Avid followers of this column – as well as people in recuperation units with limited reading material – may have noted that I am the owner of a chocolate labrador, Betty. Real-life acquaintances are also starkly aware that, like most dog people, I arrive at social gatherings smelling vaguely of liver sausage snackadoodles and have a biodegradable poo bag trailing out of my coat pocket.
I frequently leave said social gatherings much earlier than other guests because, faced with human contact, I find 40 to 45 minutes to be quite sufficient, and incomparable funwise to lying on my kitchen floor playing "Got your nose" with a laughing labrador.
Dogs do laugh, by the way. I can prove this empirically. Things that make my labrador laugh include blowing farty raspberries on to her stomach, thwacking her over the head with her stuffed, phlegm-festooned pig, and, best of all, hiding in the small downstairs toilet while she searches for me, then leaping out while doing a theatrical Scooby-Doo-style "Wooooooooh!" In Betty's world, this is the equivalent of a box at the O2 for Micky Flanagan.
What Betty certainly doesn't do – and many dog-owners will disagree with me here – is feel any level of shame. Yes, I have seen the various "amusing" dog-shaming websites, where a Weimaraner who has eaten £700 worth of Venetian blind wears a man-made sign around its neck confessing the crime while looking "ashamed", but that expression is almost definitely just trapped wind. The dog does not give a damn.
It is a conundrum in my house whether at the age of two Betty has slowed down in the eating of my domestic appliances and personal precious items, or whether there are simply fewer things left for her to eat. Still, in the past fortnight she has eaten a 50ml bottle of Sandalwood beard oil, a beloved home-nurtured rosemary plant (including roots and soil), and a large tub of Philadelphia cream cheese.
Betty can locate and eat an Andrex loo roll with such enthusiasm that anything other than a "drip-dry" post-wee in my house is deemed a luxury. I asked Betty if she was ashamed about any of these things and, although she cannot speak, her expression said, "No mate, I do it for the LULZ". Then she went to her bed with Pig and lay for the rest of the afternoon in a flatulent, forest-scented fug.
Betty is a perilous mix of shameless and not quite the full shilling. There is a reason, I realise now, why you never ever see chocolate-brown labs on dogs-for-the-blind training exercises. Because chocolate labs are the well-meaning but renegade splinter group of this usually dependable breed. The only place a chocolate lab could be trusted to take a visually impaired person would be Greggs the Baker, six or seven times a day, until one or both of them pegged out from Type 2 diabetes.
What Betty should really be ashamed of right now – but isn't – is her recent decision to reject six solid months of off-the-lead re-call training. Re-call is important. If your dog doesn't return when you're shouting at it across a muddy field, you're not really a dog-owner, you're more of a dog observer. Saying that, when the dog in question is helping itself to Iceland picnic quiches while a bunch of highly excited hipsters try to wrestle her, it is tempting to simply observe and see who gives up first.
But six months ago, I got tough. I bought a whistle and a long training lead and learned the meaning of the high-value-treat. This is when you find your dog's snackfood Achilles heel – steak, Peperami, chicken livers, etc – load up a bag and set off into wide green fields to bribe the bloody thing – sorry train your animal – to do what you damn well say.
If you type "train dog re-call" into YouTube you will be availed of a plethora of "how to" videos by men with beards and bumbags called things like "MuttManMac" and "WooferWill". The whole process – from crackpot hound to Crufts winner – will appear to take around 45 seconds. This is a lie. Betty has spent six long months learning "sit", "lie down", "stay", "get down" and, most important, "come here". She can do all of these things beautifully – but only until she frankly can't be arsed.
At this point she might join in with a game of football, go for a paddle in the River Lea, or simply spot a human-shaped dot on the horizon and run, slobbering, towards it, as if to say "Friend! Friend! You don't know me but can I live with you?" After an incident earlier this week with the tiny truck that paints the football-pitch lines on Hackney Marshes, the dog is in deepest lumber. In fairness, the driver was eating a packet of BBQ beef-flavoured Hula Hoops as he tootled along at 2mph, which was clearly provocation. Despite all my whistle-blowing, the dog was not for turning.
Betty is now back on the extra-long training lead – tethered but totally shame-free. The road to Crufts is long. And my dog is still at the start line, doing sandalwood beard oil farts.Reuse content