Choosing your dog: race is better than kindness

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If you’re fine with a Springer, try a glass of Tokay

Choosing a dog does not happen without thought, although it clearly happens most of the time. My mailbox is overflowing with requests like this from Lewis:

Dear General

I was stuck at home and needed companionship during this pesky Covid thing and decided to get a dog for companionship.

I ended up with a Springer Spaniel because he looked cute with all that shiny, flowing coat and was about the right size for a house dog – but it was a disaster for both of us. .

He was out of control, biting visitors and destroying furniture, piece by piece.

I found an unsuspecting gravedigger to give it to – he’s probably buried it by now. Tell me how to find a smart, well-behaved dog like you.

Lewis,

Lurg.

Dear Lewis,

You’re a game man taking on a Springer – or any spaniel, for that matter.

Spaniels are bred to hunt game, furred or feathered, from dense bush, so they are generally short-legged, but quick and eager to sniff out their prey.

They look cute too, with their long wavy hair, feathered sideburns and tail, and big droopy ears. But these are not, in themselves, good reasons to buy a dog.

You have to start by looking at what they were bred for. Spaniels were specialized in the 17th century into water and land breeds.

We Chessies happen to have a bit of an Irish Water Spaniel in us, which gives me what the Missus calls “moofy feet” – absurdly large but also webbed paws, so I can swim like a duck .

So just a tiny bit of spaniel is all you need, rather than a whole.

A good spaniel can be cheerful and fun-loving, energetic and eager to chase birds and fetch things.

A bad one, unfortunately, can be very bad: they can be possessive, unruly, destructive, hopelessly disobedient, difficult to train and biting. Some strains of Springers – Cockers are worse – have a behavioral condition called “rabies syndrome” – where they will attack and bite without provocation.

On the other hand, they can be charming and eccentric. I remember this wonderful movie I saw with The Boss, Dean Spanley, about a vicar from Edwardian England (played by Sam Neill) with a fondness for Hungarian tokay; he befriends a grumpy old man who is bitter about the death of his eldest son during the Boer War.

The grumpy old man is played by Peter O’Toole, his son by Jeremy Northam and a naughty local “conveyancer” is played by Bryan Brown – quite the cast.

Either way, when the vicar exaggerates his affection for Tokay, he begins to twist his nose and behave strangely, claiming memories of his previous life – as a Welsh Spaniel. In this state, he displays strong feelings around food, other dogs, and shows admirable distaste for cats and pigs.

It’s hilarious – the kind of movie that puts spaniels in a whole new light so I’m not going to keep spoiling it: you can rent it on Youtube and The Boss and I recommend it, Lewis. It will make you feel much better after trying. Weft!

The general.

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