What I Learned From My Mother About Dogs
The way you approach dogs determines the way they respond to you.
I grew up with dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, birds, ostriches, cows, and I’m not quite sure what else. Animals were part of my natural world growing up, and I have never lost either my love or my respect for them.
Most of what I learned about animals came from my late mother. She grew up on a farm in the Little Karoo in South Africa. Her father grew tobacco and milked cows. They travelled to town in a pony trap, so I guess she grew up with horses as well. I do recall, in 1957, while I spent six months on the farm while my parents were touring in Europe, that we went to town in that pony trap. It was fun!
Breeding dogs, I think, was an accidental side line for my mother as she was in business with my father. We had a lovely Alsatian by the name of Arrogant Ajax of Caneva. He was in my heart from day one when he came to us as a small puppy, and although gone now for half a century, he will remain in my heart forever.
I’m not quite sure how it came about, but soon we had a second Alsatian, Menush of Sandrock, and then Karen of Berlin arrived. Yes, I still remember all their kennel names. The kennel names for the puppies of Arrogant and Menush was Gaudeamus. Gaudeamus is Latin for “We shall be joyful,’ and Gaudeamus Igitur was my late father’s university fraternity song.
When Arrogant, Menush, and Karen passed, there was an empty gap for a year or two. Then my mother bought a Toy Pomeranian , and in no time at all, that toy pom was joined by a Toy Doberman Pincher, and then an entire array of different miniature breeds.
At some point, there were 200 dogs on the small holding, together with two peacocks, and I think there might have been an ostrich. That was, however, after I left home.
Nevertheless, it was during the periods when I went home that my real education began on how to approach dogs.
What My Mother Taught Me About Dogs
- Always approach a new dog slowly. They need time to grow accustomed to you.
- Sit down to their level, then put out your hand slowly towards them. Wait for them to smell and/or lick. And only when they have become accustomed to you can you pet them.
- Talk to dogs in conversational voices. They can hear you. If you use the same words and associate it with certain actions repeatedly, after a while, they know what you are talking about.
- Sudden movement or noises will make a small dog nervous. So be careful when you initially meet to be slow in your moments even if you’re not directly interacting with them.
- A dog needs access to the outdoors. It is not a cat.
- Inbreeding is not to be condoned. Sometimes my mother found out too late that a dog was too inbred. She would purposely cross breed for pets. And that’s okay. Not every dog needs to have a pedigree. They need to be healthy and happy.
- Don’t feed adult dogs milk. It develops mucous and inflammation.
- Dogs need fresh food as much as human beings do. Always cook them bones and a small bit of meat. You can add maize and vegetables, but they must have meat and bones in their diet.
- When female dogs are on heat, unless you want them to be pregnant, keep them away from other dogs. My mother did not believe in neutering animals as she felt it affected the quality of their lives.
- A dog needs to be loved. Pet them frequently.
- Give dogs folate in order for them to develop glossy costs and prevent premature grey hair. Also pop a multi-vitamin into their feed so that they always have all the nutrients they need.
- When selling dogs or finding them a new home, it is the responsibility of the current owner to ensure that the dog goes to a good home. My mother would never sell a miniature dog to a family with small children. There was too much danger of small kids hurting the dog.
- A dog deserves a decent burial. They are man’s best friend. Mourning is permitted.
My mother and her dogs have long gone to dog-heaven.
In the years after Arrogant passed, I eventually got two toy poms from my mother — Mutt and Porky. They have been gone now for twenty years.
I tell you that as I write this, there are tears in my eyes for Arrogant, Mutt, and Porky. I wish we had had more time together, but they lived long and happy lives, and that is all anyone could ask for.
My greatest heritage is that I walk often, and when I walk, I greet every dog — with permission from their owners, of course — and here’s the thing they always say.
“He likes you. He isn’t normally that friendly with strangers. Sometimes he growls and barks. He doesn’t do that to you.”
I guess dogs know that I love them.