What is the best dog for you? Animal-lover Betty White has ideas about those four-footed friends
By Maurine Rementh, Radio TV Mirror (January 1958)
Be an “angel” like Betty White — and your dog, your children’s pets, can lead a people’s life, too!
[Editor’s note: This these are tips from the 1950s, and should not be considered current information or advice on pet care or animal health. Find modern advice about dog care from the ASPCA here.]
Betty White, star of “Date With The Angels,” over on ABC-TV, claims she is no expert on dogs. But all her life, she has shared her heart and hearth with a succession of assorted canines — so many that Betty couldn’t help but pick up considerable knowledge on the subject.
You can’t knock experience as a teacher. Experience becomes capitalized, and in italics, when you consider that Betty has never had fewer than three dogs around her house, and once had as many as nineteen cluttering up the corridors.
Among Betty’s friends, there’s some discussion as to whether Betty leads a dog’s life, or whether Betty’s dogs lead a people’s life.
With Betty, there’s never any question. “The dogs definitely lead a people’s life!” she vows. Betty’s current menagerie covers about the best cross-section of dogdom you could imagine.
Patriarch of the trio now running the White household is Bandy, a venerable Pekingese. Originally christened “Bandit,” the Peke was a puppy when he was given to Betty about ten years ago. Now he’s a well-preserved oldster who enjoys his romps, but is sensible about them. He spends much of his time snoozing, and takes it for granted that Betty and her parents will cater to his wishes.
Middle-man in the canine crowd at Betty’s Brentwood home is Danny — short for “Dancer.” Actually, Danny, a miniature poodle, is the pet of Betty’s mother. But he has a large heart and, so far as he is concerned, the whole family belongs to him. He bosses ’em all, acting as ringmaster for his two dog companions — and sometimes human companions, as well.
Biggest of the brood is Stormy, the St. Bernard. A kennel owner, who had been a frequent guest on Betty’s afternoon television program several years ago, brought in the fluffy pup one day for a “guest appearance.”
For Betty, it was love at first sight. But she already had two dogs at home, and figured she’d better leave it at that. A few days later, the kennel owner showed up at the studio with Stormy, and presented him to Betty as a birthday gift.
“What a wonderful break that was for me,” Betty laughs. “I couldn’t rationalize myself into buying that dog — but, of course, I couldn’t refuse it as a gift!”
What is the best dog for you? Betty White has some ideas
Like anyone who loves and lives with dogs, Betty has some pretty definite opinions about the same. Such as: “Every child should have at least one pet. Naturally, I’m prejudiced in favor of dogs. I have a parakeet, and the census hasn’t been taken recently on my aquariums of tropical fish. But I think a dog is the ideal pet for a child.
“And I stoutly maintain that no child is too young to own a dog. An intelligent puppy, the breed wisely chosen, is a wonderful experience for any youngster. As soon as a baby can sit up, he will enjoy stroking the soft fur and love the warmth of a puppy curled up against him.
True, some parents may be too young to guide a child-dog relationship properly. Naturally, a frisky pup must be watched carefully around a very young baby. And vice versa.
“Most pups will take a certain amount of childish manhandling in a good-natured way. Then they will take over, and inform the small owner that enough is enough. A few growls, and a couple of gentle nips, generally get the message across.
But it’s the parents’ job to train the child in proper care of a puppy. Don’t leave it up to the pup. You’d know what to do if your child was about to fling a Spode teacup at the mantelpiece. Take the same action when he grabs Fido by the tail!”
What dog to buy for Junior is generally the biggest problem confronting parents, and Betty believes the most important thing to be considered is the situation into which the dog is to be introduced.
If a family lives in an apartment, it’s rather obvious that the huge St. Bernard isn’t the suitable animal. Nor is the German shepherd. Doberman. or Dalmatian. Even the lively wire-haired terrier, or the Airedale, would be a mistake in an apartment — these dogs love, and need, open spaces for romping.
So, for the tiny apartment (with or without children), Betty suggests a smaller and less active dog. Poodles are now much in vogue, and the miniature poodles make excellent pets for children. But be prepared to spend as much on Fifi as you do on your own coiffure — the upkeep on poodle-cuts can be terrific.
The pug, darling of our grandmothers and now coming back into style, makes an excellent companion for children, and has the additional advantage of being a short-haired dog, unlikely to leave its calling card on your sofa pillows and Daddy’s blue serge suit.
Some breeds are more temperamental than others. Many Pekingese are one-person dogs, and many Boston bulls are high-strung. But you could be lucky and get an “extrovert” Pekingese or a calm Boston bull.
Betty points out that when any of these are brought into a home as small puppies, they are more likely to adapt to the situation than if they are brought as grown dogs.
