Puppy Love

Last week, when my sister-in-law’s Labrador, Osha, gave birth to nine puppies, everyone was thrilled at the outcome and entranced by the ways in which natural instincts kicked in to ensure the welfare of mother and offspring. For me, witnessing the event was an unexpectedly moving experience, as my pet-keeping days ended long ago, with my childhood. And, as the puppies grow day-by-day, it’s plain to see why everybody smiles when they see them: all the usual adjectives apply – they are cute, adorable, joyous, wriggly and squeaky – but they are also funny, especially in the way they clamber over each other to get to mother’s milk.

The appeal of puppies to humans has been the subject of some scientific research, by the way. Researchers at the Arizona Canine Cognition Centre concluded that puppies are primed to communicate with humans soon after birth, which is why we are so drawn to them. They respond to high-pitched voices and, when they gain their sight, they will “look at and return a person’s social gaze and successfully use information given by that person in a social context from a very young age, all prior to any extensive experience of people”. An eight-week-old puppy is ‘highly skilled” at following a human cue of pointing and there was “no evidence that their performance required learning to do so”. (Coincidently, this research was done with Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers and the Labrador/Golden mix well known for their use as assistant dogs.)

Osha’s litter is quite a mixture – five black, three yellow and one brown, five of which are bitches and four of which are boys, – and there is great demand from would-be owners, all of whom expressed interest long before the birth. Of course, they all have their preferences, and some will be disappointed – Osha wasn’t able to produce to order! – so, careful consideration must be given to allocation. As to why so many people are drawn to keeping dogs, there is an abundance of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, of the benefits to acquiring “man’s best friend”, most of it pointing to enhancement of mental and physical health. As for the dogs, we can only assume their benefits are security and affection.

But we mustn’t forget, “a dog isn’t just for Christmas” and we all know stories of dog-ownership that went wrong – especially during the covid lockdown period, when pets were acquired without due consideration to the needs of the animal. So, it’s best to be aware – before you become so entranced by that cute puppy that you just have to have it – that you will have to make some adjustments to your lifestyle.

  • Early mornings, every day. Dogs rise and want to go out at the crack of dawn.
  • Daily walks for you and your dog are a must.
  • You need to be there for your dog: they require company.
  • Responsible disposal of dog poo is a must – for all of us!
  • Dog hair – there can be a lot of it to clear up.
  • Holiday plans need to include your dog’s needs.
  • Wet weather gear for you – and possibly your dog!
  • Money – dogs are expensive to keep, especially when it comes to vet’s fees.

So, getting a dog is a serious proposition. It certainly rules me out (assuming I had the inclination), if only on the grounds that I live in a flat and am away from home a lot of the time.  But we non-dog owners can still enjoy the company of these lovely animals. For example, an artist friend of mine is also a professional dog sitter who takes her art career with her to some beautiful places and in the company of some beautiful dogs.  Me? I’m very happy to take friend’s dogs for walks when they are not able to and I look forward to dog-sitting Osha, as I have once or twice before. But by then her puppies will have gone to their new homes and there will be none left to tempt me into ownership.