Dog-sitting for dummies, chapter 1

The Notorious D.O.G

The Notorious D.O.G

He’s darting around, a russet dash of fur in the dark among the trees. Running the energy out of himself in a familiar, safe spot. Or so I think. How naive. Suddenly, he heads for the wall. Both paws up, ready to hop it. “No!”, I shout. “Come here!”. He turns, gives me what can only be described as a withering look over his shoulder, drops back the ground with a shrug and heads for a tree. A tactic of distraction, an attempt to pacify The Human.

Then he’s off again, back to the wall and over it, onto the path and into the night where smells await. He takes one last look at me, grins widely and heads off up the road on a solo adventure, leaving me powerless, frustrated, worried and guilty, standing alone in the middle of a darkened green. My frozen brain is a flurry of activity as I simultaneously wonder how to get the @$$%#£” dog back, pray he doesn’t cross the road, berate myself for even trying to walk him alone and swear blindly for the thousandth time that I’ll never mind him again. Ever ever. Ever.

But I’ve learned, as the bemused part-time foster human to a beautiful and lovable rogue of a dog, that running after him turning the air blue is not the right tactic. Instead I shout his name once, crouch down in the dark and hide. Trying to ignore the common sense side of my brain – which is pointing and laughing at the sight of me on my hunkers in the mud, wind and rain on one of the coldest days of 2013 so far – I muse that the job of dog-owner is an acquired taste which must have passed me by when god was handing out personalities.

I tend to get an odd reaction from society when I say I’m not a dog-lover. It seems to be akin to admitting to eating horse (it’s delicious) or to watching Jeremy Kyle and the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (I’ve never watched either… ever… ahem). Dogs smell of dog. And please don’t tell me they don’t, all dogs smell of dog now matter how faintly or how much you wash them and I have a very sensitive gag reflex. There is only one dog I ever knew that smelled like the inside of a hoor’s handbag and that’s because its owner douses him in very classy French perfume, “parce qu’il le vaut bien”.

They also bark, whine, demand attention, need walking, drool, poo, pee, shed hair, destroy clothing and items of furniture, rub bums and ears into carpets and generally behave like dogs. So sorry, I’m not a dog person. It’s not that I wish harm on dogs, to the contrary:  I may never have intended on sharing my living space with one, but I feel indignation when I read of puppies being mistreated or dogs being abandoned on the sides of roads. I am a firm believer of dogs being for life, not just for Christmas.

This dawg likes corners and leaning against people

This dawg likes corners and leaning against people

This belief is in part responsible for how I’ve managed to find myself foster-dog-sitting a cheeky fireball of a spaniel, which will be known henceforth as the Notorious D.O.G. (He made it clear by means of door insulator chewing last week that he did not give permission for his real name to be disclosed. I’ll honour his polite request for fear of retaliation on his next visit.)

D.O.G is a beloved extended family dog whose very competent master is often required to travel to lands far far away. Options are pretty limited for his care in times like these. Flatmates can look after dogs but I can imagine it’s quite an imposition. Kennels are a solution of course but that’s where the hard shell of my heart starts cracking a little for the poor mite of a dog who finds himself facing boarding school (or prison) on a regular basis. They are also expensive.

In a sense, D.O.G is a relative of the small and fluffy sort. He’s like family. He’s also got the cutest wisp of punky hair on his head which can be shaped when he’s chilling out, the fluffiest of red coats, the loudest of daytime conference call background snores and the funniest sleeping positions including the “on the back with a paw in the air” move, designed to melt the heart of the unsuspecting dog-sitter in the hope of yielding a chew-treat.

So eventually, I relented. I put my fear of smells, hairy carpets and dog doo-doo away and agreed to take him home and dog-sit him as a trial, with the bulk of the minding assigned to me during the week as I work from home. It’s been an adventure ever since, which I will try to describe from time to time as the most clueless of dog-sitters ever to have seen the light of day.

The thing about dogs (maybe it’s just the combination of this one and me) is that they test the limits, push the boundaries and pretty much walk all over every exposed nerve the body of the non-natural dog-whisperer. Lesson number one was: be firm. Be consistent. A bit like having a toddler so, yeah? Super and here was I thinking I was child-free for a reason.

I will honestly admit that I dreaded having to open my door to a dog. It’s not been easy. But doing so has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. This dog, as unruly and energetic as he may be, has highlighted some interesting things about myself and others, opened my eyes to another world and taught me new skills.

Such as the “hide and seek” skill, which is now working as I lie in wait. In the dark. In the green. By myself. How on earth did I end up here? Argh! Suddenly there he is, seeking me out in the mud as he knows I’m his ticket to dinner. And so back he trots, fully aware of having misbehaved but having not crossed the road nor run off into the night. Small consolation, but progress nonetheless. He’s safely back on the lead, I have walked him alone far from home and am returning one tired dog who will sleep at night and not attempt to dig up the carpet. Mission accomplished. Until tomorrow.

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About monicaheck
Monica Heck is a bilingual freelance writer and journalist based in Dublin, Ireland.

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