On parenting pooches

I wrote this piece back in 2013 for another blog. I’m re-publishing it here, as I think it’s an important part of my parenting journey and a good introduction to my happy hounds, Jack and Meg.


For someone who’s not a parent, I find myself reading mommy blogs quite often. Perhaps it’s some instinctual need to garner important information before I (one day) enter that world of Babygros, birth, maternity wear and mastitis. Perhaps it’s simply that there are a fair number of mommy blogs out there, and, y’know, they’re pretty well written. Whatever the reason, I recently found myself relating to those moms when I brought two hooligans home.

When my husband and I moved into our house – and when (most of) the boxes were unpacked – I went in pursuit of pets. We’d lived years without pets, impeded by our one-bedroom flat, and I did not want to wait any longer. My husband is highly allergic to cats, so we decided on dogs. After much research and trawling of animal websites, I came into contact with the Labrador Retriever Kennel Club, who work to rehome labs in need.

One day, I saw a message on their Facebook page: ‘We are awaiting information on 10 young Labradors rejected / dismissed from the police force. Who will be looking for homes – Gauteng area. Any preliminary interests can email us …’

Jack and Meg
Jack and Meg

Convinced that ex-police dogs would be perfect (they would have received basic training, right?), we headed off to the Vereeniging SPCA, picked out two pooches and brought them home the next week. I naively believed they would love our big garden, would go for swims in our pool, would play with all the toys I got them, would keep me company as I worked, would sleep soundly on their comfy bed … They would love their new lives.

They did. But I did not. We named them Meg and Jack – after The White Stripes, because they looked like white stripes as they dashed down the road whenever the gate opened. Having never lived in a domestic environment before, they were not housetrained. In fact, Jack had spent so long in the confines of a kennel that he sometimes peed while lying down! We were continually cleaning and we couldn’t leave them unattended lest they destroy something.

Everything was new to them, so they didn’t know what they were not allowed to chew. They chewed everything. They jumped up on my car and took off my back windscreen wiper. They ran off with the HTH bottle. They found a bag of coal near the braai and littered it all over the garden. They ripped a pipe off the outside of our house. One morning, they chewed through the wire for the freezer. They had pulled the plug out the wall first, and I joked that they were obviously taught to be safety conscious when they worked at the police.

But the situation did not feel funny at all. Whatever training they’d received at the police force was more harmful than helpful. An animal behaviouralist I spoke to explained that the police often train dogs using force, trying to ‘beat the aggression into them’. The fact is that Labradors are simply not aggressive dogs and we now had two troubled, troublesome pooches.

Of course, I knew that things would get better but at the time I felt overwhelmed, doubting whether I was cut out for this, wondering whether we’d made the right choice. I thought about what new mothers must feel like and I started to question whether I could ever handle children if I couldn’t even cope with canines.

Thankfully, things did improve. Meg and Jack are no longer tornadoes of destruction – partly because they’ve calmed down, partly because we’ve now learnt how to puppy-proof the house and garden. They’re also no longer skittish and scared. They’ve learnt not to run away when the gate opens and, after many treats, they’ve finally learnt to sit on command.

Most importantly, they’re now part of the family. They make us laugh every day and they display endless devotion to their new parents. We recently went away on a short holiday and we missed them terribly. I simply cannot imagine my home without these happy hounds.

As for human babies … Well, that’ll be a while. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading those mommy blogs.