Dogs make the world a better place
lynne truss was never really a poochy person until a certain terrier came into her life…
the transforming power of dog ownership
A dog creates eye contact and breaks the ice with strangers
Years ago, i used to go for walks with a friend who behaved in a very odd manner. she kept stopping to say hello to dogs. not being a doggy person myself, i would hang back in confusion until she’d finished. What was going on? it was true that the dogs responded to the attention, but on the other hand, what about the hilarious anecdote i was in the middle of telling when this random pooch came along? i honestly didn’t get it. Was she technically mad?
fast forward a bit, and i’m not confused any more. nearly nine years ago, hoagy the norfolk terrier entered my life, and now i am the maddest of the mad because i have simply accepted the truth i was blind to: that dogs make the world a better place. they are not only really nice in themselves, but are also the cause of niceness in others. my two little dogs – i added a puppy, another terrier called django, two years ago – are so adorable that people’s faces light up with smiles at first glance of them. i love it. it’s like being out with Peter kay. now, i know all this is a bit superficial. hello, hello, hello – that’s how it goes with dogs. the dogs say hello to people; people say hello back. i say hello to other people’s dogs; the dogs sniff each other’s bottoms (which we draw a veil over), and that’s it. it’s not deep. i have observed through living with my darling boys that they are terrible at goodbyes, and not particularly good at sustaining the mood after the initial hellos, either.
in the dog-training books, they tell you not to make a fuss of the dog when you come home from shopping, but i say to hell with that. being greeted at the front door with their fantastic “hello-hello-hellohello!” is often the best bit of my day.
and out on the streets, i’d far rather have a superficial hello than the usual nothing, wouldn’t you? We move in a world of strangers, strenuously refusing
to acknowledge each other’s presence, and increasingly encased in private bubbles of sound. i personally find this depressing and frightening: making eye contact is in my nature, and i’m bad at pretending other people are invisible.
having a cute dog cuts through all of this. once, late at night, i was with hoagy on a quiet london street and realised there was a gang of shouty youths loping threateningly towards us. “this is it,” i said quietly to hoagy. “never forget that i loved you.” and then two of the group spotted the dog, smiled, and all the scariness instantly departed.
Whether entering dog World has made me a better person, i don’t know. i do admire the straightforwardness of dogs, and i try to adopt their habit of living in the present. With cats, you can believe that they a) nurse grudges and b) are secretly hatching elaborate plans for world domination – so the past and the future are what they mainly think about. but with dogs, the only tense is the continuous present. “What’s happening now?” they ask, wagging their tails.
the one downside is that i’ve become a slob. there is just no need to make an effort with one’s appearance when all other people’s attention is drawn downwards into the furry faces of your pets. i have let myself go to a shocking degree: it won’t be long before i start going out in my pyjamas.
but in dog World, that’s just how it is. you are just an arm with a big, out-offocus blob on the end of it. looking back to the old days when my friend was stopping to talk to all the dogs, i don’t remember her being much interested in the people holding the leads. so why not let the dog do the work of breaking the ice? “he’s very friendly,” i say to the tops of people’s heads (they have usually bent down for a spot of dog-fondling).
i feel proud, but also a small pang of sadness. What a shame that it’s only in the context of dogs that friendliness towards strangers is ok. Lynne’s new book a shot in the dark (Raven Books) is out on 28 June