The dog and I really need to get out more. We don’t see enough people on a daily basis and it’s not doing either of us any good.
A public footpath runs across our front garden and though it’s rarely used, especially in winter, it’s got to the stage where if an unsuspecting walker does come by the dog is snarling dangerously, incensed at the very sight of a stranger, and I’m torn between a desire to run away completely or beg them to come in for a cuppa and a chat.
I decide something has to be done and embark on a ‘Dog and Handler Socialisation Project’. Which basically involves driving into town and going for a street walk and ideally a coffee. If I can bear sitting in the cold, because even though there are enough cafes in these rural towns that welcome dogs, my girl couldn’t handle being enclosed inside with strangers just yet, so we choose outdoor tables and I enjoy people watching and she practises Lesson 1: Not Snapping at Strangers.
We have been doing this on and off now and it had been going pretty well until I decided to up the game by attempting a city experience. The plan was to enjoy an over priced coffee in the shadow of Durham cathedral, a real day out for us, and a reason for me to wear a good coat not covered in chicken poo.
Unfortunately I hadn’t accounted for the walk through the park. The trouble with the park – other than lots of people and lots of children, making lots of screeching noises, and squirrels dashing up trees and crisp packets blowing in the wind and all manor of other highly arousing distractions which don’t seem much to you and me but seem to send Fern into overdrive – is other dogs. There are lots of other dogs in the park and Fern is not good with other dogs.
We’d only just set foot (and paw) in the park when disaster struck. Two terriers off the lead came rushing up to us. Now this might not sound like much but Fern does not do other dogs rushing up to her, especially when she is on the lead. Hackles up, muscles taunt and experiencing an adrenaline rush like a stock market trader selling shares in the city, she did not look like a dog ready for a convivial bottom sniff.
At times like this I know I should be calm, I should think happy thoughts and send these calm and happy thoughts down the lead to my loyal hound who will pick them up and, trustingly, act accordingly. This did not happen. I panicked. Thoughts of a blood-bath flooded my brain. I imagined Fern lunging at these two yapping pooches and sinking her glistening pedigree fangs deep into their flesh. This is not entirely fanciful. I have seen her do it before. Twice. We have had to cough up for expenses vet fees to patch up these injured pups. I did not want it to happen again.
So I stuck out my foot. I didn’t exactly kick the approaching mutts, I just wanted to make sure they weren’t going to get close enough to be made a meal of. Their owner was someway behind, on his mobile phone. Unfortunately he looked up just at the moment my foot stuck out at his precious pooches. He was not amused, to put it lightly. In fact he came storming up to me and my dog and let rip. If I thought Fern had angry management issues, this guy was far worse. At one point, as a crowd gathered to watch the spectacle like Romans at a gladiator fight, he shouted ‘you’re a cruel bitch’ and I don’t think he was talking about my dog. I did try to explain about Fern being nervous and maybe he shouldn’t be letting his dogs run up to anyone in the park, but he wasn’t listening. He was irate and going red in the face and had a lot to say for himself and I think he was enjoying his moment in front of an audience. I wasn’t. I thought: ‘If my dog doesn’t bite you soon, I will.”
When the shouting man stopped shouting the crowds ebbed away, one well meaning lady stayed behind. “She looks lovely” she said cooing and reaching out her hand towards my quivering dog. “Can I stroke her?” Fern growled. “Thanks,” I said, “But no, we are just going home”.
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