“Lead is one of those confusing words Rufus. It can mean that you are showing someone the way and it can mean the thing that I attached to your collar when we go for a walk. But I sometimes wonder who is leading who.”
My mistress was trying to explain to me why I have to have a collar and a lead when we go walking.
I appreciated the effort, but it didn’t stop me from being annoyed.
Naturally, I preferred to walk along next to my mistress with the occasional short excursion. I need to sniff stuff from time to time, just to know who has been around and how they are getting on.
There are special occasions when I don’t mind being attached to a lead, such as when my mistress is receiving a writing award. She is a very good writer so she often gets invited to award ceremonies. It is one of the few times that I am allowed to attend.
“You are an important accessory Rufus. The photographers love to take photos of you and that helps with my profile and that helps me sell books and that means that I can afford to buy dog biscuits.”
Anything that helps my mistress buy dog biscuits is okay with me.
Even if there weren’t dog biscuits involved I would still enjoy these occasions just because I enjoy being with her. I worry when I’m not with her because it is my job to protect her and I can’t do that if I cannot see her.
Train journeys is another time for me to wear a lead.
The railway people tend not to like dogs and they make a huge fuss if there is a dog on the loose.
I once had to hide behind a pile of suit cases just to get away from an angry stationmaster.
“I’m going to write a story where the murder weapon is a dog lead and I will dedicate the story to you Rufus.”
She doesn’t have to do that, but it will be nice to see my name in print.
It almost makes it okay to have to wear a lead.
I was lonely and I’d almost given up.
Dogs aren’t meant to live alone.
I remember being in the litter with my whole family, but now, there was just me.
My owner bought me to ‘protect the place’.
I don’t mind. I like protecting stuff, but as time went by I saw my owner less and less. Some days he forgot to bring me some food. I did my job. I barked every time someone got close to the yard. I could have done a better job if I hadn’t been chained up, but I did the best I could under the circumstances.
I had a little house to sleep in, but it did get very cold at night, but as my mum used to say to me, “If you are lucky enough to find an owner, find out what job he wants you to do and do it as well as you can.”
I tried very hard, but I was lonely and hungry most of the time. Sometimes my water bowl ran out of water. That was very unpleasant. In the winter, there were always puddles to drink out of but the summer could be brutal.
All that was before Sally moved in next door. I know her name is Sally because she told me so.
“Hi doggie, my name is Sally and there is nothing to be frightened about.”
I wasn’t frightened and my name wasn’t ‘doggie’ but there was something about this human that I liked. She smelled good.
I barked at her a bit because it was my job, but she knew my heart wasn’t in it.
She was very gentle and she seemed to understand my language. She approached me ‘side on’ just like dogs do when they want you to know that they mean no harm. I let her scratch behind my ears. No one had done that for a very long time.
Sometimes, after she finished her work, she would come and sit with me and tell me about her day.
Her boss was an arsehole, apparently, and he did not appreciate her.
She had a boyfriend and he was a lot better than the boyfriends she had had in the past. I was looking forward to meeting him, but she said he was afraid of dogs.
She said that he would come around; that he would learn to love and understand dogs.
She said that she hoped that he would ask her to marry him and if he did she would move in with him. This worried me a bit but then she said that if he did propose she would borrow his bolt cutters, jump the fence and cut me loose. I would become her dog. I liked the sound of that.
He might ask her to marry him and he might not, I will just have to wait and see. But, in the meantime, I’m here, eating my dinner in the rain, protected by Sally’s umbrella.
Dogs don’t hope, but if they did, they would hope for an owner like Sally.
Each morning I wake him up with a lick on the nose.
He loves it. He laughs, and we wrestle, and he falls out of bed.
I sit next to him at the breakfast table, and when his mum isn’t looking, he drops pieces of bacon and toast. They are the day’s best treats. Stolen treats are the best.
He gathers up his books and leaves through the front gate; I’m not allowed to go with him. I so want to go with him. All those happy children to play with.
One day, he didn’t shut the gate properly, and I was able to prize it open with my nose. I followed his scent to his school and his classroom. I sniffed at his door and barked; just a few barks, so he would know I was there. His teacher opened the door, and I rushed in.
It was wild!
Some of the children were screaming because they were afraid of dogs; what the hell is that about? And, some were screaming because they like dogs; that I understand. I got lots of pats, and I got to lick lots of children; children taste great.
Eventually, his teacher caught up with me while I was being patted by a very pretty little girl. She made him take me home, and she asked the pretty little girl to go with him.
I got into all sorts of trouble for breaking out of the front yard, but I didn’t care. I now knew where he went every day, and at the first opportunity, I was going to find him again.
Mostly I wait patiently for him to come home, which he always does. We play, and he gives me some of the sandwiches that his mum makes for him.
Today, something is wrong. He’s crying. He is clutching a small piece of paper, and it is making him sad. He hasn’t told me what is wrong, but I am going to sit here with him until he feels better.
That is what I do. I stay close by, and I wait.
He is my best friend.
“Old dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable. They might be a bit out of shape and a little worn around the edges, but they fit well.”
A little while ago we noticed that our two dogs were developing some bad habits. We tried all the usual things like getting them to respond to verbal commands, sit, stay, roll over; you know the kind of things I mean, but it did not seem to help. The youngest of our two dogs was by far the best at following verbal commands but had the worst bad habits. He would lunge at people as they walked past and it got to the point where we were concerned about people’s safety.
It was his good fortune to be born small, cute, white and fluffy and as a result people cut him a lot of slack.
We wanted our dogs to be happy and fulfilled and we wanted to be able to take them anywhere without worrying about their behaviour, so we dived into the study of dog psychology. We had done the dog training thing, now we wanted to know how dogs react and why.
We learned some amazing things along the way and our dogs are now balanced and happy, and so are we.
Rather than let everything we have learned go to waste I decided to share some of it with you in a series of articles.
So, where should I start?
Probably the most important early lesson that we learned was that dogs mirror their owners emotional state, which means that if our dog has problems there is probably something in us that needs attention.
Most people (and this included us to a degree) see their dogs as small four legged humans and this is where the problems start.
Dogs are animals first then dog then breed then their name and it is important to remember the order of things.
Dogs are pack animals (so are humans) and the survival of the pack is your dog’s top priority. Every pack needs a calm assertive leader and without it the pack will not survive.
Obviously the humans in your house should be seen as the pack leaders (there can be more than one) but in our house our dogs had slowly realised that we were not showing calm assertive leadership and for the sake of the pack they stepped up into that role even though they were not emotionally suited to do so.
So how did we take back the leadership roles?
We did it by learning that our dogs are not small humans and they have needs that HAVE to be met.
In the wild, dogs wake up stretch and follow their pack leader on a search for food and water that can take up most of the day.
So what does this mean for us as responsible dog owners?
It means that we must walk our dogs EVERY day, twice a day if possible for at least thirty minutes.
Walking your dog is so important that I will devote the entire next article to explaining what we learned about the ‘power of the walk’.
In the coming months I will share what we learned about the correct way for a dog to greet strangers, feeding rituals to enhance your position as pack leader, the difference between a correction and punishment, why we should never give affection when our dog is doing something that we disagree with, and many other fascinating things as well.
Terry Barca is the author of “SCHOOME: An Adventure in Home Schooling”