How true it is that the stories most interesting to the reader are those most excruciating to write.
Oscar the dog is now nearly seven years old. I’ve assiduously trained him since he was a puppy: first at home; then at a general basic obedience class and subsequently almost every week since he was about nine months old. He’s achieved the Kennel Club’s Good Citizen test at levels Bronze, Silver and Gold but, because he is a flatcoated retriever and a particularly random one at that, sometimes you wouldn’t know.
People are often surprised when I say that I spend my Mondays at dog training. They wonder why I still train my dogs. Largely because they enjoy it. Dogs naturally want to be shown what to do. They need leadership and to be shown our expectations of their behaviour. A reasonably trainable dog will be only too happy to follow your lead as it will take the stress away from him or her to take responsibility for the behaviour of his/her pack.
Even Raffles, the supposedly untrainable beagle, really seems to love going to training class. I’ve been so surprised at how readily he seems to respond to gentle commands; his heelwork is excellent and only getting better and and some friends have even suggested that I take competitive obedience classes with him. That’s a whole other world.
I walk my carefully trained dogs for at least an hour and a half every day. Having a dog is a lovely way of ensuring daily time in the fresh air and generally I enjoy spending this time with Oscar and Raffles. I’ve learned that I must always keep the beagle on a lead when we’re near woods lest he goes off hunting. He usually finds his way back to the car, or is found by a sympathetic passer-by, but he does this according to his timetable, and not mine.
Oscar is usually a pleasure to walk. A true mummy’s boy, he stays close to me and shows impeccable manners with other dogs. If anything, he’s a little over friendly and still doesn’t seem to realise that not everyone loves him as much as he obviously loves them, which is a pity.
Each spring, however, and to a lesser extent in the autumn, a certain sort of madness overtakes him. He stops listening or paying even lip service to obeying commands and starts to be friendly, VERY FRIENDLY, with other dogs.
Now, people who don’t know much about dogs will say mounting behaviour is sexual. It isn’t. It’s dominance. And in the spring, Oscar feels the need to fluff out his feathers and dominate.
It could be that the air, to dogs, is overwhelmingly fragrant with the scent of bitches in season, it could be that everyone’s sap is rising with the advent of warm days and the mating season, but Oscar feels the need to be out there.
I promise that I’ll explain one day why I haven’t had my dog neutered but this post is already quite long. Not that I should have to justify my actions, but there you go. I’ll just explain here that castrating a dog does not necessarily suppress or stop mounting behaviours, which appear to be a learned antisocial habit. I know plenty of castrated dogs who have a good go at my entire dog every time they meet. Tiny, castrated Raffles routinely mounts Oscar, who is at least five times his size.
Generally Oscar’s doggie manners are good. When he was puppy, he hardly mounted any dogs at all, but one day, as I stood being talked at by the dullest man ever in the history of the world his dog steadily mounted my puppy from all angles for 20 minutes. It was at this point, I reckon, that Oscar decided enough was enough and decided forthwith to get his retaliation in first.
Being such a coward, he never goes for dogs who look fit and strong and as if they will tell him off. No. Oscar goes for the old and infirm dogs; the ones who limp along almost on their last legs. Which, in my eyes, makes him a bully. You can imagine how well this behaviour goes down with the owners of these frail, unstable pooches.
I have tried everything I can think of to stop this behaviour and a sharp “No!” at the right moment will normally stop him in his tracks but, as I said, it’s spring and in spring good behaviour goes out of the window.
Today I took the dog to Petts Wood, a local National Trust beauty spot. We were trundling along quite happily when Oscar came upon a placid black labrador and immediately got on top and started thrusting. I yelled and manhandled him and eventually got on top of my dog myself and manoeuvred him between my legs to remove him from the dog and its horrified owner.
If the owner knows dogs well a profuse and repeated apology will usually elicit a cheery wave because this is what dogs do, especially in spring. This didn’t happen today. Today the horrified owner dragged her dog away having given me a look of sheer contempt and my apology fell on deaf ears. Actually the labrador didn’t look that elderly or disabled and I’m left wondering if she was actually a bitch in season, in which case she should not have been off the lead. Dogs can tie very quickly.
Catastrophe avoided but I’ve been increasingly exasperated with this spring fever. Oscar was promptly put back on a lead, with an extra eight loop of shame over his nose and I didn’t talk to him for the rest of his walk. The humiliation.