Living with three daughters, my dad’s favourite saying was: you don’t keep a dog and bark yourself. I could pour a perfect pint from the age of 7, I knew his exact measure of whisky aged 9 and could fill a pipe by the time I was 11. All useful skills that have, over the years, stood me in good stead (perhaps not the pipe filling, yet).
Now living with my own daughters, I find myself frequently using this phrase – it’s one of my favourites, along with: the floor is not a shelf and, what did your last slave die of, exhaustion?
When we got dog 1 and dog 2, I had high hopes for what we would be able to teach them to do for us. I found a: ‘Teach your dog tricks’ in a charity shop. In it, a woman wearing gold spandex (I’m not sure why) gives a step by step guide on how to teach your dog to do useful things, like fetching your paper and getting a can of beer out of the fridge. She even demonstrates how to teach it to empty the washing machine. My kids still haven’t perfected this trick, let alone the dogs – I feel there is little hope.
On the dog walk today, I decide to take a tennis ball. Partner is sceptical, as so far, the only balls they have shown much interest in are each other’s. I insist, however, inspired perhaps by the woman in spandex, that we need to persevere, and the ball comes with.
At a suitable point I show the dogs the ball and chuck it ahead, accompanied by the iconic doggy word: fetch! Surely, dogs are just born knowing this word? Not ours. Initially it looks promising, as dog 2 chases after the ball, with dog 1 in hot pursuit. You see, I say to partner, they love that ball. They both run straight past the ball. ‘Fetch!’ I screech excitedly and then a second time, somewhat desperately. They both stop and look at me, heads cocked to one side, as if they are saying: what, are you talking to us? Oh for gods sake, I think to myself, as I go and fetch the ball. I can’t find it, so am stomping around the undergrowth. Partner and dogs are all looking at me with cocked heads. Well don’t just bloody stand there you lot, I shout in an irritated voice. I see the fluorescent yellow of the ball and decide to try again. I lob the ball towards partner and dogs and it ricochets off partner. Dog 2 retrieves it – success! I wave my hands madly at him: leave it! Leave it! I shout determinedly. He turns and runs in the opposite direction, ball in mouth. I rejoin partner and we continue walking. Work in progress he says , putting his arm around my dejected shoulders. Keep a dog and fetch yourself, I think to myself, feeling that I have let my dad down.