We have two dogs and they are both pretty much insane. Or maybe we’re insane for having them – a lot of people think so. The first – Bobby – is a collie crossed springer spaniel – I know, crazy, right? Why would you want to mix a dog that can run all day with … well, a dog that never stops? Well, we did, with predictable results. For the first three years of his life he just ran – all the time, endlessly, effortlessly, at top speed. For the sheer joy of it, because that was what he was born to do.
Luckily, we live in the country, with lots of fields and woods around to run in. I would go for a two mile walk and he would run maybe ten, fifteen miles in the same time, in huge sweeping circles all around me. Or I would set my horse to canter along the side of a field, feeling the wind blasting my face and the long legs stretching below me as I kidded myself I was a jockey in the Grand National, and as we pulled up at the far end I’d glance behind and there, easily keeping pace with the horse, his tongue hanging out and a huge grin on his face, was Bobby, saying ‘ok, boss, what next?’
Then in his fourth year he became wary of the horse who’d kicked him once too often, and decided there were other ways of wasting energy, just as much fun. He still ran, but sometimes he trotted instead and then he would pick up the biggest log he could find – some up to six feet in length – and carry it all the way home. Just for fun – a more mature type of exercise. Much of our firewood is fetched by the dog. It’s as though he decided, ‘hey, I’m an adult now, I need work to do.’
It was then that we got Annie, the springer spaniel. She’d been kept in a cage all day by a family who didn’t have time for her. She was hyperactive, they said: they were right. I didn’t believe any dog had more energy than Bobby and neither did he, but in the end we had to admit that we were wrong. This little dog was two years younger than him and she took to the woods and fields and muddy ditches with sheer unadulterated delight. When she arrived she was fat and out of condition but even then she never stopped moving; now she is lean and fit and 100% muscle and she never stops running for a second, all the time, every minute she is free. Much of the time on ‘walks’ she spends in mid-air, leaping over logs and brambles and ditches in a blur of total energy – now here, now gone! Blink and you miss it!I know, you’re thinking we should train them, instil some discipline and control, and we do, sort of. Particularly in the most important thing of all – come back when recalled. I blow the whistle and almost instantly the dogs are there, tearing back from a distant hedgerow to sit at my feet, tongues hanging out, eager eyes focussed on their proud owner for a piece of sausage. Brilliant. Perfect.
Well, it happens like that most of the time, anyway. At least it did. Until Annie came into season, that is.
Now here’s a diversion. Delicate readers may wish to skip the paragraph after this, or close their eyes. The fact is, we weren’t too worried at first because Bobby had had the operation which means male dogs lose interest in grabbing humans round the legs and … well, you know. As the only male in the house I’d protested against this cruel surgery but the ladies were adamant; he’ll be much better behaved, they said, looking at me firmly with some hidden meaning in their eyes. Anyway, they added blithely, it’s easy, he won’t feel a thing. Hm.
So it was quite a surprise when he managed it anyway. (This is the paragraph, ladies – be warned!) I glanced out of the window and saw … well, when humans talk about doing it doggy fashion I don’t think we really mean, do we, that the loving couple stay locked together for ten or fifteen minutes, unable to move, each facing the opposite direction like an animal with two heads? That’s not what I’d understood, anyway. But that’s what I saw, with my own goggling eyes. It didn’t look that much fun, though, I have to say – there were rather sheepish expressions, in fact, on the faces of both partners, asking ‘How do we get out of this?’ It’s a strange form of evolution, surely, to make an animal so vulnerable for so long. I mean, if anyone attacked them, in that position, and they had to run – ouch!
Anyway (you can open your eyes now) the vet assured us it was ok, there couldn’t be any consequences. But the trouble is, dogs are like teenagers, they get ideas of their own. I told you Annie was well trained, didn’t I, perfect at coming back to the whistle? Marvellous, 100% perfect obedience every time. Until one day, about a month ago, that is …
We’d had a long walk, and she was right there beside me, outside the back door, waiting to go in. But instead of opening the door, I went into the shed first to pick up some logs for the fire. Only a few strides, a couple of minutes, that’s all, I assured my wife later. But when I turned round, no dog! Not in the house, not on the lawn, not the far side of a twenty acre field, either. I blew the whistle, casually at first, then with irritation, indignation, sheer fury – no result. She’d flipped a switch in her brain; she was offline, deaf, out of touch. I trudged haplessly round the fields and woods – a mile, two – whistling feebly, the faithful Bobby at my side, looking up at me righteously as if to say – ‘Yeah, where is she, cheeky bitch? Look at me, boss, I know how to behave!’
At last, dropping with exhaustion, I phoned home, and guess what? Annie had run rings round me and gone straight home. She was right there, outside the back door – covered in mud and water, panting, almost tired – Annie, tired? – and with a new, satisfied look in her eyes that said: ‘That was fun. I didn’t know it could be like that. I think I might do that again.’
So now I’m more careful; I put her on the lead for the last half mile. She still runs and jumps endlessly the rest of the time, with the same hyperactive enthusiasm and energy as before. But I wonder – is she quite as thin, quite as muscular as before? Have we been giving her more food than usual? Is that it?
I wonder what kind of dog they have in that farm three miles away?
I’ll let you know, next month!
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