HomeHealthWhen is it too old to … buy a puppy?

When is it too old to … buy a puppy?

Occasional columnist Steve Perkin is a proud new dad – at 67. Rest easy, the ‘child’ is a puppy. In this three-part article, he describes the search and the journey and whether ‘at his age’, he should have known better.

Part 1
Is there an age limit to getting a puppy?

Are they like grandchildren? Look after them for eight hours and you wonder where you ever found the energy to have children of your own?

This had worried me for a while and eventually it wore me down so I decided not to worry about it any longer. I just went out and bought one.

This is not to suggest I was flippant in my purchase. Oh no. I made sure I didn’t get it from a puppy farm and I made sure my wife didn’t know how much I’d paid for it.

I think I’ve been successful on the first score, not so much on the second if, “You’ve spent $4000 on a puppy? Are you insane?” means she’s found out, and I think it does.

Avoiding puppy farms is more difficult than selecting a breed. We’re golden retriever people. Our second is currently 15 and ageing just as I expect to age. He’s deaf, dribbles, creaks when he moves and is a little lacking in the continence department. Me in 20 years.

And, like me, he has selective hearing. Call him and nothing happens. Drop a biscuit in his bowl and he’ll be up and over in a flash.

Working on the theory that dogs are like their owners, and visa versa, it was clear I needed a puppy to slow my own ageing process, so I started trawling the internet.

Puppy farms were everywhere, but you only discover this by reading reviews on Facebook or assorted chatrooms. These unscrupulous businesses disguise themselves very well.

Because of COVID and the surge in demand for dogs from people working from home, my search took me some distance from home. I eventually found a breeder all the way north in Coffs Harbour. But they didn’t have any golden retrievers.

They did, however, have a groodle – a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle.

I did more research and discovered that groodles had a major advantage over retrievers (in my mind at least) – they don’t lose hair.

Fair dinkum, the hair a retriever loses in a single day in warm weather could successfully become the stuffing for a king-sized mattress, provided you didn’t mind sleeping on dog hair.

Having had retrievers for 25 years now, I feel like I’m drowning in dog hair, so I researched further and the only question I haven’t been able to answer thus far is whether groodles are as food-obsessed as retrievers.

Retrievers care about two things – food and affection. Walks are great, but if it’s dinner time, they won’t go anywhere near the front gate, far less through it and off down the street.

I talked about groodles with my wife and, while she was keen on another dog, she doesn’t like to rush into things. Plans to develop our house, for example, have been on the drawing board for a decade and do you think we’re any closer to anything?

Me? I’d jump in the camper van, take off for 12 months and leave instructions to call me when it’s finished.

With that knowledge, I went ahead, ordered a groodle and sent off a deposit. It’s a male and he’s black and we’re calling him Herbie.

We get him in two weeks. I’ll let you know how it goes and whether, at 67, I’m too old to become a father again. Stay tuned.

Part 2
Herbie was born on 25 October, he arrived two days after Christmas. He’s been mine for exactly one week.

He was part of a large litter and several of the puppies were sold to people from Melbourne, me among them.

We gathered at the pre-arranged destination and like clockwork, there came the van driven by the breeder’s husband.

Feeling like I was part of some sinister drug deal, the man handed over the puppies and their papers. He was so cute and helpless. I loved him at first sight.

Now, I’m not so sure.

He craps wherever he wants, chews whatever he can and cries when he can’t see a human.

He likes to sleep on the couch, not his new bed, he jumps and scratches, his paws are sharp and so are his teeth.

Our 15-year-old retriever, looks at me constantly with an expression that screams, “You traitor”, while our old cat has been forced to take up residence in some dark corner of the garage.

I’ve tried locking Herbie outside but he can squeeze through the cat door.

He’ll grow too big to fit through the cat door in a week or two and then he’ll be an ‘outside’ dog although it is quite cute when he falls asleep on your lap, so maybe an ‘inside outside’ dog.

Despite his cuteness, I find myself wishing he were older so that he might understand the difference between good and bad, and get scared when I yell at him and not just wag his tail and want to play.

As I write this, Herbie is at the back door, scratching and crying, wanting to come inside, but I want him outside, exploring the garden, sniffing the plants and frolicking with my daughter’s young cavoodle who has come for a play.

Most importantly, I want him outside so he’ll learn to poo on the grass and discover the joy of having a quarter-acre toilet.  

I’ve been told by other groodle owners that they’re very smart and you can see that already. He has learnt, for example, when he’s about to be locked in a room. He’ll run between your legs and by the time you’ve turned to see if he’s safely locked in, he’s out and gone.

He’s learnt that cats don’t play fair, that old dogs don’t play at all, that bones are better eaten inside, that shoes are good to chew, that it’s nice curling up on dad’s jumper and that “no” has no meaning at all.

And I’ve learnt that puppies are hard work and that they don’t keep you young. They tire you out like a day looking after grandchildren tires you out. Only nobody’s coming to take this thing off your hands. It’s yours, so … no, not that shoe. Sorry, I’ll be back later.   

Part 3
It’s Herbie’s three-month birthday today and he consumes our hours like I never imagined.

For example, I used to wake whenever I wanted. Now I wake as soon as I hear Herbie being restless. Not crying or barking, just playing loudly, rolling and thumping on the wooden floor and pushing his food bowl around as if to say, “It’s breakfast time.”

And I used to start my day with some stretches on the floor. Not now. As soon as I lie down, Herbie’s on me, chewing my ear, grabbing my hair, wanting attention.

Instead I walk him and hope he does the right thing. Which he doesn’t. He likes to save that for when he’s back home, although he is getting better at ‘house-training’.

He’s not allowed to socialise with other dogs for another fortnight, after his final vaccination, but he has enjoyed the company of a friend’s dogs at what we’ve dubbed ‘doggy day care’.

They chase each other around a pool and, yes, Herbie was the first to fall in. I had to pull him out as he couldn’t find the stairs, but I can confirm that puppies can swim.

In the evenings after he’s eaten, he goes mad. He runs through the garden, into the house, into every room, back out again, around the garden again, back inside and only stops when exhausted.

Great exercise and I don’t have to do anything. I can just drink my beer and watch.

He barks at his own reflection in the glass door. He chases the water from the hose. He lies down on any dirty clothing, presumably because the body odour is comforting. He chases every leaf that blows in the wind. He chases the doves away from his food bowl. And when he walks, he does so with a strut that suggests he’s the king of the canine world.

Herbie has brought us a lot of joy and this far outweighs the expenses – $100 for his second last injection and worming tablets, $20 for four pig’s ears, $25 for some doggie toys (don’t waste your money, a used toilet roll or old shoe are just as effective), $10 for a bowl, $40 for a bed, $200 for pet insurance, $40 for a harness that can be used on walks and to secure him in the car and so on and so forth.

I asked my wife the other day if she loved him yet and she said she did. I do too. I’m not too old.

Does a pet brighten your day? Keep you company? Do the costs of having a pet concern you?

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Steve Perkin
Steve Perkin
Steve Perkin had a long and distinguished career as a journalist, covering sport and general news and writing daily columns for The Age and the Herald Sun. He's written three books and is a regular YourLifeChoices contributor.
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