This week’s ‘Stare of the Dog’ takes a reflective view of my faithful and furry friend from the rear view mirror of the car. It seemed appropriate to focus on vehicles because after all, it is a near certainty that you’ll be ferrying your mutt some place or other during its lifetime. Unless that is, you aim to go medieval, and simply drove the family pets around the countryside on foot like a Tudor serf.
In Dudley’s case, my wife and I made sure from the start that he would grow to love cars. Not in the Jeremy Clarkson sense though you’ll understand. The very last thing anyone wants on a long drive is a curly haired oaf sat behind them, spouting brash nonsense and threatening to turn every mundane journey into a race involving a plane, a speedboat and a hamster on a unicycle. No, we just envisaged training our hound to enjoy car journeys in a way successive family pets from my own childhood had not.
On that point, I remember well the halcyon days of a bygone era, of life in Britain before health and safety zealots took over. Days when a dog could be bundled into the back of a car with less regard for safety than a mafia kidnapping. Indeed, I recall one pre-holiday trip to the kennels made by my Dad. With more animals on board than Noah’s Ark, he set off confidently with his ragged and eclectic band of travelling companions – a large, free roaming German Shepherd, a cat in a cardboard box and two gerbils rattling about in a poorly fastened glass cage. The whole setup seemed fatally flawed from the outset, with hindsight and naturally, the cat escaped the confines of the cardboard box as you’d expect and the whole thing descended into farce.
So with Dudley, it was always going to be different. From leaving the breeder on his inaugural trip, intensive car training would be a feature of life for our chocolate coloured charge. After a couple of journeys, it was going so well that a misplaced confidence in his behaviour led us to leave him on the floor in front of the passenger seat to his own devices. Burrowing like a working terrier, his arse would vanish under the chair as his front end fought tenaciously beneath my wife in a resolute bid to locate any ‘car food’ that should happen to have made its way over time to the bowels of the vehicle. A lesson was quickly learned and Dudley was dispatched, from that day onwards, to the boot space, placed initially in his puppy crate and latterly, behind a dog guard since he outgrew the cage. And whether he’s sleeping or counting bumper stickers on passing trucks, he’s quiet and calm and that feels like a training victory to me.
Then things changed. Having turned Dudley into a suave and debonair traveller happy to spend time in the car and to be going places, I foolishly assumed that the mission had been accomplished. That is, until I realised he wasn’t the slightest bit interested in taking to the car himself. In the development stages, I was happy to tolerate his inability to jump into the back unaided, simply putting it down to his size and or age. Now he’s nearly two years old and wights 35k, I’d sooner he did it himself quite frankly. Every time I bench press his sorry ass into the car, I feel like he’s mocking me, as I am well aware he’s quite capable of making his own way in. He’s not always that keen to get out unaided either. Then that’s precisely his problem, he has a contrary streak in him wider than the Mississippi. In more paranoid bouts of introspection, I have even begun to suspect he may just be opposed to my driving. It’s not the best I’ll admit, but then he is two seats back from me and snoring most of the time. I just don’t get his problem.
Then I suppose I shouldn’t grumble, for like many a dog, he gets sandwiched into the most unlikely recesses in the name of a weekend away from home. In fact, there’s a standard routine that all families follow when packing a car. Get the kids in first, before injecting every available cavity around them with clothes, shoes and journey snacks. Next fill the boot space with all the bulky, square items. Leave a space approximately the size of a Jack Russell above the contour of the wheel arch and then proceed to entice a Rottweiler sized pooch into it, before jamming the door closed with a force normally reserved for testing aircraft. On one recent excursion to Anglesey, myself at the wheel, this strategy was executed with aplomb. Taking an overly speedy approach to a sharp corner later on in the journey resulted in poor Dudley being buried under several tonnes of luggage.
The moral of this story is simple enough upon reflection. Get your hound well used to the car from an early age to avoid stresses and anxieties as we did. And to secure your canine cargo safely and sensibly thereafter, get a travel crate. Now if you’ll excuse me, I had better go and buy one for this rather forlorn looking beast.