were on that camping trip and we woke the next morning to a pile of completely chewed flip flops. We send our kids out regularly to pick up torn and strewn bits of who knows what that silly dog has gotten into this time, but we’re all growing patience along the way.
I don’t need photos to remember what it looks like to see my boy falling asleep next to his dog out on the lawn. I don’t need video to remember all four of those kids cheering Chase on wildly as he swam in the river for the very first time. My mind has already permanently fixed the smiles and delight Chase has brought our family.
Is it a stretch to think that this puppy will make my kids better someday adults?
Possibly. But they are making memories and learning some pretty great character traits along the way. I’ll pay for that in chewed flip flops any day of the week.