I don’t really do dogs. There. I’ve just lost more than half my readership, just like that.
It’s not that I don’t like them though. I can think of few greater pleasures than a tramp over the hills on a cold and frosty morning with a cheerful dog bounding ahead, truffling around the undergrowth and enjoying all the sights and sounds and experiences of a fresh new day.
It’s just that hell can be not other people, but other people’s dogs. You know the sort. The ones that leap up and knock you sideways, muddying your nice clean jumper in the process. They’re the ones whose owners smile indulgently. ‘He’s just being friendly’, they explain. These are the very dogs that may also try to lick your face. Then there are the ones that are left alone and bark, bark, bark, as the dog-next-door in France did. Or the ones that bare their teeth and frighten me half to death. Or the smelly ones.
I think there’s a pattern here. It’s not the dogs. It’s the owners. And I seem to have raised three children who apparently think much the same as I do on the dog question.
And then, the other week, Daughter Number One announced they’d decided to get a dog. Not just any dog. But a puppy. One that would become a big (ish) dog. An active dog. A feisty dog. A dalmatian. Ellie’s is a family of two busy working adults and ten-year-old twin sons with the sort of after-school schedule for which you need a very large calendar, and a smart phone that reminds you at frequent intervals who has to be where when, with whom, and wearing what kind of kit.
They did their research. They chose and visited a breeder and looked at a litter of ten newly-born pups. And they chose Brian. He’s been living with them for ten days now. This week, we went to stay, and we met him.
We’re converted. I’ve never in all my life been greeted with such enthusiasm as I was by Brian when I turned up in the kitchen the other morning to get some breakfast. Look at this wagging tail. I remind myself he’d probably have greeted a burglar with equal joy …. but still.
He’s charmed us all. But he’s not going to get away with simply being charming. Right from day one, training began. No leaping up on furniture. No leaping up at people. No shoe-savaging. He learned immediately to ‘sit’ on command, and Alex’s first party trick was to teach him to shake a paw. We’re all busy keeping him entertained in these slightly restrictive weeks when he can’t go out and about because he hasn’t had all his jabs yet. But everyday pleasures are enough for this young chap. There’s a garden to explore. Rotting leaves and springy grass. Rustling dried-up autumn plants. Tantalising glimpses of birds. Misty-moisty autumn smells. And there’s a whole tick-box in the training manual to worry about. Checklist: he must meet a baby (no), children of various ages (tick), the elderly (tick), someone in glasses (tick), someone bearded (no), someone in uniform (no), and so on, and so on.
Dog-training proper starts next week. And then before long he’ll be a dog-teenager. And then an adult, prepared to offer many years of companionship and pleasure to Ellie & Co. and who knows? Maybe to us too.