Two days a week, Aimée goes to ring craft.
I usually sit at the side of the main hall, waiting for the coffee break, just watch and sketching.
It’s a world I had never seen before, and would never have had any exposure to, except that Poppy is rather fond of herself.
Aimée is extremely knowledgeable about dogs and plans to become a canine behaviourist. A great number of her friends are trainers, breeders, behaviourists, doggy day care, and other related professionals. Like attracts like, I suppose. Most of my friends are artists, with plans of world-domination.
Throughout my childhood, we always had a dog. They were all rescues, usually labrador-cross-maniac.
When Aimée moved in with me (something she did rather quickly and, really, without me noticing. She just asked me over to hers one day and then filled up my car with her stuff), she brought her labrador, Tara.
Tara is a brilliant dog. Of course, I was pleased to have Aimée move in, but it helped that she brought Tara.
My jack russell terrier, Doobie, was about three years old when Aimée and Tara moved in. It took a few days of jostling for the dogs to learn to get along. Now, they’re devoted to each other. The proof of this – they seek each other out when the little dogs try to play with them. Doobie tolerates the little ones quite well, being closer to their height he doesn’t have much choice but to put up with their cheerful instability.
Tara growls at them. Not being the right size to play, she displays her disappointment in them through a series of grumbles.
Aimée had always wanted a miniature dachshund. They’re everywhere at the moment, used in every advert, starring in soap operas, wearing hot-dog play suits in TV inserts. Aimée had wanted one since early childhood, but the breed happened to fall into fashion just when we got one. Just for myself, I am neither follower nor leader. I’m more bumbler.
Anyway, in a weak moment, somehow determining that two dogs were not enough, we went to see Poppy.
Poppy was a cute little thing, round-headed and bat-eared. In her sleep, she pushed her front paws together, and then drove them down the length of her chest. Like praying, and pushing the demons away.
Doobie does it too.
Maybe they’re trying to tell me something.
As a puppy, we took Poppy to a few obedience classes with Doobie. We stopped that when the trainer told me that Doobie’s hyperactivity and psychopathic distaste for other dogs was due to the fact that I was not confident enough with him. I would have taken that on the chin if it was deserved. Instead, I took him to the vet, who diagnosed a serious spinal problem.
“Timid”, my bulbous backside.
Thankfully, Poppy had aced every class. For general dog behaviour, she’s at professional standards. As she grew, it became very obvious that she was a beauty and the word ‘Crufts’ started coming up in general conversation.
That’s what Ringcraft is, you understand. It’s show-training. Like community level Crufts in various village halls, dotted around the countryside.
There are skills to be learned for showing a dog. I tend to sit to one side and sketch out ideas for novels but from what I’ve seen, ringcraft involves a lot of trust between dog and human. Yes, there’s learning to walk around in a triangle, walking up and down the hall and teaching the dog to stand on a table and be felt up by an examiner. There’s more to it than that.
The handler has to learn to walk in the best way to display the dog. The dog has to walk happily, with its head up. The dog has to be comfortable enough to stand on the table (or for larger breeds, away from the table) and submit to having their ears, eyes, teeth, feet, all looked at, and a general feel of body shape made, by someone they don’t know. Someone who may wear a lot of confusing aftershave. Or perhaps, not enough.
You could have a beautiful dog, an excellent example of its breed, but if it doesn’t enjoy showing, it’s not worth putting the dog through it.
Looking around the room, there’s every breed I’ve ever heard of, plus half a dozen others. People, carrying brushes in their pockets, neatening up a few errant hairs, chopped up treats of all descriptions carried with poo bags in hidden pockets.
The sweet smell of shiny people who’ve made an effort – mixed with the walking-fart of a large dog who’s not long had dinner. The constant opening and closing of the main door, as various dogs are brought in and out for a pee. The welcome click of the boiled kettle, announcing the imminent arrival of tea, coffee and a break.
A lot of them are breeders, some have over a dozen dogs. The devotion they have for their animals is quite something. It’s obvious, even from behind my notebook, that they delight in their dog’s enjoyment of seeing other dogs and being the focus of all attention in the room.
There’s a saying they have here. That no matter where your dog places, you always know you’re taking the best dog home.
I just plain like that.