Weatherford Democrat

February 15, 2008

A family's first dog

Denise Cook, Democrat Columnist


I was watching the Westminster Dog Show this week, the Terrier group to be specific, and was reminded for the first time in many years of my first dog, Sandy. She was a smooth-hair Fox Terrier, a breed you don’t see very often these days, was lovely and, well… a little bit mentally challenged. You could say she wasn’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree but she was patient and kind with my sister and me and a good first dog. My parents got her when I was just a toddler so I have no actual memory of when she first came to our household. She was an integral part of my childhood until she died at age 12 or 13 — I can’t quite remember. I do remember her as a sweet and long-suffering dog confirmed by hours of dressing her up in our clothes like she was one of our dolls.

I wonder if my penchant for loving terriers stems from having a terrier around from the time I was barely crawling. My family owned many other breeds over the years from Irish Setters, to Dachshunds, but as an adult I was instinctively drawn to terriers. They are spunky dogs with intelligence (Sandy aside) and wit. I love their tenacity and playfulness, and particularly the look of a wired-haired terrier. My favorite would have to be the Border Terrier which originates in, and takes its name from, the area near the border between England and Scotland. Their original purpose was to kill foxes and rodents, but they have been used to hunt otters and even badgers. We got our Border Terrier, Rosie, from a farm in Cambridge when we were living in England, and she is absolutely one of the best dogs we’ve ever had.

It’s important to carefully consider the breed and temperament of a dog when you bring it into your family. And by the way, I think a good temperament trumps breed any day of the week! Sandy’s temperament was perfect as I cannot remember one incident when she was aggressive towards us.

Sometime when I’m volunteering at the shelter or on off-site adoption events, I have the honor of helping families with small children select their first dog. Often they are immediately drawn to the smallest puppies and I always remind them that as adorable as the baby is, in a few short days the puppy phase will pass, and the adolescent stage will arrive bringing with it chewing, house training and socializing. The brunt of this work usually falls on the mother, and with small children at home it can be quite overwhelming. At any given day there are plenty of young adult dogs at the shelter to choose from that will fit well into the family dynamic.

You will want your children to have a good experience with their first dog because this impression could determine how they react to animals their whole lives. Take your time with this decision. Make sure the dog is child-safe and that the whole family is committed to caring for the dog. An impulse decision can lead to many arguments and a lot of heartache. The right dog will not only be a good and loving companion, but teach caring, responsibility and selflessness while bringing joy, laughter and togetherness to your family.

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Denise Cook is a freelance writer/photographer for the Weatherford Democrat, co-founder of Parker Paws, a non-profit in support of the Weatherford/Parker County Animal Shelter, and a lifetime pet owner. Contact Denise at denise@parkerpaws.org, call (817)597-5784, or visit parkerpaws.org.