The sleeping-dog factor
THE dog very clearly had something to do with it. There, on a recent front page of one of the ''heavies'' (as the newsagents like to dub the two or three British newspapers that require a modicum of literacy from their clientele) was a photograph of ''Philip Pennington, a 33-year-old shepherd from Moulton, Northamptonshire, at a London press conference to celebrate his Open University Bachelor of Arts degree. He is with his collie, Tess.''
Indeed he is. Tess is gazing at her thoroughly bearded, smiling, crook-carrying master as though waiting for nothing more than a wink-signal to go and round up the photographers: Hers is such a look of total devotion, of unquestioning obedience - and of canine purpose. In a word, this dog is bachelor-of-arts material.
But of course it was the shepherd, and not the collie, who had just gained a degree, by what must surely be the most laborious and admirable of methods, that of the correspondence course.
Does her boss fully realize, I wonder, the extent and nature of Tess's contribution.
One doesn't need to talk with this stalwart man of the hills and dales of Northamptonshire to know for a certain fact that, as he pored of an evening over the awkward niceties of The Role of Houseflies in the Novels of William Golding or The Evidence of Imperalistic Ambition in the Style of Jackson Pollock's Work of the Middle Period (the photo caption does not mention specifically the subject of his degree), his dog was sound asleep at his feet (even, possibly, on his feet), dreaming of this and that.
She was asleep, that's the point. She wasn't awake and champing. She wasn't sitting bolt upright and staring at him. She wasn't getting up, turning round, sighing loudly and flopping down again. She wasn't whining, or standing disconsolately with nose pressed hard against the door. She wasn't placing her head firmly on his knee and wagging her other end. She wasn't, in a nutshell, wanting a walk.
There seems little doubt that in his excellent dog's disinclination to go for walks, lies, in considerable measure, the secret of his success degree-wise. The sleeping-dog factor is an important part of much academic brilliance. This can be deduced by simple reversal: How many theses remain incomplete, how many books still wait to be read, how many researches lie unresearched because the dog must go out? Mr. Pennington can indeed be grateful. His Tess's doziness is the direct result of his profession as shepherd. She gets automatically and overwhelmingly exercised by virtue of their joint calling, and, come the evening, she, like her master, wants a change and is only too happy to chase dreams instead of sheep.
And now let us consider the new arrival, our own recently adopted dog, named (after much consideration) ''Wolf.'' My wife and I selected him with the utmost care at that Dickensian institution in Glasgow, the ''Dog and Cat Home,'' because his quiet, unmoving, stay-at-home reserve greatly impressed us; not that either of us is thinking of taking a correspondence course, but just on the principle that what is good for studious shepherds is likely not to be all that bad for the rest of us. ''Wolf'' sat with his back pressed against the cage, stationary except for his head, which he averted, and then again averted. Reticence and placidity were written all over him. There was no way he was going to leap up and down, dance, and bark like the other dogs in the place, all so hyper-anxious to be out and about, yelling and screaming. Here, we felt positive , was our ideal - a mature, dignified, patient dog, happy to sit and think a lot , or even just to sit.
We were wrong, naturally. ''Wolf,'' it turns out, is keenly peripatetic. Each day, in fact, he reveals a fresh facet of his enthusiasm for ''The Walk.'' The only thing wrong with any walk in his eyes is that it comes to an end. Home's OK , but abroad's far better.
I am even beginning to wonder if we haven't named him too suggestively - having since discovered that wolves are noted for speed of travel and an inexhaustible capacity to cover great distances - 30 to 40 kilometers - in a mere night. Our ''Wolf'' breasts the wind with a not dissimilar determination, and is all too adept at disappearing beyond horizons.
I am aware that the ''Dog Walk'' is a practice that may well seem absurd to those of other cultural heritages. But here in Britain the general habit - if not the positive and decent duty - of dog-owners is that they accompany their dogs on the run. (Cats are different for some reason.) To shove a dog out the back door and let him exercise himself is considered churlish if not downright unkind. To emphasize the necessity of this national quirk, writers of dog manuals in Britain make much ado of The Walk. Recently, indeed, one Emma De'ath, writing in my wife's latest issue of Harpers and Queen, goes so far as to dictate the correct duration of walks for different breeds.
German shepherds, she commands, shall be given two daily walks of 40 minutes. Labradors must have one good walk a day of 60 minutes (three fields). Rough collies need a full 80 minutes and Irish setters, whose ''exuberance and high spirits should not be deprived of wide open spaces,'' should get no less. (Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers, and King Charles spaniels, on the other hand, are of the ''two-twenty-minute-walks-per-day'' class.)
Emma De'ath prints no figures for dogs of indeterminate or mixed parentage, so I suppose we mongrel-owners have to work it out for ourselves. Our own eager character looks like a mixture of German shepherd and Rough collie, with a patch of golden Labrador on the back somewhere, and has a red-setterish elan to his exuberance and high spirits. He is also a mottled pink, black and white round the chops, hinting at Dalmatian - a breed famous for running all day behind horse-drawn carriages.
In brief he is an 80-minuter throughout, and betrays not the faintest trace of Chihuahua, not the slightest fondness for sleep, and not even the most latent or subterranean inkling of an interest in Higher Education.