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Puppies Revisited: A young dog can be described in many ways but not one of those descriptions is adequate.

YEARS AGO I wrote a piece for this column about what constitutes a puppy. Here is a shortened version of that column's initial paragraph. Puppy--The young of a canine animal; a young dog; a whelp. Such monumental understatements are all that the dictionaries littering my desk had to say about this complex word and what it represents.

I didn't expect humdrum linguistic tools to wax poetic on the subject of a puppy, but I reckoned on more than sorry definitions like "young dog" and "whelp." Those meanings weren't good enough when I wrote the article, and they haven't gotten better over time.

Shortly after this column appeared, a friend asked why I wasted my time using dictionaries to dig out the meaning of puppy. His point was that "puppy" is similar to "sun" and "moon" in that we know exactly what it refers to without thinking of anything deeper. In my friend's mind, puppy is one of many words that requires no subtlety--we all know what a puppy is. Our reason and objective experience unquestionably define the word. Right? Or is there more: Does the mere sight of a pup demolish grim-faced objectivity and replace it with a smile and a rush of subjective emotion?

My friend is a good fellow, but he is also one of those puzzling people who indeed considers puppies as little more than "the young of a canine animal." He doesn't see pups as an occasionally aggravating but always delightful and fascinating first chapter in the singular creation we call "dog."

He doesn't think of them as individual personalities, as skills waiting to be tapped, or as potential excellence advancing on four often unsteady legs, learning about life by wobbling through it and bumping against its rough edges. Rather, he views puppyhood as an annoying and extended prologue to adult working years, a time to be tolerated, not treasured. I don't see it that way.

The little English springer was surprisingly agile for a 10-week-old but was still in that unstable state where one pair of legs occasionally outruns the other and sends a pup stumbling nose over paws. But on one memorable winter morning, after a gawky tumble, the pup sorted out from a maze of tracks in new snow the trail of a ruffed grouse that had dropped from its roost in a cluster of white pines near my house.

A minute or so later the suddenly galvanized puppy flushed the grouse in an eruption of pine duff and fine snow. To me, that pattern of clumsiness one moment followed in the next by stunning flashes of innate ability and grace are among the hallmarks of a puppy that no dictionary can put into words.

Nor can no-frills definitions convey the silken texture of fur that a pup will shed all too soon; about the same time it loses the wonderfully singular fragrance we call simply "puppy breath." How can words accurately portray a puppy assaulting a fluttering feather or a lightly blowing leaf when, propelled by exuberance, its courage transcends a diminutive stature, at least until it confronts a dark and threatening bush or stump; then it must dart back to the safety of its person. Oh yes, a puppy is a shifting blend of self-assurance and insecurity, of confidence and confusion about its small place in this large and scary world.

Puppies' lives are measured by the present, the here and now of each breath they take, of each instant they live. Puppies exist in the moment and have limited expectations beyond the immediate. Unlike people, they have no long-range thoughts or considerations of the future and no deeply embedded desires for what that future might have in store for them. Many of us are tempted to think otherwise, but puppies are not little furry people with big eyes that shine with their own dreams and fantasies or hopes and ambitions that are similar to ours at some level.

Although they are complex in their own right, pups live in an uncluttered condition perhaps best thought of as a string of moments: simple moments of play, triggered by a bouncing ball, a flapping butterfly, a flighty sparrow; of eating ravenously when food is available; of leaving piles and puddles without concern for location; of collapsing in midstep into the near-comatose sleep exclusive to the very young; and, of course, snuggling against a warm human chest with its comforting heart throb and inherent sense of well-being.

After a lot of years watching puppies be themselves, I still believe that they are more, so much more, than the inadequate and unsatisfying "young dog" type of definition. But however we describe them, from whelp to wondrous, puppies are oblivious to their own perfection. They aren't aware of their uniqueness and incomparable charm and that is a good thing, else most of us would be more enslaved to them than we already are.

By Joe Arnette
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Title Annotation:Parting Shots
Author:Arnette, Joe
Publication:Gun Dog
Date:Feb 15, 2018
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