Dog in translation

IMG_1677_2-212x300On November 13th at the Tabernacle, as part of the How to Academy programme, Dr. Bruce Fogle will explore all sorts of dog issues – from what is the best breed to choose to why dogs bark at policemen –  and answer your specific questions in his talk, “Understanding Your Dog”. Helen Kirwan-Taylor takes a wry look at the shift in focus in Notting Hill toward our canine friends.

“Wilson, my two year-old Cairn Terrier, has developed the most embarrassing habit. When invited to stay with friends (friends with dogs, that is), he leaves behind a tidy row of turds. Before the days of Dognition (the rapidly growing study of dog cognition), we might have given Wilson the old smack across the nose, but today we dog owners are more evolved. We read books, watch documentaries, hire trained Dannies (dog nannies), heck, Wilson has even been to the Dog House (an exclusive boarding school with a long waiting list) in Wales with half of the Royal Family. Most of all, we have enlightened and famous dog experts like Dr. Bruce Fogle to help crack the complex canine code. “There are 16 or 17 messages in those turds,” says Dr Fogle, a leading veterinarian, best selling writer and television presenter who will be giving a talk, ‘How To Understand Your Dog’ next month for the new how to Academy in London. “They are a kind of text message to other dogs. The anal sack releases fatty acids, which say things, like (I am paraphrasing) “hey baby, I’m in heat” or “Wilson-the-stud-was here” or “I ate my owner’s leftover chicken sandwich for lunch”. Without the benefit of Dr. Fogle’s forty years of experience in the field, I might have thought Wilson needed psychoanalysis (every day for the rest of his life) but now I understand he is handing out his version of a Smythson calling card. We are all dog obsessed. You can’t walk down the street without being barraged by dog buscuit bakers, groomers, walkers, trainers, nutritionist, stylists, Doga (dog yoga) teachers (it takes three months to get a blow-dry for your dog in this town). Then there is the Dogebrity issue: most famous people seem to have one. Wilson is friends with Simon Cowell’s dog and knows Roman Abramovic’s enough to say hello. You don’t need friends when you have a dog—they make them for you. Why are dogs the so big? I have my theories. We don’t go to church to feel part of a community anymore (we go to the park instead). We’re living longer (so we need more company). We’re having children later (or not at all): dogs fill a void. The anthropomorphisation of our hairy friends means dogs actually look like children now. We’ve even created fusion breeds so we can order them a la Carte. All this helps to explain why dogs, are well, the new children. Dogs never grow up and forget to call home (or worse, move home for the rest of their lives). Dogs can’t live without you (it is a fundamental human need to be needed). “There is a new attitude towards dogs today for sure, and I would also say dog owners are far more bonded to their dogs than they used to be “says Dr. Fogle. “When a dog dies you see profound grief.” P.s. dogs are already being cloned (‘Snuppy’ the first cloned dog, was born in 2005). There are already 8 million dogs in the UK and the number is growing. It’s about companionship partly but we also know that people with dogs are 1) happier, 2) fitter, 3) live longer and 4) have lower blood pressure. “When you pet a dog, your blood pressure goes down, but so does his,” says Dr. Fogle. What you won’t hear Dr. Fogle talk about is dominance theory (the idea that a human has to be the head of the pack). “That was disproved in the 1980s. Today it’s all about positive re-enforcement,” he says. What I have also found (and Dr. Fogle agrees) is that what works on dogs usually also works on husbands and children.”

At How to Understand your Dog on the 13th November, you can also explore what to buy your Wilson for Christmas (from art to fashion) and collect your Doogie Bags. P.s. Dogs are welcome (of course).

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