If the dog-seeking family has a large yard, their choice is broadened considerably. Among the top favorites nowadays is the boxer. In spite of his fierce appearance, a boxer is gentle toward youngsters, and an absolute demon if anyone threatens their safety.
Collies, too, are wonderful pets for young children. Their gentleness matches their fine-boned build. From Lassie on down, their concern for their charges has become legend.
If you live on a large plot of ground — a suburban home or a farm — the whole dog kingdom is yours from which to pick and choose. From the savage-appearing but unbelievably affectionate Alaskan Husky down to the tiny Chihuahua.
Feeding your dog
Once you make your choice, your next thoughts will be what do I feed him? and where will he sleep? Betty says the person from whom you buy the dog can be your most trusted authority on what to feed the pup, at least for the first few weeks.
It’s safer not to experiment with various foods then, but to stick to what you know agrees with him. Later, as the dog grows older, you’ll become convinced he can survive on a diet of old shoes, current magazines, and Venetian-blind cords. That’s the time changes may be introduced in his diet.
“Most of the commercial dog foods are wonderful — balanced and all that,” Betty points out. “But vary the menu a little with some fresh meat — the cheapest grade of hamburger has all the essential elements a dog needs, and tastes just as good to him as ground round.
“In fact, some authorities claim the extra fat present in cheaper ground beef is beneficial to the dog. Pork liver or kidneys are cheap, wonderful for your dog’s diet, and most dogs adore them.
Some authorities will quarrel with me on this one — but we have always fed our dogs table scraps. We don’t just scrape everything leftover into the dog’s dish, but choose judiciously. Any meat scraps, cooked vegetables, gravy — this goes to the dogs.
“We avoid giving them starchy things, like potatoes or bread. You’ll learn soon enough if your dog can tolerate things like cooked vegetables — some pets can’t. But many vets recommend that pets have a few cooked vegetables regularly.
“One point which many pet owners neglect is supplying sufficient water. Most dogs like to drink a lot of water. If you keep a clean pan of it near their food dish, changing the water once or twice a day, they’ll drink that. If you don’t, they’ll get their water wherever they can find it — even from a stagnant puddle or household utilities.
“As for where a pet should sleep — I’m afraid I’m going to have to bow out as an authority here,” Betty confesses with a chuckle. “All authorities agree that a pet should have his own bed in some quiet, isolated corner of the house.
“Many people put their bed off in a corner of the kitchen or laundry room. Or even in the basement or the garage, if it’s warm and protected from drafts. Some of the sturdier dogs can stand — even prefer — a dog house of their own out in the back yard.
“So where do my three sleep? On our beds. Of course, with the Peke and the poodle, that isn’t too bad. But you should see the St. Bernard curled up on the counterpane [bedspread]! It’s a good thing the poodle has got into the habit of snoozing on Mother’s bed — after the Peke and the St. Bernard get settled down on my bed, there’s barely room for me!”
Betty White talks about training dogs
A lot of folks claim to be terrified at the prospect of training a dog, but Betty doesn’t think there’s really so much to it. It does take time, concentration, and patience, but only for a few weeks.
Most dogs can be trained in that time. But pet owners have to keep right at it, and be consistent. They can’t punish a dog for doing something once, and then allow him to get away with it the next time. The result can be a confused, ill-mannered dog.
“I think dogs must be a lot like children. They like to have rules — to know what they can do, and what they can’t,” Betty declares. “They like to be praised when they’ve done well. And if you’ve ever seen a dog, ears down and tail between his legs, you know they expect to be punished for wrongdoing.
“Punishment doesn’t need to be rough, though. A folded newspaper makes a lot of noise, and a sharp sting, but does no actual damage. Pretty soon, when your pet sees you folding up a newspaper in a determined manner, he’ll know what’s coming, and mind his manners.
“We’ve taught all our dogs to behave, and it’s been a fairly painless procedure. We have a big back yard in which they romp — but they know they’re not to stray away from that yard. Even though some delivery man forgets and leaves the gate open, they stay put.
“We had to teach them this. Heavily-traveled Sunset Boulevard is only a couple of blocks away. Once out that gate, the dogs could be down there and massacred in traffic before we’d know what had happened.
“Probably the best example of how a dog can be trained is Stormy. Now, if there’s anything Stormy is, it’s affectionate. I think he’d be a good protector, if anyone tried to harm any of us.
But, when Stormy knows he’s among friends, he’s apt to get a little effusive. And being greeted by a St. Bernard can be pretty overwhelming. There are people who don’t appreciate having that hulking character rear up on his hind legs, lay his front paws on their lapels, and give them a couple of friendly swipes across the chin with his tongue. So I’ve trained Stormy to head for the bedroom every time the front door rings.”
