We have a dog, Monty, who is now seven months old, and I love him fit to burst, which isn't to say that he's not also a pain in the arse. He is, sometimes. And he is a big responsibility. But I love him anyway. I love the way he does what we call his "little dance of happiness" whenever I say "biscuit" or "walk". I love the meaty warmth of him. I love, even, the plaintive look he gives when I dare to go out without him. What, you are going out without ME? The ME of all that meaty warmth? I probably haven't communicated any of this very well, but loving a dog is like that; may even be one of those unsayable things. You probably have to feel it from the inside to know what it is.
I have waited a long time for my dog. I grew up with dogs and have yearned for a dog all my adult life. Eventually, I became broody, longingly looking at other people's dogs as women who can't have children might look into prams. I would even ask: "Does he sleep through the night?" And: "How do you manage when you are at work?" My partner, though, has always been against having a dog, not because he doesn't like dogs. He does. But because we have two rather senior cats whose feelings must be taken into account even though they are quite boring (after all these years, you'd think they could have come up with one trick between them) and because, he said, we live on the brink of chaos as it is and "a dog would nudge us over the edge". Darling, I said, we were "nudged" ages ago. Haven't we only just seen the bailiffs off over that unpaid parking bill? Haven't we lost the passports we put in a "safe" place? "It will nudge us even further and push our heads under," he insisted. I don't know why he eventually caved in – "Oh get a bloody dog, then" – but I can tell you it did not involve the offer of new and exciting sexual favours even though, in the past, this has done the trick. "OK, OK, so long as you don't do that ever again." I did my research. I bought the dog breed books. I did not leave any canine stone on the internet unturned. I did this for a year, changing my mind frequently. I knew more about what I didn't want than what I did. I didn't want anything so small you could step on it. I didn't want slobber. I didn't want the sort of coat that would demand regular trips to a doggy beauty parlour. I didn't want anything big and randy that would want to have sex with my leg. The only thing I really knew is that I would like it to be scruffy-looking which, I now realise, probably came from John Burningham's Courtney, which stars a scruffy cross-breed who plays the violin, and probably wasn't my son's favourite picture book when he was little, but it was certainly mine from that time.
In the end, I opted for a Labradoodle (half Labrador, half poodle, and the miniature version rather than standard). Right size, right look; right temperament. What more can I say, and why should I have to defend my choice anyway? I contacted a breeder, had the interview, was told the price and, once I came round from the faint, accepted it and went on a waiting list. The litter was born in early October last year and I brought Monty home in early December. He stepped unsteadily and gingerly out of the pet carrier before biting everybody (the experts call it "mouthing"; it is biting) and then doing a huge wee – a torrent of wee – on the rug which I am fond of saying is an Indian antique even though it isn't; it's from Ikea but has never been cleaned so just looks all dark and old and crumbly. That rug nudged itself over the brink years ago.
The following day, Monty – whom we shall probably have to call Prince Montgomery Knight of Legacy, should we ever opt for Crufts – shredded every plant in the garden, ate two Amazon parcels, destroyed a trainer, torrented everywhere but his "toilet area", hung on to every passing trouser leg, stole socks, ripped the sofa, gnawed a balustrade and got into trouble with a curtain when, having launched himself at it, found himself midway up, swinging by his teeth. It was exhausting, but you should have felt his virgin paw pads: as soft as butter. How could you hold anything against a dog with paw pads like that? And then there was his fuzzy wuzzy tummy, and his flipperty ears, and his surprisingly sweet – if a little fishy – breath, and even his penis, which today is quite something, but back then was like a teeny, hairy radish. How could you hold anything against a dog with a penis like that...?
Things I Now Know About Having a Puppy:
1. Just because he appears to have stopped chasing joggers today doesn't mean he won't resume with extra enthusiasm tomorrow.
2. No "chew" is ever as enjoyable as an Amazon parcel, a remote control, the mobile phone, the post, your shoelaces, your dressing gown hem, a hairbrush, a toothbrush, books, Tupperware.
