Herd instinct puts pampered pooch in the doo-doo

WE always blame childhood.

Even with dogs. When a dog has a behavioural glitch, we think it must have had a traumatic puppyhood. Taken from its mother too soon, not socialised enough, kept away from other dogs, overexposed to hideous kids, whatever — if it’s playing up, it’s because it had a bad time as a puppy.

Not our Betty. Oh no. Our Betty, whose birth family I can vouch for, has been with us since she was an eight-week-old fatball. She’s had a puppyhood that most human children would envy. Last week it was her first birthday.

Did we lock her in a shed for it? No, we had a dog party. Eleven of her doggy mates came over — the house was overrun with Irish wolfhounds, Rottweilers, Alsatians, sheepdogs, terriers and kids. I baked a doggy birthday cake (you switch the sugar for chicken) and someone brought her a birthday present of freeze-dried pigs ears. Another friend’s husband, seeing her leaving with a bag of heart-shaped dog biscuits she’d baked for Betty, asked if she was going out with her loony dog ladies. He meant us.

See, this is what happens when you don’t drink or take drugs. You have to make your fun where you can find it. It was in fact great fun, and far less hassle than a kids’ birthday party, even though the house was teeming with both species. There were no tantrums.

My point is that our Betty leads a charmed life. She has never been abandoned, kicked, starved, or even shouted at. She eats like a queen, sleeps on a sheepskin, and gets walked miles in the countryside everyday.

Like her sister-dog Angelina Jolie, she lives a life that would make a Roman Emperor jealous. So what could possibly go wrong? Joggers are what could go wrong. Our Betty is a Rottweiler. While not famous for their brains, Rottweilers have traditionally excelled at herding cattle. And while you and I know that a jogger looks nothing like a cow, even if you tilt your head sideways and squint a bit, to Betty — who, let us remember, is not Einstein — joggers look like something to be herded.

If you are a jogger, jogging along in the park listening to your iPod, and 45kgs of muscle comes hurtling towards you barking a bass baritone and nipping at your ankles, you are unlikely to think, “Awww, the doggy wants to play.” Instead, your life may well flash before your eyes as you unleash a bloodcurdling scream. No amount of whistling, calling or threatening murder will divert Betty from her cause, which is to herd the unfortunate jogger. To where remains unclear — because by then the jogger is either threatening to sue everyone in the park, or has fainted clean away in terror.

When I phone the Rottweiler Helpline for advice, the woman asks if Betty has had a traumatic puppyhood. No, I say in a strangulated voice. But it’s never too late.


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