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Trial and triumph in a dog's life

Scottish dogs stay busy asserting their rightful places among the wildlife outside and the animals indoors.

By Christopher Andreae / July 16, 2007



It's a busy time for our dogs – particularly for Bugsy, the one that's a sort of fluffed-up, would-be sheepdog. I am not really sure what "sort of" the other one, known as Muffy, is, but both of them have been endowed with richly mixed parentage and are all the better for it. We'll have none of your pedigree posturing round here, thank you very much.

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I say "busy" but, since we are talking about dogs, it is a purely relative term. "Busy" is a contrast to when they aren't dozing. Their capacity for dozing is fairly considerable. It seems that to be canine is to require as much sleep – in between brief and abandoned bursts of activity – as can be arranged.

Bugsy has somewhere inside him, I strongly suspect, a fully fledged sheepdog wanting to get out. But in our part of the city of Glasgow, there is a noticeable lack of authentic sheep for him to practice on.

So he makes do with what substitutes there might be at hand, and there are quite a few he considers good enough. Foremost is the cat. There are the wild birds. Then there are the regular (and probably several irregular) visiting squirrels, a mother and her young at the moment, we think, who – trapeze artistes extraordinaire – eat much more of the bird food outside the kitchen window than the birds do.

And there are the foxes, whose territory we like to think of as our garden, although, contrariwise, it is they who indulgently tolerate our occasional intrusions into their domain. They stop in their tracks and give us a good long stare as if to say, "Humans are becoming remarkably tame lately; they are almost domesticated." We have established a status quo.

But behind the window glass, Bugsy's sense of priorities is altogether different. A fox trots through the undergrowth – like a wild thing in one of Henri Rousseau's primeval forests of the imagi­nation – not caring at all if he is visible to the bark-monger. But the bark-monger does care, and, day or night, he lets out a succession of coloratura growlings and utterly indignant barks, high-pitched and piercing.

The other dog, slumbering contentedly and dreaming, as ever, of food, opens an eye in the hope that such a minimal gesture of support will prove sufficient. Often enough, it doesn't, though, and she feels obliged to rise from her recumbent posture and join in. The nonsense then becomes self-perpetuating and turns into a complex revolving dance routine of overwrought bravado and mutual canine entanglement.

Meanwhile, the fox has ambled away unconcerned.

It is strange the way that this dog never learns that all his vocal exertions meant to rout the offending wildlife have little effect. The squirrels take not the slightest notice, but nibble away at the birdseed, held between their front paws, without a care in the world. Let the dog bark, they seem to think. He seems to enjoy it. It's nothing to do with us.

Policing the cat indoors is another matter. A shepherd once told me that the sheepdog's instinct is to nip the sheep's back legs. This means that a good, trainable sheepdog is one that almost nips but can, with an order, be pulled back just in time. The sheep reacts but is not touched.

This is pretty much Bugsy's policy with Kit-Kat (the cat). Actually, Bugsy is generally a docile dog, sensitive to a cross word, always wanting to be your best friend.

But something about certain of Kit-Kat's behaviors proves to be just too much for him, and his usual discretion is thrown to the wind.

Two situations in particular bug Bugsy catwise.

The first is when the cat is up on the area around the sinks in the kitchen and happens to be munching a cat biscuit.

I have no objection to this. But Bugsy finds it an intolerable contravention of the law of Medes and Persians. Letting out a yelp of disapproval, he charges over and with his front paws up on the ledge, he darts at the cat with a clear intention to nip. We yell at the dog. The dog has second thoughts.

But the cat, a master of evasion, leaps adroitly to the ground and rushes upstairs. Bugsy chases him, but the cat retreats even faster.

With his honor satisfied, the dog turns downstairs again. He has made his point.

But the cat has the last word. He follows the dog craftily and takes a mischievous swipe with his front paw at Bugsy's retreating wagger.

The other time Bugsy feels the need to keep this errant feline in his place is when a dog walk is imminent. I think he has a suspicion that the cat would like to join us. The cat may, in fact, half believe he is a dog. So, just as the dogs and I are about to go out the door, Bugsy decides to rush at the cat with a harrumph.

The message is clear: "You are a mere cat. You do not go on dog walks. Don't even think about it!"

I say sharply, "Bugs! Behave yourself! Come on!" And the good sheepdog in him responds by immediate withdrawal.

But he still has a wicked glint of triumph in his eye. And so, defiantly, does the cat.

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