Dogs make the world a bet­ter place

lynne truss was never re­ally a poochy per­son un­til a cer­tain ter­rier came into her life…

Woman & Home - - Contents - w&h

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.

Bark­ing mad

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

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