3. "My dog is really good with puppies," other owners will say as their dog clamps its jaws around your puppy's neck and thrashes him to the ground. ("Aren't they playing nicely?")
4. Although you made a promise to yourself that you would always remain a person who happened to have a dog and would never become a doggy person, how is it you now have his favourite squeaky pig in one pocket, ProReward liver treats in another, and a handbag that spills poo bags (unused!)?
5. A puppy that learns that most joggers are too fast for him will not be put off; he will just settle for the slow fat-lady joggers. (New Year's Resolution season – ie. early January – is bonanza time.)
6. Oncoming smart ladies wearing white ensembles can be quite put out by your warning cries of: "Puppy advancing! Puppy advancing! Puppy muddy! Puppy will jump!"
7. Retreating smart ladies wearing white ensembles will look at you with daggers after puppy has jumped. (I did warn you.)
Now we are five months on and Monty has matured out of some behaviours (he no longer "mouths" or bowls over toddlers as if they were skittles), plus we have put him through two and a half lots of training courses. The "half" was part of a six-week course run by a fellow from the "old school" who used choke and electric-shock collars and spent most of the lesson telling us how wonderful he was with dogs and, by implication, how crap we all were. (Well you can sod off, I thought at the end of the third week.) The other courses were reward-based, which is basically common-sense behaviourism: rewarding the behaviours you want and ignoring those you don't. Monty can now do Sit, Stay Down, Paw, Fetch and Drop, although only when he feels like it. He does not beg for food at the table because he knows he will be shut out of the kitchen if he does. That said, Hampstead Heath on a sunny day, when all the picnickers are out, is his idea of an eat-all-you-like buffet.
Our only real problem has been lately when, on walks, he has bolted a couple of times. On these occasions he looks at me, as if to say, "Sorry, it's a dog thing", and off he races; fast, over the brow of the hill. This probably has something to do with the ladeeeeeeees, and while neutering is an option, it's not an option my partner or teenage son are yet willing to consider. "What, they'll cut his bollocks off?" asked my son, as if someone were coming after his. (I wish they would. It might encourage him to return towels to the bathroom.) This is a problem, although not one Chamois Rose-Wood – this newspaper's resident pet expert – hasn't seen many times before.
She offers to help, I accept, and off we go to Highgate Wood in north London. Here, I have to "become the most interesting person Monty knows". I say, I'm not interesting and never have been. She makes me interesting with toys and treats and balls and tripe sticks – have you ever smelled a tripe stick? Darlings, I love my dog, but I did think I was going to vomit. Anyway, Chamois shows me how it is done: skipping, almost literally, through the woods, exciting Monty with a ball one minute and a squeaky bone the next and then a lick of the stinky tripe stick, which he appears to find delicious. Monty never takes his eyes off her, which is a little upsetting – hey, I'm meant to be your beloved – but it does work. I now use this technique (minus tripe) on all our walks and I've yet to lose him again.
Yes, he can be a pain in the arse and is a big responsibility but what can I say? We love him. The cats don't, and bully him, but we do. My partner is besotted. He takes Monty to Hampstead Heath. He takes Monty camping. Our teenage son is besotted, which doesn't translate into any responsibility, just endless games of "nuzzle": he lies across a ball, Monty has to "nuzzle" his way to it. I walk endlessly, whereas previously I never even walked to the corner shop. I have lost nearly a stone. And Monty? He is, well, great. He always greets me with overjoyed enthusiasm, which is something of a novelty. And although he has his own plumptious dog bed and can sleep wherever he likes in the house, his favourite place is across the threshold at the front door so that no one can come in without making a fuss of him and no one can go out without taking him for a walk. I know that a dog is Canis lupus familiaris, a domesticated subspecies of the wolf, and should not be treated like a beloved child, but still. I think I'll put his name down for Westminster School all the same. Certainly, he is smart enough. And aside from being Mummy's favourite little fella – Who's Mummy's favourite little fella? You are, you are! – he is also a very, very good boy...
Why it is good to have a dog:
1. You love him.
2. He loves you.