I have two gorgeous flat coat retrievers; they are the cutest bundles of moulting hair you have ever seen. The elder, Magic, has always been mischievous. She has developed an appetite for frozen chips and self-raising flour, and after devouring both of these, she flashes her ‘puppy dog eyes’ and stares with such an innocent little furry face that nobody could possibly find her guilty of such a crime.
Well, that’s if it wasn’t for the fact that she was shivering hyperbolically and her black fur was coated white, as was the kitchen floor. Assuming Magic was a lost cause, and that no expert would be able to tame her habit for finding the most inappropriate crotch in the area and going on to nuzzle in it, my mum and I decided I had to take Teddy (the youngest) to puppy training classes. It seemed the perfect idea, I’d have an immaculately behaved hound and it’d be a great way for the three of us to meet new people.
So, lesson one, the church hall of a small farming village, I was the youngest of my classmates by some considerable margin, everything about it was suitable for a scene in Emmerdale. Margaret, the ‘dog behaviourist’ who was about 100 years old, greeted us and Teddy was given a brief assessment that entailed a few basic commands. Needless to say, this landed us in the beginner’s quarter with the other low achievers and their owners. Suddenly the whole atmosphere seemed somewhat political, and the hierarchy was distinctly clear simply from the area we had each been assigned. Some of these people knew full well their dogs could sit, heel and fetch, so their public displays of handbag sized poodles spinning in circles and standing on two legs were by no means necessary, it’s puppy training, not advanced animal ballet. Not that I was competitive, nor was I secretly urging Teddy to recognize my telepathy in wishing him to savage the smug bitches in the advanced corner (and yes, the ambiguity is deserved).
Meanwhile, Teddy was busy being his darling self in trying to make friends with our neighbours, or, as I saw them, the opponents. Luckily, just as we thought he was letting the family name down again by being overly energetic and troublesome, his new friend Sam, a mongrel of some description, had allowed his puppy to entangle himself in his extendible lead. Ha! A triumph in sabotage, well done Teddy, I’ve never been so privately proud of my boy, he earnt a Bonio. BIG mistake. Margaret caught my mum feeding the dog a dry biscuit; breaching a fundamental rule of puppy school, ‘Thou shalt reward thy dog with love and affection, and never with bonio’, all credit goes to Margaret for the witty Biblical allusion and there were, of course, ten of these such rules. In her outrage, Margaret, with the nicest possible manner of cruelty, a quality that only old ladies can master (think Daphne on eggheads) hurriedly scribbled down an extensive recipe from memory. Seeing me as the younger and weaker target, I was presented with the steps for the ’30 minute tray-bake tripe-cake’. A cake, made of tripe, for dogs. You must be kidding, there’s no way I’m baking for the animals when they’d just as happily chow down rat poison (unfortunately, a true story, evidence of their unsophisticated palates and strong stomachs). She even tried to get Teddy on her side, feeding him a slice of her home baked delicacy, which he predictably devoured, deceitful mutt.
I thought dogs were supposed to be loyal? On her insistence, I reluctantly took the recipe and heard myself promise it was my priority for the weekend. For the remainder of the session, our boy continued to cause upheaval. We were made to remain in the ‘sit and stay’ corner until he would do as he’s told for 30 seconds, and with a little cheating (more forbidden biscuits) we left Sam and his hopeless pup behind, skipped the weaving between poles stage and advanced to the ‘tunnel’ because it looked the most fun. Teddy, however, didn’t like the look of it at all, and intelligently refused entry to the canvas tube as he wasn’t confident of his safety inside it, or where it lead. After causing a queue of tutting, self-righteous, condescending owners and well behaved animals; Margaret came to our aid by instructing me to coax him through by sitting at the other end of the tunnel. ‘More fool her’, Teddy thought, and repeatedly sprinted round the outside of the tunnel to meet me. I’ve bred a logical thinker, excellent. After ten and a half hours in puppy time, the class was finally over. The full course lasts eight more weeks, after which, if his behaviour was acceptable, Teddy would earn himself a certificate signed by Margaret. Having skived the last few weeks, I’m not sure it’s a realistic ambition for us. Besides, he’s far more fun than any of the pretentious pooches who dream of Crufts. His interests lie elsewhere; he devours cow pat, chases butterflies and has incredible talent for stealing from the kitchen table when nobody’s around. We might have got absolutely nowhere with the pets’ behaviour from our class, but if anybody has an appetite for tripe cake, I make the best there is.