August 8 2005

Don’t take this the wrong way, but I have a strange relationship with my dog. All dogs, really, if I’m honest.
It’s a communication thing.
My wife says it’s a language barrier and she could be right.
Our four-year-old border collie is Welsh and my knowledge of that tongue doesn’t extend beyond “Welcome to Wales, please drive carefully”. I’ve been told my accent is good, but Dylan remains unimpressed and returns my best efforts with a slightly unnerving stare, which might indicate annoyance or bewilderment.
We got him as a pup from a farm near Portmadoc when he and hundreds like him were being foot-and-mouthed out of their jobs by men in white coats carrying shotguns.
A bargain at fifty quid, he came complete with his first injection, a microchip, a warm nature and a mind of his own.
Take food. When we got him, his diet consisted entirely of those slightly greasy but otherwise dry pellets that vets rate so highly and all dogs hate.
We searched for weeks to find a shop that sold the brand he was used to, but by then he was on the verge of anorexia, sniffing suspiciously and rejecting anything that wasn’t heavily laced with soggy stuff from a tin.
It was a battle, but I won because, in spite of accusing looks from my wife, I became a subscriber to the if-he’s-hungry-he’ll-eat-it school of canine nutrition. Now each month he munches his way (still without relish, it has to be admitted) through a ton or so of crunchy lumps, gluten-free and packed with extras.
MSM? It’s for healthy joints.
Glucosamine and Choindoitrin? Don’t ask, but every dog should have some, apparently.
Impressively, the sack carries the stamp of approval of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection because it isn’t tested on animals.
Odd that.
Given Dylan’s lack of enthusiasm for food of any kind, training was a particular headache. Pointless offering chocdrop or biscuit rewards; he just wasn’t interested.
But he did learn to come when called and he’s good with other dogs and children. He fetches sticks, even when I haven’t thrown them, and he poos when told to, but that’s a non-verbal instruction conveyed with a series of finger clicks. I’m particularly proud of that one.
In dog training, it’s not so much what you say as how you say it. Which is just as well because the only word he understands, apart from his name, is “sit”.
But it’s a useful word. Four times out of ten, uttering that single syllable with subtle inflections I can persuade him to lie down, stay and, er . . . sit. Annoyingly, my non-Welsh-speaking sister-in-law, who took care of him for us one weekend, taught him to shake a paw, but he won’t do it for me.
And if I do decide to take a proffered stick, “sit” is the only word that makes him drop it. Anything else results in an exhausting tug-of-war.
The poo-to-order trick is handy. He never does it when we’re out walking, but even so I always carry a plastic bag. The only time I didn’t was the one occasion he disgraced himself on a crowded Milford Common.
Ever tried poop-scooping with a dock leaf?


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