Dogs have been man’s best friend since time immemorial, and as such have barked, bounded and tail-wagged their way through our stories probably as long as people have been telling them. A cat will certainly curl up on your lap and keep you warm while you’re immersed in a good book (if you’re lucky – my two were far too aloof/temperamental/downright vicious to engage much in that sort of endearing behaviour) but a dog will come to the bookstore with you, bounce around and charm all the booksellers while you’re there, carry your purchase home for you (if they’re VERY well trained!) and THEN curl up with you while you read. Or, in my dog’s case, sprawl out on the sofa and somehow manage to take up nearly all of it even though he’s not that big, leaving you squashed in a corner and half dangling over one arm in an attempt to secure the last remaining square inches of space for yourself. Where indeed would we be without our canine companions? Jerome K Jerome’s three men sailed down the Thames but their voyage would have been unthinkable without Montmorency the fox-terrier. Argos proved to be the ultimate epitome of love and loyalty when he was the only one to recognise his master Odysseus after an absence of twenty years. And of course the Famous Five would have been the Famous Four without Timmy. Every now and then a slightly less adorable dog pops up amongst the heroes – who could forget Bill Sykes’ menacing dog Bulls-eye, a canine reflection of his master’s vicious nature? For the most part though, dogs are the warm heart of fiction just as they are the heart of so many of our lives. They’ve also inspired countless poets over the centuries; Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “To Flush, my Dog” and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Power of the Dog” can both make me well up at the drop of a hat, but one of the loveliest and most astute little dog poems is by Ogden Nash:
“The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I’ve also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.”
On a more serious note, when we were fist considering getting a dog we read countless books offering wildly different theories on dog behaviour and training. Initially it was because we were dog-owning newbies and had absolutely no idea what we were doing; however, for me it grew into a genuine fascination with dogs and their world that I still have today. Out of all the books I read on the subject my favourite is “In Defence of Dogs” by John Bradshaw – and the reason? Because after a lifetime of studying canine science, he concludes that the dogs we love today aren’t, as some have suggested, wolf-like creatures who are in a constant battle to become dominant over their human owners, but rather companionable, affectionate animals who want nothing more than to be part of a loving family group. If you have even the tiniest bit of affection for dogs, I’d really recommend you read it.
This post is dedicated to my beautiful dog Henry, who finally left us a few days ago after almost fourteen joyful years. I’m raising a glass of raspberry gin to him right now!