Dog-walking diaries: Stephen the Labrador

Image of a Labrador
Ruff stuff
"It took a moment for it to sink in that Roger was in fact the highland terrier at her heel. Frankly the idea of referring to a ‘conversation’ with a dog as some kind of basis for a conversation with a human is a bit weird"
  • | by Rachel England

One of the biggest issues I have with working from home is the lack of contact with other human beings.

I’m a pretty autonomous person, but it would still be nice if my declarations of “I think I’ll make a cup of tea” were met with anything other than resounding silence.

This is why, when I’m out with the dogs, I tend to chat to them.

Beyond the unrelenting stream of tired requests that, I believe, are not too dissimilar from those of a parent –“Come here”, “Don’t eat that”, “Stop peeing on your brother’s face” – I’ll tell them what I’m working on at the moment, or what I’m going to have for lunch.

Sometimes they’ll look at me quizzically, or get excited if I happen upon a ‘trigger word’ (‘dinner’, for example), but by and large they’re far too busy sniffing each other’s backsides and licking their own eyes to pay me any heed. Which is fine – simply knowing my voice is penetrating their tiny skulls is contact enough for me.

Besides, my contact with the dogs extends to only about four hours a week. For them, I’m a novelty; they’ll decide when I’m interesting or not. Funnily enough, it’s always when I have treats, and never when I’m screaming their name as they peg it across the common because they’ve somehow identified a squirrel from a 400m distance.

However, some dog-walkers take their human-canine conversations to a whole new level, serving as a terrifying glimpse of the fate that could easily befall me as someone who spends a lot of time alone. “I was actually just telling Roger how nice the weather is,” one jowly faced dog-walker mentioned the other day as we exchanged the usual pleasantries.

It took a moment for it to sink in that Roger was in fact the highland terrier at her heel, because frankly the idea of referring to a ‘conversation’ with a dog as some kind of factual basis for a conversation with a human is, you know, a bit weird. “Well who else would I be referring to?” she laughed. And yet, when I asked how Roger was feeling about the weather, she looked at me as if I was mad.

Still, this was not as bewilderingly odd as a scenario I was party to a few weeks ago, when someone’s Labrador was getting all up in the face of my sarcastically small, yet ballsy, chihuahua, Bo.

I had no sooner looked to its owner for help than he boomed: “STEPHEN. COME HERE AT ONCE. WE HAVE TALKED ABOUT THIS.”

Stephen the Labrador then remorsefully slunk away, head down, tail literally between his legs. After apologising to me profusely, the owner then turned to Stephen, pointed at Bo, and thundered: “YOU KNOW THIS BEHAVIOUR IS UNACCEPTABLE, STEPHEN. REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME? SAY SORRY TO BO THIS INSTANT.”

I slowly backed away, assuring both Stephen and his owner that there was no harm done, and everything was fine.

Only after there was significant distance between us did I kneel down to pat Bo and mumble, “Wow, what a nutter.” And then Bo looked at me and laughed.

Except he didn’t. Because he is a dog.

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