Many people like to take their dogs through a course of training at an obedience school. If you plan on entering your pet in dog shows, or if it seems impossible to train him properly at home, Betty thinks this is a wonderful idea. Actually, the owners get as much training from the sessions as the dogs do.
But, for an ordinary pet in the average household, Betty believes most owners can train their pets to lie, sit, come, and be quiet without elaborate class sessions.
One of the most frequent questions asked of Betty is: “Must I get a thoroughbred, pedigreed dog?” Betty has a quick and spirited answer: “Absolutely not. Some of the most intelligent, most adorable dogs I’ve ever known have been just plain mutts.
“Sometimes, a just-plain dog is sturdier and healthier than some of the high-strung, finely bred ones. And many of the fellows here in Hollywood, who train dogs for parts in the movies, claim it’s easier to train a mutt.
“About the only risk you run, getting a ‘who-knows-what-breed’ pup, is not knowing what its eventual size will be. An acquaintance of mine bought a puppy, mothered by a pedigreed boxer of medium size — father unknown. By the time it began to reach Great Dane proportions, my friend had to find a new home for it!
“When a dog’s ancestry is uncertain, you never know what its grown size is going to be. But if you have the room for a big dog, and no budget to buy a thoroughbred — you’re sure to find a lovable and loving pet at any animal shelter.”
Betty White on dog owners who travel
Over the past few years, Betty has received many letters which ask, in effect, “I do a great deal of traveling. What sort of a dog should I buy?”
Betty White’s first impulsive answer to that one is “None!” It takes an adaptable dog, and an owner long on love and patience, to travel together all the time. It’s been done with the smaller lap dogs. As Betty observes: “I won’t say it can’t be done, because it is done. But it’s hard on both owner and dog to be always on the move.
“We’ve never taken our dogs on long trips. We just take turns dog-sitting. When I go off on a personal appearance tour, the folks are always at home to watch over our trio.
“Last year, when Mother and Dad went on a vacation trip to Hawaii, I planned it so I would be home to take care of ‘the boys.’ Of course, we could put them in a boarding kennel, and go off together. Many people do, and with excellent results.
“But occasional trips — that’s something else again. Those three hounds of ours are mad to go with us in the car. Poor Stormy doesn’t make it very often. After he gets into the car, there’s barely room for the driver! But the two smaller dogs do manage to inveigle an invitation once in a while, and it’s a riot, watching their completely different approaches to the problem.
“When Danny sees Mother getting dressed up, he knows she’s about to drive somewhere. Suddenly, he becomes very restless, gets a wistful expression in his eyes, and paces around as if to convey the message, I don’t suppose you’d consider taking poor little old me, would you?
“If Mother says, ‘You can go along today, Danny,’ he’s out the door and into the car so fast that all you can see is a streak of fur highballing across the lawn.
“Bandy, on the other hand, never entertains the possibility that he’s not going. When he sees me making obvious preparations for departure, he begins a bouncing circuit, a never-ending round-trip between the car and wherever I am.
Oh, joy, he seems to bark, we’re going for a drive. Even while I’m backing out the driveway, he goes rollicking around, just as if he had it figured out: I’m ever so gay and irresistible, she’ll just have to give in and take me!”
As Betty points out, training a pet isn’t a difficult feat for a determined owner. But even the most conscientious trainer couldn’t get the results pets sometimes achieve all by themselves.
The classic example of this is the routine in Betty’s household every evening. “All three dogs have the run of the house during the daytime,” she explains. “And among their joys is watching television in the den. Whenever the set is on, in the daytime, all three of them are apt to end up in there, gawking at the screen.
“But along about dinner time, when Dad and I get home, we like to sit in there and watch, too. The den isn’t a big room. Three dogs and three people, and it’s a full house. Some months ago, we noticed that Stormy was no longer with us on these evening TV sessions.
“We discovered that, promptly at 6 P.M., Danny set himself up in sentry duty at the den door. Whenever Stormy made any attempt to enter, he was discouraged with a furious flurry of barking and nipping. After a few days of this, Stormy got the message, and I must say he took it quite philosophically.
“Now, whenever 6 P.M. rolls around, Danny gets up and stretches. He lets out a few short, sharp barks, as if to say, O.K. Bud! Time you shoved off! Stormy gets up, looking resigned to his fate, and shuffles into the hall. The only possible explanation for Danny’s behavior is that he figured out Stormy was just too much dog in that little den when we were there, too!
“It’s like I said,” Betty twinkles. “The dogs at my house lead a people’s life!”