Last time we had two chapters together meeting other pack members and also learning about respect for our elders. Sam was passionate about one other thing in his life that even knocked sausages into second position…. well perhaps not!
Chapter Eleven – Favourite Walks in Ireland
Let me explain first and foremost what a good walk is all about. Unlike humans we dogs rely heavily on our sense of smell when we are out walking and you also have to understand that territory is everything to us.
For the first six weeks in my new home I was restricted to the garden of the house until I had received my final vaccinations against diseases that could harm me. It was important that I did not come in contact with other dogs, particularly those who might not have been vaccinated.
There are certain rules that need to be followed when staking out one’s own territory, and one of the most important is that one does not do any business near ones bedding, as this in not hygienic. I have met dogs in the last ten years who are confined to small spaces for long periods of time and they have no choice but to use the same space as their bathroom. They find this distressing and it stresses them.
I was lucky, in as much as I had my own safe enclosed space in the garden that Henry and I shared from time to time with Sally, who used to lie on the sun bed with us. Later, I also had the whole garden of two acres to play in. However, apart from marking the boundaries of the garden with wee which is acceptable, any other business had to be done in strategic places outside those boundaries, to notify any other packs in the area that there was a new boy on the block.
From the first time I was allowed out of the garden onto the lane that we lived on, I never pooped in my own territory again unless I was absolutely desperate or unwell. It simply is not done.
Anyway, during the time that I was restricted to the garden, Sally had been playing with me on a long lead. The leash was housed in a casing that extended to about twenty-six feet or could be shortened so that I walked by her side. This gave me the freedom to roam and sniff to my heart’s content, but when it was necessary I could be brought back safely. Here I am with my first harness and lead.
We practiced these manoeuvres in the garden, and when we finally went out into the lane I was already trained.
Although it was a narrow farm lane there was quite a bit of traffic at certain times of the day and Sally trained me to sit on the grass verge whenever we heard a car coming; allowing it to pass safely by us.
I had been viewing and smelling the lane through the gate for a couple of weeks and was very excited by the prospect of enlarging my territory. Apart from Henry I had not met any other animals and he had told me that there were several along the lane who were worth getting to know.
He warned me about two feral cats that tended to lie in wait for small rodents and any careless birds that might land. Also about a dog who lived around two bends who was not right in the head. Apparently he had been hit by a car when he was a couple of years old and he now had a terrible temper.
To begin with, and because I only had short legs, we only went to the bottom of the lane towards the main road. The smells sent me into overdrive as we passed the five or six houses that lined the lane. Each had its own distinctive scent, and inexperienced as I was, I knew that there were different humans and animals within each of these territories.
The most fascinating smells came from the house that was nearly opposite ours and the people who lived there owned greyhounds. They used to breed them in my early days and at certain times a tantalizing aroma would waft into my territory. Although I did not quite understand why, I would become very excited and boisterous.
When Sally saw that I was well behaved on the lead and was able to walk a little further, we started getting into the car in the mornings and heading out to the beach which was about two miles away. The sand stretched for miles and miles and we were both as fit as a butcher’s dog within a few short weeks.
This was a wonderful adventure as there were a mixture of grass covered dunes and nearly four miles of wide sandy beach. Other owners would be out with their dogs and I was introduced to lots of new friends over the next five years. My favourite friend was a little white terrier called Abby who would see me from miles away and come rushing up to me.
As I got bigger it got more difficult for her to reach my nose to kiss so she would have to jump up and down to get a good lick in. She would run in and out of my legs in excitement and try to get me to chase her. She was much faster than I was but I loved our games. I still miss her today.
I am afraid that I did continue to be very particular about food and drink even when out for a walk. I like many dogs believe that stagnant water can be harmful to you. This is why, from a very early age, I would always head for the side of the house where the garden hose was stored to be given a drink from a running tap. Of course Sally and David would often take advantage of the situation and begin to spray me with water which was slightly annoying. However, one of my favourite games was to snap at the spray as they swung the hose around getting thoroughly soaked in the process.
Anyway, I am side-tracked again. When out for a walk of course there was no handy hose but Sally and David used to carry water bottles for their own use. It did not take me long to establish with gentle nudges and the use of the “tongue hanging out side of mouth, obviously I am thirsty” technique to train them both to let me drink from the bottles myself.
