I’m sure many of you will have seen the occasional pictures I post in the comments that nobody reads, and the articles I have written make reference to them , and one was even about a very special dog I had the pleasure to know when I was a lad. I make no apologies, I am a dog man. I like cats, but I love dogs and there is no comparison between them as far as I am concerned. If you are a cat person, then maybe offer a firm rebuttal in the comments, or perhaps you might see the error of your ways and embrace the canine light. We all have our favourite breeds, and I have always been and continue to be a Labrador man. My father favours Springer Spaniels and my mother prefers Patterdale Terriers. It doesn’t really matter because they are all great in their own unique way, from the humblest lap dog to the mightiest Hound. I have known and loved many dogs in my lifetime, and as I firmly believe they have a soul, I look forward to being reunited with them all one day.
There is a dog out there for everyone. The sheer scope and variety of breeds is mind boggling. All manner of shapes, sizes, colours and temperaments are available, and as long as you have the space and time in your life to devote to these special creatures, they will fill your world with joy. Canines have been domesticated for over 10000 years (and probably a lot longer), all descended from the majestic wolf. They may look very different now, but they still have those instincts buried deep inside, and the longer you observe their behaviour, the more of those wolf characteristics you will see come out. Part wolf they may be, but they are a wild animal no longer. Sure, most dogs would probably survive in the wild, but they are at their best when the team up with humans, and I like to think that we are better off with them around as well.
Your average dog of any breed is clever enough to understand around 20 different commands. AS long as you have the time and the patience, you can teach a dog to do almost anything. Look at the diversity of tasks performed around the world by dogs every day. From Sniffer dogs in airports seeking out drugs or explosives, to the guide dogs helping physically impaired people to live independent lives, to herding dogs on farms, to guard dogs watching out for danger. These are just some of the many things dogs are bred for and trained to do, making our lives easier and enriching them at the same time. Not all dogs have such a lofty purpose. Some are just there to bring pleasure with their handsome looks or friendly nature, or simply just to be there for someone who has nothing, such as the homeless person you pass by on the street.
My own dogs are there to help me when I am out in the field or on the foreshore engaging in my passion for shooting. I have had a few dogs now since I was considered mature enough to look after them, and I trained most of them by myself to do their jobs. I take great pride in working my dogs, and they in return get immense satisfaction from doing what they do, and it doesn’t really matter if they sometimes make the odd mistake, because it’s just another opportunity for me to spend more time bonding with them and ironing out any little issues that arise. For me, training any dog is just as much about training yourself in understanding your dogs individual character and quirks as it is trying to get your dog to respond to commands. The more you bond with your dog, and the better you can read its mind, the easier they become to work with. This may sound silly, but my current number one (who is actually my middle dog, but is head of the pack now my oldest has retired) who has been going out into the field with me since she was nine months is so well connected to me that I barely need to say or do anything. It’s almost as if she responds to my very thoughts. I suppose she has just developed the skill of reading my body language, but I would swear some times that she is telepathic. That’s not to say that she doesn’t have her off days, but they are thankfully very rare. She is easily the best gundog I have ever owned, so easy and quick to train, it was like she was born a seasoned gundog, and I just had to rub off the rough edges. Even my dad with his vast experience says she is a special talent for her relative age and experience. I guess I just got lucky with her.
Puppies are surely one of the great joys of the world. Who doesn’t like those little bundles of fluffy energy, all needle like teeth and clumsy limbs. They are so robust as they play fight with their siblings and explore their surroundings, but at the same time so fragile, mother always vigilant to dangers and ready for the next meal time. Who can resist a puppy bundle? The curious way they build little piles out of themselves for warmth and security and gently snort and snore away the hours. Some things never change, and a hallmark of a happy and well-adjusted dog is one who will wile away inactive times sleeping. They do say that for dogs, there is no sensation of the passage of time. For them, a minute or an hour is much the same, and that is why they will often surprise you by being overjoyed to see you, like you’ve been away for hours when you have only left them for a few moments. For me, that is one of the best parts of dog ownership. That level of devotion is very hard to find in relationships with people, but most dogs give it easily. I love my wife dearly, but I can’t say she has ever been that excited to see me after being away for a few hours. To be honest, I would find it a bit creepy if she was, but with dogs it’s just awesome.
I cannot understand why people would hurt dogs. It is a constant disappointment to me when I hear or read about people abusing pets. I assume they are trying to make up for their own shortcomings, but to me anyone who would abuse a dog should be held with the same contempt that you would reserve for a child abuser. It is the same when people abandon dogs. They are not some toy or accessory that can be discarded when it no longer amuses or becomes a nuisance, Dogs require a lot of time and attention, but they are more than worthy of it. It breaks my heart to see all those young dogs packed off to rehoming centres or abandoned to worse fates because the owners aren’t mature enough or patient enough to make the effort. I just wish people would stop and think about the consequences before committing to getting a dog. It’s very much like having children, especially in the first few months and they are very deserving of the time. I have great respect for anyone who chooses to rehome or foster dogs, and if I had more room I would do it in a heartbeat.
Not all dogs turn out quite how you would imagine. Some may take a long time and much work to make it, particularly in the working dog world. Some will never make it, but it’s not their fault. That’s just how it is. Some may not be as healthy as others. This might be due to a multitude of hereditary problems, of which some breeds are more prone than others. It’s always important when buying a puppy to do so from a good home and from dogs that have been vet inspected and well looked after. Puppy farms disgust me and should be reported whenever they are found. Just because a dog isn’t perfect (and not many are), it doesn’t mean they are not just as deserving of your love and affection. My youngest dog (who is not yet two) will never make the grade as a working dog. She is from excellent stock, and has a fantastic engine, but she is just too wilful and excitable to trust in the field. She is obedient enough, and will doubtless calm down as she matures, but I have come to terms with the fact that she will simply be a family pet and companion for her kennel mates. How can I know this I hear you say? She’s not even two! Well, I’ve been around dogs a long time, and I’ve seen my fair share come and go. I guess its experience telling me this. It doesn’t matter. I love her dearly, and my attempts to train her, and getting her this far have been the most rewarding training experiences of my life. I won’t give up trying, and who knows, maybe she’ll prove me wrong and exceed the lofty heights set by her older sisters.
As with all things, where there is a beginning, there has to be an end. It is one of lifes cruel injustices that a dogs lifespan is so relatively short. It tends to go that the bigger they are, the shorter the life, with some of the bigger breeds barely making it into double figures as an average. On the other side, my mother had a Patterdale that was active and healthy well into its eighteenth year. Losing a dog at any age is a terrible loss, and one I know only too well. It never gets any easier to say goodbye to a beloved family pet, working dog or stalwart companion, and they are impossible to replace, so never try. It’s always worth taking some time before bringing another dog into your home (if you don’t have more than one already), so you can properly grieve and get some perspective. Remember, that dog only shared a small part of your life, but you were its entire world. They wouldn’t want you to be sad, just think about all the fun times you had together, and know that they will be waiting for you, tail wagging with a ball to throw in the next life. So it’s not really goodbye, just see you later.
© Columba Palumbus 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file