Big Dog or Not?

Thoughts on Owning Labradoodles and Other Big Dogs

Once a dog family, always a dog family, but a big dog family? Not the same thing. It took us a long time to get over the death of our cocker spaniel, but, eventually, the time came when my family and I felt the need to fill the void in our dogless home. We hit the internet and found a cute dog at the local SPCA. Angel was his name (how ironic) and he was six months old.

Puppies being in hot demand, we headed over to the SPCA that very afternoon in order to be one of the first to have a visit with Angel. We read his profile…hmmm…..not exactly what we had expected. One word stood out – the previous owners said Angel was “hyper”. Okay, so what exactly does that mean? I mean, all puppies are hyper. Obviously, the family who returned Angel at the ripe old age of six months simply had no idea how to care for a puppy. Their fault, not his. Okay, one more thing stood out on the “turned-in dog” form. They couldn’t “afford” to take care of him anymore. Maybe they were cash-strapped, I imagined, on the road to bankruptcy or in the midst of a divorce or something. We could afford him. We afforded our cocker. How much can a labradoodle eat anyway?

So we took the plunge even as the SPCA warned us that Angel would be much more appropriate for a family with kids over age 6. Oh come on, so he’s a little bigger than we’re used to. We can handle him. We’re dog people.

Angel came home with us a few days later and things were never the same. Life changes when you have a big dog – no, seriously, it does. So, if you are thinking of getting a big dog, here are a few things to keep in mind. By the way, Angel is now Herbie, named after Herbie the mischievous car of movie fame. Far more appropriate than Angel. He is now two years old and 75 pounds at last count. He is known far and wide for his boisterous personality and shaggy hairdo. People in the neighborhood may not know us, but they all know Herbie.

So, on to the points to keep in mind when considering a big dog:

  1. Big dogs can reach what they want to reach. The cute seasonal kitchen dishcloths no longer hang on decorative hooks.They are piled on top of the refrigerator just beyond the reach of Herbie on his hind legs. A homework folder carelessly left on the kitchen table one afternoon became a feast for Herbie. “Dear Mrs. B, the dog really did eat my son’s homework and the folder it was in too.” The baby gate is now a permanent fixture on our stairs, designed to keep Herbie out of our kids’ rooms and countless potential choking hazards for this eternal canine toddler.
  2. Big dogs like to eat nonedible items with gusto. The first months found us at the vet and the emergency after-hours clinic repeatedly. Herbie ate a sock. Herbie ate a Christmas ball. Herbie ate two socks. Herbie ate dishcloth. Herbie ate a battery. Herbie ate a large stick. Herbie ate the stuffing out of a pillow. Herbie destroyed a Gameboy and a digital camera during those first months too. Somehow, Herbie survived as did our bank account. We learned to administer the hydrogen peroxide remedy in such cases and came to learn what Herbie’s stomach of iron could take and what it couldn’t. In fairness, he still steals with the same enthusiasm, but somehow the novelty of actually chowing down on his booty has worn off. It’s just the thrill of the ensuing chase that still gets to Herbie.
  3. Big dogs do eat a lot. Everyone already knows and expects that. The intense hunger a big dog feels as you eat your dinner often translates into loud, human-like burps as he rests his head next to your plate in self-pity. In Herbie’s defense, he is much less gassy than our cocker spaniel was, in case you were wondering. Big dogs gobble their food up. People will warn you to ration the food out over the day to avoid some serious bloat issues.
  4. Big dogs are strong. We are walking on a crowded street in Colonial Williamsburg. A quaint horse-drawn carriage approaches and I begin to sense impending doom. Suddenly, Herbie lunges at the horses and drags me across the field behind him. I held on for dear life, mostly to spare the tourists in the carriage serious injury. Tragedy was avoided, although humiliation was not. Big dogs are strong and big. Herbie on his hind legs is taller than my mother, which might add to why she feels the need to constantly remind me that it was a silly idea to get such a big dog. He’s growing on her though…

So, you may think this is an anti-big-dog article, but it isn’t. As you might imagine, life is never dull with a big dog. Antics aside, their huge personalities, boundless energy, and infectious exuberance win you over even after the vet bills, the ripped-up linoleum, and embarrassing knock-downs on the neighborhood sidewalks. When you see that giant head resting on your lap and the huge body sprawled out the couch, you just want to hug the big lug. When you watch him joyfully bound across a field, each stride spanning a yard or two, you want to run along with him. When he jumps up on you and nearly knocks you over after you’ve been away from home for a while, you feel the love. Yeah, life with Herbie or any big dog is no walk in the park, that’s for sure. It’s an all-out mad dash through every corner of the park with no squirrel left unchased and no stick left unchewed! Wouldn’t trade him in for the world.

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