We’ve had four dogs in around 20 years.
The first three came from rescue homes in the UK, the last one found us on the street in Spain.
We were both brought up with dogs, so once we got our own house, a dog just seemed right for us. We hadn’t got much else in the house. We bought a fridge, a washing machine and a second-hand cooker. Oh, and a futon mattress which went on the floor.
And that was it. The dog was next to arrive. We got him as a pup from a Blue Cross place. It was a nice place, very clean, and sadly far too full of dogs and other animals.
The black lab we homed apparently had a pedigree which we could have if we paid extra. We weren’t interested in the pedigree so we didn’t. We wanted to home a dog that someone else didn’t want, we didn’t want a cheap pedigree dog, that wasn’t why we were there.
He was very good, very clean – we took him out into the garden at regular frequent intervals, and gave him all our attention. As he got bigger we took him down the riverside and started to teach him simple commands. He was pretty obedient.
Later we took him for training. He jumped out of the window of the car when we arrived. Perhaps we should have signed up for agility instead. He then promptly vomited on the training ground (he was always pretty good at that anyway, ever since the first day we picked him up – he had just been fed in the kennels before we took him home).
The next time we went to training we left the window up. He didn’t vomit, but he did leave a nice pile on the training ground when he was walking up and down. Labradors are great dogs with beautiful temperaments. They also have a stubborn streak of independence. We figured he wasn’t keen on training.
And we never took any other dogs to training either. The next ones were older anyway, and seemed well-behaved. Paddy (setter/lab) liked to chase cats and birds and Prince (GSD) was, well, Prince. He was probably the most naturally obedient of the lot – but always with a slightly quizzical look on his face. He might as well have said: “You really do ask me to do some stupid things … I KNOW what to do. I am a GSD.” This is not to say that training is not a good idea. I think it is. It just hasn’t been for us.
Nor did we ever use a crate. We had not heard of crate training until we came to Spain. I was flitting through an English newspaper and there was an article by Chris the Canine Counsellor (ok not the real name). Chris the CC was recommending the use of crates for training. It sounded to me awfully like, when you are busy and don’t have time to watch your dog – bung him/her in a crate. Don’t want to clean up any mess in your house – because you can’t be bothered to take your dog outside often enough when they are very young? Bung them in a crate overnight, or when you go out. The added advantage is that a dog loves a crate. It is a home to them. It is a den.
I am not a dog. But I would not like to be bunged in a crate when someone couldn’t be bothered with me. I would not consider it a safe zone at all. I would consider it a horrible confined jail. Chris the Canine Counsellor soon became Chris the Crater in our view.
Since then I have read on the Internet that every person – and their dog, obviously – love crates, and swears by them as a training tool.
Each to their own. I am a big believer in everyone having their own opinion. And mine is that I do not agree with crates as a prime training tool. I was brought up with three dogs, and have had four of my own, without a crate in sight. So I do not wish to be told that I am wrong by some pretentious person who thinks they have a doctorate in dog training or whatever.
My dog philosophy is very simple. I have led a busy life. I have tried to home dogs that at some point may well have been killed because no-one wanted them. I am sure I am not a perfect rehomer. But my dogs have been given a home, they get regular food, taken out, they are nine times out of ten on the lead (apart from beach runs), they have the run of a warm house, and they are rarely left alone for long periods.
They haven’t chewed – apart from a couple of inexpensive flip flops – that I left lying around like an idiot, and they have always asked when they have wanted to go outside. They are, in all senses of the words, companion animals.
My parents bought pedigree dogs. Firstly two boxers, and then a Rhodesian Ridgeback. They were very status conscious – my parents, not the dogs, although maybe the dogs were too. Who knows? I loved them to bits – I grew up with them all, and they were always there for me.
But when it came to choosing my own dog in my own home, I just could not think of paying money to a breeder to buy a pedigree dog. Why? I am not interested in a dog’s eminent lineage, nor am I interested in someone making money out of breeding dogs. It really sticks in my throat. I haven’t looked up the figures because I hate reading abandoned dog information – but there are far too many dogs who are ditched and then killed. Far too many left in no-kill shelters because they maybe aren’t cute enough. Why buy a dog to line someone’s pocket when there are so many good ones waiting for a home?
Maybe for outward displays of wealth and defining an image. The “macho” dogs – rottweilers, dobermans, ridgebacks, boxers, GSDs. (When we homed Prince, the kennels were full of unwanted GSDs). The “country” dogs – labradors, setters, pointers, spaniels. The working/hunting dogs – terriers, and that includes the previously mentioned country dogs. Each choice of paid-for dog is a way of defining someone’s image to the rest of the world.
And as for showing dogs? Oh, look, their ears stick up at exactly the right angle, and have just the right amount of correct colouring in them. Similarly the tail is not too long, not too short, and not too bushy – just right. “We show Moxy and Doxy” (or whatever they are called) “and you can tell how much they love it dahling.” Get out of it. It’s obvious who loves showing the dogs. And no, I don’t watch Crufts and haven’t done for a lot of years.
You can always tell when bitches have given birth in Spain. The streets are suddenly full of new stray dogs. Some get homed. And rehomed. Again and again. Others don’t. Others die or get killed.
The first year we lived in Spain, someone drove down the side street next to us and threw out a very young pup. I had read all the horror stories about dogs being tied up to the gates of houses owned by foreign people so I was fairly paranoid. We had our dogs from the UK, and the day it happened we agreed not to take this pup in. Neither did anyone else. It struggled over to the finca gates across the road, where it could hear/smell the other well-fed, looked-after dogs. It cried and whimpered all day. Eventually it died. The man who works on the finca came out with his shovel and chucked the tiny dead puppy in the rubbish bin.
I do not dislike beautiful pedigree dogs. I admire them as much as the next person does. But I do question the values of the people who buy them – when other dogs are being discarded as rubbish on the streets.
I said I was brought up with pedigree dogs, but the last dog my parents had – after I had got married and rehomed the lab – was rescued from the local RSPCA shelter. It took them a long time, but they finally bought into the ethos of rehoming an abandoned dog. And he lived with them for years.
So to anyone who is thinking about spending big bucks on that perfect pedigree pup – remember the equally perfect dogs that are on death row, just waiting for a reprieve.