Last summer our local theater company preformed Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" in the Detroit Lakes city park. For those of you who, like me, are theatrically challenged, the story is about two sisters of marriage age -- one was the ideal wife prospect, the other a bit more of, well, a shrew.

Puppy love

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So how, you ask, does Shakespeare apply to dogs? Man's relationship with dogs has evolved into nothing short of a love relationship. Not that every dog owner speaks to their canines in mushy phrases using a voice generally reserved for babies (although there are many who do fall into that category), but the vast majority of dog owners are deeply devoted to their pets.

A friend of husband Archie's and mine is an extremely successful self-made man. He is an inventor, has started up and sold several successful businesses. He has ample money to support his many habits and indulgences, not limited to a collection of hot rods and dragsters he races at speeds approaching 200 mph. The man is rock solid in build and fluent in four-letter word conversation. No one ever would describe him as soft or sentimental.

When our friend and his wife learned that their Giant Schnauzer was terminally ill, he declared that there would be no more dogs. The dog was too hard to travel with, left too much dog hair in the motor home, was too big a nuisance.

Later, describing the day the dog was euthanized he stated, "I bawled driving home from the vet, I bawled the whole time I dug the grave, and I bawled most of that night. The next morning we drove to Wisconsin and bought another Giant puppy." There goes the tough guy image.

Lassie or Marley?

The day a new pup comes home is a great day filled with excitement and good intentions. We vow to be attentive to this pup's needs and training; we can tell the pup is destined to be the best dog ever.

As the puppy grows, its personality begins to emerge. Some pups are incredibly easy to raise -- they housetrain quickly, sleep quietly through the night, are content to chew on their toys only and always come when called. (These puppies are like children, the exception and not the rule.)

What happens to all those good intentions of training and quality time spent if the puppy turns out not to be the best ambassador for his breed? What happens if you picked a Marley?

I co-own Lady, a yellow Lab female. Lady is a fairly high energy, field bred Lab. The spring of 2009, we bred her with a more laid back black Lab, Ely. Ely is a great family dog. He likes to hunt (has a Junior Hunter title) but also has his Canine Good Citizen certification and, with his human partner, is a registered therapy dog with Delta Society Pet Partners. He is a very well rounded dog.

Together, Lady and Ely produced 13 puppies. The dominant pup of the litter was a mid-sized black female. This little pup quickly established herself as director of activities, determining who got to eat, to play, to possess toys. She was so domineering that we removed her from the litter at nine weeks of age and she came to live at my house.

We had called most of the pups after trees: Cedar, Willow, Hickory, etc. For the first 3-4 weeks this particular female was referred to as "You Little..." due to her incorrigible behaviors.

Finally, I quit treating her as a puppy and turned her out with select older dogs: Dozer, Asia and Cougar. Dogs that would discipline her but not do any permanent damage. And I put her to work retrieving. Finally, at 12 weeks of age she had a job!

The pup's whole attitude changed. The older dogs taught her respect; the work gave her focus. She was still the first to be ready to start the day (around 5 a.m.) and the last to wear down and fall asleep, but her incessant mischievousness subsided and her ability to focus improved.

She loved land and water drills. She wasn't quite such a bully with younger pups. She graduated from "You Little..." to simply Aspen.

I started Aspen in Rally Obedience classes, and she excelled. I entered her in competition, and she performed admirably; three shows, three qualifying scores (including one first place finish) and Aspen had her AKC title in Rally Novice Obedience. She picked up her Canine Good Citizen certification along the way. All this by the time she was 10 months old.

What made the

difference?

Aspen needed a job. She is highly intelligent and has a great amount of drive. She needs to train and work. imply playing with other dogs does not meet her particular needs. Aspen requires both a training routine and a socialization routine.

Failing to provide those routines for her, and failing to require good behavior from Aspen, would be a failure on my side of the dog/handler team.

With your new pup, it is so important that you recognize that every dog needs, and is happier, when given a job. Service dogs, search and rescue dogs, competition and show dogs, herding dogs, hunting dogs all are at their best when training and performing.

Pet dogs delight in learning tricks, carrying the paper or retrieving a toy. Dogs (like people) without expectations, structured activities and rewards, often become self-centered and develop destructive habits as outlets to their frustration. If your pup is shaping up to be an Aspen or a Marley, it is up to you to make the difference.

Send your comments to lkwiedewitsch@yahoo.com.