For some reason they were reluctant to share with me, I cannot imagine why, so I ended up with my own bottle and at frequent intervals during my walks, especially in the heat of the Spanish sun I would keep myself hydrated.
I was really lucky that when we moved to Spain I would be able to enjoy the same sort of beach on the south coast and for me there is nothing like a walk by the sea with the feel of sand between your toes.
So in the mornings it was the beach and in the afternoons we would go out in the lane. Each week we would walk a little further until at six months old I could walk for an hour easily.
I was never afraid of being in new surroundings and did my best to leave my mark to let other users know who had visited. I considered the lane to be an extended part of my territory and as there were only one or two dogs who walked it regularly it became a competition as to who could mark the most. At that time I was still peeing like a girl and it was not until I was eighteen months old that I suddenly found myself cocking my leg in the air. This allowed me fantastic opportunities to pee higher and higher over other dogs’ markings and I was confident that I was top dog in the area.
That was until the day that the mad dog on the second bend on the lane escaped from his garden and attacked us.
We were walking along minding our own business but I have to say that I found it hard to resist marking the hedge on the bend where the dog lived because he used to go wild and race up and down desperate to get out and show me who was boss. I had passed that way so many times that I was very blasé about the whole thing. After all he had never got through the fence before and young and cocky as I was I enjoyed winding him up.
We had just passed the edge of his territory and had left him barking in our wake when we both heard the sound of wood cracking. We turned and looked behind us and were horrified to see a large black dog, with teeth bared, charging up the road at us.
I had been on an extended lead but Sally rushed towards me and shoved me between her legs and faced the oncoming dog. He ignored her and leapt on me trying to drag me out and under him. Sally was screaming at the top of her voice hoping that the owner would come out of the house that was a good fifty yards away but she could see that despite my thick fur I was going to be killed if she did nothing.
Sally would never harm any animal but she knew she had no choice and pushed the dog hard in the side. He yelped and moved away but decided that he was not going to give up. He leapt in the air and as he did, Sally grabbed him by the ruff and threw him into the ditch. I do not know where she got the strength but the dog obviously decided that this combined with the shouting and screaming that she was doing meant that she was a larger and more dominant dog than he was. Addled though his brain was he retreated back into the safety of his home and we ran past his territory to the safety of our own stretch of lane.
Shaking we went into our garden, locked the gate and retreated to the house. Sally knew the owner of the dog by sight and when she next saw him in the lane in his van, she stepped into the road and stopped him. She told him in no uncertain terms that she would report him and his dog unless he assured her that he would ensure that the dog was completely unable to get out of the garden again.
True to his word he reinforced the entire fence around his house and in fact a year later became our gardener and a good friend. He loved his dog despite him being vicious with strangers and other dogs and Sally understood how difficult it would have been for him to have the dog put down.
Despite the new security for the dog it was two years before I would even go past that corner, and I always stopped and turned around. Even when I was much older I would only go past the bend if David was with us reckoning that as the Alpha male of our pack he would only pass if it was safe to do so.
I am happy to say that has really been the only time that I have found another dog to be simply vicious. As I have got older I have found that I am getting a little intolerant of uppity youngsters myself and in my own youth I was told off from time to time by older dogs who wanted to teach me some manners. It is true to say that their bark was worse than their bite and I am grateful to them for educating me about social graces.
Over the next five years I got to explore a lot of Ireland as David was a mountain runner. We also went to Wales across the sea in a large smelly box, where I had to stay in the car alone. I was of course extremely brave, but just in case Sally left me with a pig’s ear to keep me busy. Our favourite places were sandy beaches where we could paddle in the water. Life was good.
As you can tell apart from that one unfortunate experience when I was young, I had a wonderful variety of walks each day, and I knew every inch of them intimately. After five years all this changed, and after spending at least half my life sopping wet, I was to move to a very different territory with strange smells and hot sun, and I will tell you more of that adventure later.
©sallycronin Sam, A Shaggy Dog Story 2009
Thanks for taking a walk with us and I hope that you will join us next time for my favourite car rides.
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As always I look forward to your comments.. thanks Sally