Jogging along the Rhine, sans canine interference
Bad Godesberg, West Germany — Any international jogger along the Rhine -- especially anyone who started his or her jogging career in Moscow -- quickly discovers that German dogs are different. Or, more accurately, inm different. It's a bit of West German sociology that has too long gone unreported, unheralded.
When I first came to the Rhine, I exercised my inbred caution. Dogs are legion along the river. German shepherds (of course).Dachshunds. Afghan hounds. Borzois. You name it, the Rhine has it. And in this hound-loving country, where anyone who wants to make an anti-German crack contrasts child-rearing and dog-rearing practices, I as an outsider had no wish to provoke an incident among the four-footed natives. I would slow to a guilty walk whenever canine paths crossed with mine.
I learned this technique in the Army Park in Moscow -- or rather, I was disciplined into it. A surprising number of Muscovites keep extraordinary large dogs in their extraordinarily small apartments; they get dog food subsidies if, periodically, they send their animals to a kind of police dog reserve duty.
As nearly as I could tell, the reserve training consisted mostly of downing anything that moved, and Moscow's German shepherds and Doberman pinschers took to this idea, so to speak, like a duck to water.
An example. Some American colleagues who achieved a certain renown by keeping a (nonsubsidized) St. Bernard in their little Moscow apartment were invited by russian friends to attend a dog show. At the show the judge made a provisional assignment of prizewinners and arranged dogs and owners to parade around him in this order.
No. 3 dog took umbrage at the ascendancy of No. 2, however, and as the No. 2 team was passing No. 3 to take its awarded rank, No. 3 dog took a good mouthful out of No. 2 owner's jacket.
Unplanned and even untoward incidentS occur in any dog show, you say. But wait. Neither the No. 2 owner, nor the judge, nor my colleagues' hosts seemed upset by the turn of events.
No. 2 owner perforce ceded his jacket to No. 3 dog altogether, shucking it off and continuing on his way as if nothing had happened. The judge, as I recall, promoted the No. 3 dog for its admirable display of temperament.
For my first few weeks in Bad Godesberg, therefore, I strolled and ostentatiously admired the morning mists of the Drachenfels (where Siegfried slew the dragon) whenever a loose dog approached. The ruse worked; not a single one attacked me.
It took a boxer to educate me. When I stopped running in his honor, he came over and sniffed me suspiciously -- and his mistress, with somewhat injured feelings, explained that he was curious only because I had ceased running. If I had simply continued with what I was doing, the dog would have found it all quite unremarkable.
When I encountered the boxer again the next day, I took it as a test of both trust and politeness. Not without misgivings, I played my proper role and kept running. It worked like a charm.The boxer ignored me -- and so have all the German shepherds and cocker spaniels ever since.
Since dogs and owners, as everyone knows, take on each other's characteristics. I find this all very encouraging in assessing the strength of democracy and forebearance in postwar West Germany. And in the spirit of mutual traveler's tips the world over. I pass along the world to any visiting joggers: Do bring your runnin g shoes, and maybe a dog biscuit or two.