Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Small Dog Manifesto

I did not grow up with small dogs.

Our first dog was an Airedale named Tara. Tara was as beautiful as her name, but she had the size and temperament of Sherman’s army. Visitors to my childhood home would walk by the front windows before reaching the door and Tara – ever alert – greeted them with an artillery roar of barking and combined infantry and cavalry assaults on the windows. By the time the visitor reached the doorbell they were as frightened as the Confederate countryside.

Tara’s successor, Sandy, a medium-sized mutt , was calmer and friendlier and could catch any item thrown her way – but left more hair around the house than Ed Asner leaves in the shower.

Finally, there was Clancy, a Wheaton terrier. Have you ever heard of the Wheaton Greetin’? Clancy was a handsome, non-shedding dog with an agreeable disposition – but when somebody new entered the house he got more excited than Norm Peterson at a brewery. He jumped and slobbered and pawed any new visitor with boundless enthusiasm, even if they’d just returned from bringing out the trash. The Wheaton Greetin’ was particularly painful for men of a certain height, if you get my drift.

My wife, on the other hand, grew up with small dogs. Poodles. Toy poodles. Poodles named - and I kid you not – Fifi, Gigi, and Tiffany. My father-in-law was an NYPD cop at the time, but owned a pack of dogs that would have been more at home at Liberace’s house.

So a couple of years ago when my wife and I began talking about getting a dog, you can guess what she wanted. And since wives often get what wives want (don’t get me started on our phony Christmas tree) I am now the proud owner of a toy poodle named Finn (yeah, that's him up top).

And you know what? I love Finn (full name: Finnegan Whitebeard). In fact, I’ve become a strong advocate for the ownership of small dogs, specifically poodles. And as a public service to you, my faithful readers, I’d like to share with you Nine Reasons I’m glad we bought this little fella. Some of them apply to all small dogs and some to poodles in particular.

  1. Poodles are ranked by trainers as the second-smartest dogs behind the Border collie. Sometimes the boundless stupidity of dogs is part of their charm and if you are willing to put in the time and effort, you can train any dog. But if, like me, you want to deploy a sort of half-assed approach to dog training, and leave it up to the intelligence of the dog to figure out the rest, get a poodle.

  1. Like most families with young children, we bought a dog because our kids wanted a puppy. Most people go out and get a golden retriever or a chocolate lab or some other huge dog, and they come into the house as the cutest little puppies you could imagine. And the kids love them. They cuddle, roll around with them on the floor, let them on their lap, pick them up, you name it. Then, within a year, these beasts tower over them and all that play time is gone forever. Not Finn, though. He is fully grown but perpetually puppy-sized. He can sit on our lap, play with 3 year-olds, hop on the couch and not take up much room. If you like puppies, you’ll like small dogs.

  1. Shedding sucks. Poodles don’t shed.

  1. Sh*t happens - you know what I’m saying? And an immutable law of nature is: smaller dogs = smaller poops. Finnegan pinches out tootsie rolls, which are much easier to deal with than large, steaming fetid mounds of large canine…well, you get the point.

  1. I remember clearly the moment I gave in to the debate with my wife. St. Patrick’s Day 2007 she made Irish soda breads for everyone on our block and my daughter and I cruised the neighborhood giving them out. I live in a big dog neighborhood, and every doorbell we rang set off an explosion of barking, clawing and yelling (“Hunter! Down Hunter!”). Each neighbor opened the door, using arms and legs to hold back their dog(s) while struggling to reach out and accept our proffered gift. Our little fuzzy slipper of a dog doesn’t turn every door knock into a scene from an action movie.

  1. Master Burglar Walter Shaw was on Oprah recently with advice on home protection. One of his tips: get a small dog. He always avoided houses with small barking dogs like poodles and chihuahas. Small dogs are not good guard dogs but they are excellent watch dogs.

  2. You know the old rule, one human year = seven dog years. Not true. Different dog breeds have different life spans and the toy poodle, at 12-15 years, is among the longest.

  3. Smaller dogs = less food = smaller food budget.

  4. When big dog owners go on a trip, they have to figure out what to do with their loud, drooling, hairy, hungry poop machines, usually spending money on a kennel. Not us – finding a weekend babysitter for a cute, playful, non-shedding 10-pounder who poops tootsie rolls is a piece of cake.

Don’t get me wrong. There are downsides to having a 10 pound dog. I was recently at a company dinner when our CEO, the owner of several hunting dogs, asked everyone at the table what kind of dog they had, if any. One guy has greyhounds, another German shephards. One woman broke out a camera phone picture of her ferocious beasts which appeared to be half-wookie, half-dragon. Then it was my turn.

Me: (inaudible muttering)

CEO: What?

Me: I, ah, have a poodle.

CEO: Standard size? Standards are good hunting dogs.

Me: No, um, it’s, er, smaller.

CEO: Is it a Teacup?

Me: Well, technically, it’s a toy poodle…it’s actually quite wonderful….doesn’t shed, my daughter can play with him, and, well, when you have to clean up after him…

CEO: Okay, stop it, you’re embarrassing yourself.

So yes, you will occasionally get your manhood questioned if you are the owner of a dog that can fit into your man-purse. If you had one. Which I don't.

When that happens, you simply wonder aloud what the big-dog owner is compensating for, stroke your perpetual puppy like Dr. Evil stroking Mr. Bigglesworth, and return to your quiet, hairless home.

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