When I wrote my cat post last week I said that I often felt that dogs were like four-legged people. Since the first dogs became human companions we’ve bred them for a variety of purposes. We’ve bred dogs to hunt game large and small, dogs to herd and protect sheep, dogs that won’t shed hair and dogs in every shape, size and colour just because we can. I have read that over time we have encouraged the puppy like traits in our dogs and I guess that is why our dogs often seem like exuberant, hairy toddlers rather than animals.
My dog Cindy is twelve years old now and although she has slowed down a bit she is still very puppy like at times. When David and I arrived home from somewhere the first thing we’d usually see was Cindy capering in excitement at the back door. We used to say to each other. “There’s the dancing dog.” These days I mostly enter the house at the front door and as soon as she hears my key in the lock she’s there at the door wriggling and jumping before racing down the passage to the back door to be let out.
A dog doesn’t have complicated needs. mostly they want food, a warm place to sleep and to be with you. Dogs are always glad to see you when you get home, always ready to go for a walk or play a game but if you feel like lounging on the couch that’s fine too. They often mistake your bed or your favourite chair for theirs or perhaps they were just keeping it warm for you. In my family we have always let our dogs be in the house with us despite the wear and tear on furniture and the permanent covering of dog hair over pretty much everything. We’ve had neighbours who left their dogs outside all the time and of course the poor things are lonely if the family doesn’t spend time with them so they bark and howl. That seems mean to me. If a pristine house is so important get outside and spend time with your dog, or don’t have one.
Dogs are smart. You can teach them to do all sorts of thing from a simple “fetch” game to performing all kinds of services, farmers still use dogs for herding sheep and cattle, police and the military use them for a variety of tasks. The quarantine service uses them. Here in Tasmania certain foodstuffs are not allowed in from mainland Australia and at the airport or ferry terminal you may be greeted by a beagle who will sniff out any fruit you may have forgotten about in your luggage.
Vision impaired people rely on their guide dogs, they are usually Labradors and sometimes I’ve seen the Vision Australia volunteer puppy walkers taking the trainee guide dogs about town to get them socialised. People have service dogs for other reasons though. My friend Gillian who has a hearing impairment has a service dog who can alert her to sounds around the house like the phone, the microwave and washing machine if she is in another room. Service dogs are allowed the same privileges of travelling on public transport and going into buildings where pet dogs are not allowed as guide dogs are. They wear a distinctive coat but as yet they are still unfamiliar to many people. These dogs are not a specific breed as they are usually sourced from shelters as young dogs and trained before being matched with a new owner. The Lions Club of Australia who fundraise for the Hearing Dogs put out a calendar every year. It shows a variety of dogs, Labradors of course but a lot of mixed breed dogs from a German Shepherd X Kelpie to a Spaniel X, Jack Russell X and even a Maltese X Shi Tzu. Gillian has a mixed breed terrier and sometimes speaks at clubs and schools to raise awareness of the need for Hearing Dogs. Dusty, her dog, goes too of course and he thoroughly enjoys the attention. Of course you should not pat a service dog when he is working but once the coat is off they like it as much as any other dog.
Most dogs love to play and to meet other dogs if they have been socialised as puppies although some like it more than others. Cindy used to play with other dogs when David took her to the leash free park but she was always more focussed on her tennis ball. Three of our four dogs have had the tennis ball obsession. There was Nicki who, if you couldn’t find a ball for her to chase, would bring you a rock when we were at our local beach. She would chase them for as long as you wanted to throw and if you threw it in to the sea to end the game she’d plunge in after it and return with a rock, not necessarily the same one but she figured it would do. Nicki tended to bring back rocks the size of half a brick even if you had only thrown a pebble.
Tessie, who we had for twelve years was also a tennis ball fanatic. We lived next door to a reserve where there were tennis courts and if we walked that way she’d want to stop and watch, sometimes she’d find a stray tennis ball in the grass and pick it up. One of the coaches from the tennis club took a liking to Tessie and would sometimes give her an old ball so we had some very good quality tennis balls. Tessie was a friendly dog and she was cute, a Corgi X Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. At the beach she would take her ball up to anyone who happened to be there drop it in front of them and give a bark inviting them to join her game. Most people did, some I had to explain what she wanted, like the group of Japanese tourists we met one day. Tessie did not discriminate, all were welcome to play. Sometimes she used to drop her ball by a baby or small child and she was just as happy with their baby sized throws as the ones that sent the ball down the beach. Tessie’s bark was her way of speaking to us; whether she wanted a ball thrown or to go for a walk she let us know.
And now I’ve written over eleven hundred words and I still haven’t said all I want to say about dogs. They are our best friends. We couldn’t get by without them.