This week’s ‘Stare of the Dog’ is a warm and embracing tale of snoozy delight, as I explore the joys of the sleepy cuddle. Despite being a vaunted commodity of my wife, I must confess to being somewhat ignorant of the concept before Dudley’s arrival, though needed little encouragement to get on board with it thereafter.
There are of course plenty of naysayers out there, all offering a prophecy of damnation and doom to anyone who seeks to treat their pet pooch in such an overly affectionate way, but I say live and let live. And whilst I can’t speak for all woofers, in Dudley at least, I have a dog that seems perfectly happy to embrace a bit of bonding from time to time. Indeed, far from being bashful and reticent in matters of the human cuddle, quite the reverse is true and I regularly have to mount a military style defence to keep him off my armchair.
Before he became such a great lump of a thing, my fondest memories were the ‘puppy cuddles,’ those cherished and priceless moments when young Dud was too exhausted and drained to fight the urge to pass out on my chest. Whether in the garden enjoying the sun or on the sofa, listening to him snore whilst watching the metronomic rise and fall of his diaphragm was hard to beat. So much so that piercing looks of jealousy were often exchanged between my wife and I as he lay, fast asleep in the arms of either one of us. Before too long, kitchen timers were dug out and set up in an effort to ensure equity, a ‘cuddle custody spreadsheet was drawn up and plans were mooted to draft in a neighbour or two to act as independent arbiters. To poor Dud, we must have seemed like two ‘baron’ female penguins competing for the same chick, orphaned and lonely on some windswept Antarctic plateau.
Another reason young Dud became so popular during the puppy stage was the curious scent of biscuits that he and all his siblings wore with the potency of a French perfume house. Don’t ask me why or how this strange phenomenon occurs, I was doubtful myself to begin with. But sure enough, a definite biscuity aroma emanates from your average puppy that makes them even more adorable, almost like the smell from a steaming mug of Horlicks. That this scent is gradually replaced by an odour of wet carpet and rotten fish as your hound matures seems cruel and unnecessary, but there you have it. I guess you win some, you lose some.
With age, the sleepy cuddles have reduced in number but have by no means vanished. Whether it is his nature, or Labradors in general who knows, but he is more than happy snoozing on a human lap or two. His favourite trick is to abandon his own bed at regular intervals throughout the evening, instead seeking to climb up onto the sofa next to us for a snooze. He has a technique too. First show interest, shove a wet nose into a lap or chin. Then clamber halfway up with front feet only, as if testing the water ahead of jumping into a hot bath. Finally, when the reconnaissance is done, he hauls himself up awkwardly onto our laps, trampling over bent and twisted human limbs and settling like a light dusting of snow over a flower-bed, hugging every contour.
Sometimes though, he prefers the sofa without the cuddle. Taking umbrage with him on one such occasion after he had stolen the seat next to my wife in my absence, I thought I might try a spot of one-upmanship and so climbed into his bed. “See how you like it,” I thought as I contorted myself into place. My reverse psychology was misplaced however, or at least wasted on a brown Labrador. Instead of getting the desired reaction from the hound, he sat there staring at me with incredulity. I on the other hand was forced to retreat like a firefighter withdrawing from a raging inferno, beaten back by the fumes billowing out of the cotton fabric.
On the bed upstairs a similar pattern emerges also. As I lay beneath the duvet every weekend morning, fishing out brown hairs from my mug of tea and fending off wave after wave of drool laden attacks on the shortbread tin, I sometimes allow myself to wonder why I am foolish enough to put up with it. That is, until he settles down between my wife and I and starts to snore, first lightly and then with more gusto, working his way up to a rousing crescendo of thunderous rumblings.
When Dudley is at peace, all around us is at peace and very little seems wrong in our world. That is, until either one of us gets a whiff of a killer fart he’s had brewing overnight.