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A break in the clouds

My dog-walking career hit rock-bottom last week. I am now down to walking one dog, my own, so I only call it my career as a joke, since the last canine I walked for money was probably about eight years ago. A lot’s gone on in the intervening period, but in terms of dogs, I have recently lost all confidence in my ability to remain calm and centred, as per canine guru Cesar Millan.

All is fine in the house (apart from occasional growling when surprised – he’s a street rescue – what can you expect?), but when we get outdoors, I find I am a nervous wreck. I have started to avoid other dogs and last week, when we were in the park and approached by a pointer with a glint in its eye, I slipped the lead and sort of… ran off.

This is very bad form. What was worse, was that my escape on foot sans chien was severely hampered because, from fright, my legs went all jelly on me. Utterly ridiculous really, but it was an almost reflexive fear response from me. Now, this is odd because I never used to be this way and, you know what, I blame the dog! After 5 years together and many difficult moments in an attempt to form the owner-dog bond, I am now too empatico with him. I have caught his flight response as if it were a common cold.

Let me explain. When I first got this dog (my third dog as it happened) he was highly nervous and if anything frightened him he would flight off, as far as he could go, in the opposite direction. Many things could frighten him, both inside and out: the lead, a car, a noise, a dog, a person, a stick, anything at all really, so walking was something that he had to be coaxed into over a long period of time. Eventually, we got ‘there’ and he turned into a friendly, if still quite nervy sort of dog. Life is ,however, a journey and no sooner have you got ‘there’ than you end up somewhere else. In our case it turned out to be the dog’s getting in touch with his inner hunter. Now games with other dogs became confused. Firstly, he would invite them to be the hunter and him the prey, which worked out ok, to begin with. If they didn’t go for that offer, he would suggest he chase them. If they declined that he would then attempt to goad them into it, whereupon he would have to be removed from the field of play in disgrace. Him taking on the prey role didn’t always end well either. My dog is very fast, but he lacks stamina, so although another dog couldn’t ‘catch’ him, they could keep going when he wanted to stop, which merely made him feel threatened and as he was too tired to run, he would snap.

He has never hurt another dog, but, like me running away from my own dog, it’s not the done thing in dog-walking circles to say, ‘Oh I know he looks like an utter monster with those snarling teeth and jaw agape, but he’s never hurt anyone…’ I started avoiding other dogs completely, so much so that if, when I spied another walker with dog on the far-off horizon, I would curse them for daring to come within a mile of our vicinity. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I have reflected on this, why I have become this way. Me, who has walked all kinds of dogs in the most interesting parts of East London. Me, who walked Bill Sykes very own English Terrier along Bethnal Green Road. Me, who has saved goats’ legs from the locked jaws of another English Bull Terrier – did I say I am not mad about English Bull Terriers? I have therefore come to the rather ragged conclusion that as this not how I have reacted in the past, and apart from being prone to sudden and unexpected neuroses lately, I am currently experiencing the very real effects of the increasing population in the UK. In short, we have no space. I will have to learn to share the green spaces and beaches of the vicinity with many, many other people, and their dogs. Or I will have to stay in. And probably develop agoraphobia…

I read this week that the government plans to legislate to force all puppies to be microchipped. This is not a bad plan, unfortunately it will do nothing to help those of us with fearful dogs and our own anxieties, who are trying to avoid trouble.

Back to the brief break in the clouds today. This morning I made the most of the 2 days that are left to us in Southend, before the dogs are banned from the beach for 6 months. My dog managed to have a pleasant interaction with two dogs and a game with one of them and my legs didn’t sink into the sand underneath me from fright.

The fact is that when it’s blowing a Force 9 and sheeting down with rain you are only going to meet dogs and their owners of two varieties:

1) genuinely dedicated dog owners, prepared to walk their dogs in all kinds of weather
2) people like me trying to avoid the kind of dog and their owner who doesn’t fall into the group above

In which case, let it wind and rain, because my nerves are all the better for it.

Garboesque: him or me?