I used to hate dogs. When I was small they would bark at me and chase me. Across the street there was a German Shepherd which lived behind a sign that said Beware Of The Dog. It barked viciously and was reputed to have bitten several people. I was terrified of this dog. It weighed a lot more than I did. It could kill me. I was disgusted by the dog-shit that was everywhere, and I hated the idea of a dog coming near me or licking me.
I got to know dogs as an adult, when on Sunday evenings a group of friends would walk a few miles to a pub, consume much beer, then walk home. Pathetically, we called this yomping. The other walkers started to have dogs. The first were a pair of Border Terriers called Coco and Teddy. These were small dogs that looked cute but that could be vicious towards other dogs. The first time they came with us, they misbehaved in the pub, in the way that a pair of toddlers might. But soon they became pub dogs, learning to sleep under the table, occasionally waking up to go begging for crisps. Over time the other yompers acquired dogs. There was a German Shepherd called Tash and a Labrador called Zack, both of whom became my friends. When Zack was an adolescent he fell in lust with a pub dog called Chablis, and together on the floor of the pub they performed sex acts that I didn’t know were possible. Later there were also two Labradoodle brothers (Labrador Poodle cross) called Max and Dylan that were too nervous and bouncy to be my friends.
I began to realise an important fact. Dogs are human too. They express emotions, request things, respond to speech. Above all they love people. For example, as we walked through the night, Tash would patrol our little group, running to the back and then to the front again, kissing each walker’s hand on the way. She was checking that we hadn’t lost anyone. Sometimes when I was sitting, Zack would put his chin on my knee in a gesture of pure love. At the end of a yomp Zack would try to go home with me rather than his Dad. A ritual developed where I had to send him back to his Dad three times before he would accept that I was leaving.
I realised that my conversion was complete when I was out with a friend and her two dogs, Polly and Dio. I told Dio off for some minor offence, and Polly jumped up and kissed me on the mouth, to point out that she, at least, was a good dog. Before I would have been hysterical with horror. While I didn’t enjoy being kissed by a dog, it didn’t matter any more.
I will never own a dog because I have enough stuff of my own to carry around without having to carry bags of dogshit too. If they invent a shit-free dog I might reconsider. Meanwhile, I have dog-owning friends that I can go walking with, if I feel the need. And there’s a dog called Harvey who lives in my street and greets me like a long lost friend every time I see him.
I have rarely met a dangerous dog and I have never been bitten. Yet I spent half of my life in fear of dogs. As a child I didn’t understand that you shouldn’t show fear; that you must stand and face the dog rather than run away. Much like any other challenge that you might come across. It would have helped if someone had showed me this. Maybe my parents were afraid of dogs too. Or maybe (and this seems more likely) they were not aware of my problem. As a child, dogs seemed like a scary fact of life. It didn’t occur to me that there was a solution which was to do with my own attitude and behaviour.
About that German Shepherd that lived opposite me: at the time the breed was called Alsatian, because of anti-German sentiment. Much like when French Fries became Freedom Fries during the Iraq war.