A Dog's Life
27th Jun 2017
Well it's an unashamedly cliché'd title, but it pretty much sums up the reason for this post. I grew up with dogs in the house. For many years we had two whoppers - a Newfoundland and a Briard (French sheepdog). I remember when one of them would get their long hair caught in one of the wing nuts that held the kitchen table top to its legs - the table would suddenly begin careening around the room with a panicked dog underneath. Then there was the time when Zebedee (the Briard) ran through my Nonna's brand new plat glass door, and the time he chewed through a wooden door when being house sat by a friend. There were a lot of happy memories too of course, but as a responsible grown up (ha!) , when my wife and kids started lobbying for a dog last year I was the reluctant one. Sure it'd be fun, but as I work from home I’d be the one responsible for walking it, and it'd surely come with all sorts of calamitous events. What about the vet bills, the insurance and the smell of wet dog?
I eventually gave in and agreed to go check out a dog in the neighbouring village that a friend had seen advertised on Facebook. The rest, of course, is now history. His name is Rocky. It was literally love at first sight. There was a toddler present when we met him in his back garden and he was so gentle with it that it was clear that he liked kids. He was 16 months old, a Cretan Hound (the oldest known breed of dog in Europe), rescued from the island by the Cretan Dog Rescue Centre, before being homed in Chesterfield and then Hathersage. His lovely owner was looking to get rid of him as he was too playful and making it hard for her to train up a couple of Labradors as gun-dogs. He clearly lived a happy life.
He arrived with us a few days later for a trial. Hyper alert to begin with he soon settled in. We left him in his cage at night to start with so he felt more comfortable, but he's now out of there. As he's become more used to his new life he's become more biddable, less likely to sneak onto the sofas, walks to heel, and mostly comes when he is called.
But that's all the practical bits. What's it actually like to own a dog? It's definitely akin to having your own kids, but in many ways the rewards are more immediate. I once watched a film which ended in the narrator giving some advice based on his experiences with his dog. The one that resonated most was when he said that when somebody comes into the room you should greet them like you haven't seen them in a year. That’s what it's like. I am upstairs in my office writing this knowing that if I go downstairs he will get up and come greet me enthusiastically. And if I do it again in half an hour so will he! That's special! I don't let him lick my face, or clean the plates in the dishwasher, but I will roll around in the grass wrestling with him and it feels good. In the six weeks since we've had him he's done a lot of running, been up his first Munro, tried his paws at sea kayaking, swum across a lake, been to the beach, barked at waves, sniffed a crayfish, done some coasteering and canyoning, worn a life jacket and a harness, won fastest recall at the village carnival dog show, and won the hearts of every school kid in the village.
Something I've noticed already is the way having him has made me change my own behaviour. He chased some sheep whilst out on a run a few days in, so I yelled at him. He was scared of me yelling which wasn't a nice feeling at all. I looked back on the incident and realised that it had been entirely my own fault. I'd been running along through some woods without him on a lead, and let him through a gate without checking to see if there were sheep. There were so he chased. A couple of times he's taken food off the table. Initially it's easy to feel cross, but he's a relatively big dog who can reach the food easily and we left him alone in the kitchen with the food out. There's no use in yelling at him and making him fearful of me so I'm learning to treat him with more respect, not to mention trying to remember not to leave food out. The really interesting thing is that I'm adopting this approach with my kids too. In the past if I've yelled at them for something it's always been easy to make up afterwards as we can communicate and apologise to each other. You can't do that with a dog so you have to be more mindful of not getting cross in the first place. So I am trying to treat the kids the same way, and avoid the raised voices.
Of course we could have ended up with a neurotic creature that wouldn't do any of the above, but I think that with a patient approach we waited and found the right dog for our lives. Getting a dog isn’t for everybody, but I'd say this: if you are in two minds, just do it.
Here are a few pics of him in his new life.