Learning to accept that the dog is a dog and not a person.
We love our dog Betty, dearly. She is the centre of the whole family and the focus of everybody's attention. She is a spoilt little diva of a dog.
She is a black, three-year-old Tibetan Terrier, and a funny character. She can be loving and gentle, and then crazy and wild, all within a matter of seconds.
Tibetan Terriers are known to be very independent dogs, and when we picked ours from the litter she was the most independent of all the puppies, and so we only really have ourselves to blame in that we knew we were getting a very spirited little creature.
It took me 18 months to get her to develop good enough recall to allow her to run off-lead in the park, and even since she’s been released she‘a had her moments.
Betty loves to play and she thinks every dog she meets shares her enthusiasm. They don't. She charges up to them in her high-energy play mode, and is often met with growls or just plain ignored. I am constantly apologising to fellow dog owners about Betty's over-enthusiasm, and while most people are fine about it, a few don't like it and yank their dog away in disgust.
As dog owners, we do tend to project human qualities and characteristics onto our dogs, and then we are suddenly surprised when they go and act like dogs.
The other day I was out with the dog. It was a beautiful Spring morning, the local park was pretty empty and we were both having the most delightful walk. Betty was behaving herself and trotting by my side like a little, black, furry shadow.
And then, all of a sudden I looked down and she was gone. I panicked, but then notice a fur ball heading off into some nearby bushes. I shouted her name. Nothing. I shouted again. Nothing. So I ventured into the bushes to try and find her, but she was nowhere to be seen.
I really panicked. My mind ran ahead to the worst-case scenario and having to go home and tell the kids that their dog was dead, and the tears and hysterics that would follow, and then all the guilt I would feel for destroying the kids' lives.
I shouted louder and louder. Still nothing.
I decided the best thing to do was to return to where she had last seen me, in the hope that she would be sensible enough to try and find me there. I waited there for ages, shouting the whole time. My heart was pounding. I started rehearsing the conversation of breaking the news to the kids out loud.
And then, out from the bushes, seemingly from nowhere, she emerged. She saw me and ran towards me at speed, as if she had really missed me, and was so excited to see me. As she came closer I could see her face and body were covered in something. As she got even closer I could now smell it, she was covered in horse manure.
Now I was having a different conversation out loud. I was having to explain to my wife how our dog, who under my control, returned home smelling like a horse's ass.
As soon as Betty got to me, I put her back on the lead and did the only thing that I could think of doing, which was to roll around with her in the long grass and wipe off as much of the horse manure as I could do. Betty thought it was playtime as we rolled around, and I rubbed the grass all over her body and face, attempting to remove as much muck as I could.
A woman, with seven pugs, shouted over from a hundred yards away, "Oy what you doing?"
I looked up from the long grass, the dog lay on her back wanting to play more. I shouted back, "Excuse me?"
The pug lady retorted defensively, "What you doing to the poor thing?"
I immediately realised that what I was doing did look a little suspect to the untrained eye. So, I stood up, and piles of grass fell off me to the floor. I picked up the dog lead and wandered over to the pug lady. I was wrong about her - she actually had eight pugs.
"What did you mean what was I doing? Did you think I was hurting her?" I offered somewhat defensively.
"Well it did look a bit dodge," she said, tugging at a handful of her eight leads.
"I was wiping horse-shit off her face, to be honest," I offered as a perfectly feasible explanation.
"That's so weird," she said, grabbed hold of her eight leads and tugged on them as if she was Santa Claus commanding the reindeers, and then moved off at speed along the path, looking back occasionally with a bemused, concerned look on her face.
I stood there, a mix of emotions. Embarrassed at how odd the situation must have looked, and that this woman thought I was some sort of weird animal abuser, but also I was angry with the dog for abandoning me in the first place, in pursuit of a pile of horse poo.
On my rather sheepish walk back home, besides planning an explanation to offer to my wife, I realised that the dog is just a dog, and that's exactly what she should be.
As much as I would like to think she has human characteristics and thoughts, and that she loves me so much she would never do anything to jeopardise that love - she's a dog at the end of the day, and some dogs love eating and rolling around in poo.
Since that fateful day - known to me now as Poogate - I've kept the dog on a long, retractable lead, and life is so much better.