Everybody I have ever met who owns a dog always maintains that their dog is the best the world has ever seen and they ‘connect’ (whatever that means) with their pet on a level that is unfathomable to the universe.
Yet the strange thing is, their dog has chewed half of their house to bits, pulls on the lead or jumps up when they come in from work. Now I don’t pretend to be the dog whisperer, but good old Cesar does speak a lot of sense. How can anyone think they are doing their dog a service when their ‘amazing pet’ is fully locked into all this unwanted behaviour? Even some of the better behaved dogs I’ve seen still beg for food or get up to some kind of mischief when their owner’s back is turned. I only know now, that no dog has to be like this, it’s not their fault. But I only think it is possible to arrive at this alarming realisation because of Hugo. Let me explain.
I have always wanted a dog for as long as I can remember. If I’m honest I think it was a product of being an only child and having to play football with the side of the house rather than an actual person. It made me crave the companionship of a furry friend. However, the main obstacle, as any fresh faced kid can appreciate, is Mum and Dad! Every time I asked, I was instantly fobbed off with the usual. ‘It will be left to me to walk it every day’ says Dad. ‘It will chew everything in the house’ says Mum. After years of protest and persistence with interim pets like rabbits and hamsters they came up with a cunning tale to put an end for it once and for all.
“My hopes and dreams of dashing in slow motion through high corn fields at sunset, stick in hand pursuing a slobbering golden retriever were officially over.”
They told me my Mum was allergic to dog fur. Oh no! My hopes and dreams of dashing in slow motion through high corn fields at sunset, stick in hand pursuing a slobbering golden retriever were officially over. So, what did any young boy do that’s just had his heart ripped out and fed to the wolves. I did some research. It took several trips to the library and a few tired conversations with nurses at the local vets to try and find a way out to eventually figure out how I could combat this conundrum. In the end and admittedly years later I didn’t really find out much apart from there was supposedly a difference between dog hair and dog fur, when in fact it turns out they are both the same thing.
Still refusing to accept my dream was over I began to research about different breeds. My thinking was if I could sell the breed to my parents and show that the dog’s traits matched our lifestyle then of course I could have one. We could even keep it in the garden or it could just stay in my room, I would hoover up every day so the fur wouldn’t make my Mum ill, no problem!
So I made a list of all the dog breeds I liked the look off. I narrowed it down to a few:
- German Shepard
- Hungarian Vizsla
- Bernese Mountain
I wanted a proper dog, you know anything below the knee isn’t really a dog, is it? Next, I made a list of what I wanted from a dog. For starters, I’ve always liked the idea of playing fetch, whether it be a stick, a football, a slipper, a tennis ball or a newspaper so I guess that was the first big thing. The other things were the fact we go to Wales a lot and do lots of different water sports so a dog that liked being wet and that wouldn’t get cold being in and out of lakes all day in late October was another influential factor. The last few points on my list were, I wanted intelligence, loyalty and endurance to keep going all day enabling me to take it running or in the mountains with me.
“A dog that liked being wet and that wouldn’t get cold being in and out of lakes all day in late October”
Now almost all of the above breeds are abundant in these traits, but for me the one that fitted the bill perfectly was the Labrador. Now this day and age pet shopping can be like going to the shop and buying whatever colour jacket you want; so the next thing to decide was what colour Labrador to get. It was easy enough for me, if you have ever seen the old war film Dambusters, the name of the black Labrador from that has always made me laugh. So that was it, my heart was set on a black Labrador.
The next step was to get the parents to go for it. No avail, my Dad complained that black Labradors were vicious as oppose to yellow ones and my Mum said that I didn’t realise how difficult having a dog was. So, back to the research. I watched endless dog whisperer shows and read countless books and it finally clicked that if I was strict and assertive with clear rules and boundaries I’d be able to get the best out of a dog and make him a model canine. I was hooked, I wanted an opportunity to become pack leader.
The first real job I had at college was working at Tesco. I hated every second of it and did everything I could to skive and did everything but what I was supposed to be doing when I was there. Nevertheless, I was earning money and started to save. I started looking for black Labrador puppies on the internet and found just what I was looking for, a bitch had just given birth to the second litter of her life, she was a working dog on a farm. The farther was a show dog that had been studded out. I had to go and see them.
I took myself off to the farm to visit the pups and fell in love instantly, the Mum came over first to greet me at the end of the driveway before the owners even did. Her tale didn’t stop wagging, she was so happy to see me even though she had never met me before. There were 6 black pups in the litter, 3 bitches and 3 dogs. They were all perfect. By this time, I had saved up enough of my own money to buy one of the dogs. I told my Mum one day we were going for a drive and the location was a surprise. Of course I took her to see the puppies. Surprisingly, she seemed to ease up a little bit, I mean who can say no to the little face of a black Labrador? Before she even had time to discuss it properly, the owner had put a little drop of red nail varnish on the boisterous pup that had wrestled his brother behind the couch and kept bounding over licking my face. mmm puppy breath! I handed a deposit over and we were going back 2 weeks later to pick up the puppy.
The two weeks flew by, my Dad still wasn’t very keen on the idea, but there wasn’t much he could do at this point. All he kept saying was ‘I’m having nothing to do with it and if it shits all over the place, its gone’. My Mum came in with me to get the puppy, we had a brief chat and the owner assured my Mum if we changed our mind, even years down the line they would take the dog back no problem. Secretly, I knew that was never going to be an issue. Off we went with our new puppy named Hugo. I’ve still no real idea where I got Hugo from. I still didn’t have a name for him when we pulled up on the drive to pick him up, it just sort of came out of nowhere when I saw him again.
Right from the beginning it was great, as you can see, the cutest little ball of blackness with me now forever. I love him so much. We got a crate and trained him to stay in that. The first night was a bit of a nightmare, relentless yelping, the first night in his life all alone. The second night he was much better but I ended up coming down to him at 4am to see what the fuss was all about, only to learn the inside of his crate and Hugo for that matter was caked in poop!
“The inside of his crate and Hugo for that matter was caked in poop!”
With the first couple of nights out of the way he began to settle down and sleep through with the exception of a toilet break around 1am. I suppose puppies are a bit like babies in that way. In line with this, I didn’t let his cuteness get the better of me and I used the principles I had learned from the books to create strict boundaries and rules each day rigorously implemented to provide as much continuity to his routine as my life allowed. I’m not going to lie, the first 2-4 months were bloody hard work. But boy did it pay off.
I believe it’s thanks to this military style training that growing up Hugo was a dream and a complete pleasure. He never once chewed anything in the house, toilet training only took him two wee’s on the carpet to learn. He doesn’t jump up on the couch, he doesn’t even come in the house unless invited, he sits and he stays, eats only his own food, and even only eats when he’s told. He waits patiently asleep in his box all day after his morning walk and has never pulled on the lead. Most of the time I don’t even use a lead. But above all he’s brilliant at fetch!! He truly is everything I ever dreamed off and more.
Now Hugo is 10 years old. We have been inseparable over this decade and he’s defiantly kept me young at heart. He is the best friend anyone could ever have, always there for me and happily wagging that tail relentlessly just like his Mum did the first time I ever met him. We have had so many good times, camping together, walking in the mountains, swimming in lakes and so many long walks all year round.
“With a sleepy Labrador dozing gently at my feet, I feel a bond with this dog that is stronger than any relationship I’ve ever had.”
The only regret is I haven’t documented our adventures together more when he was young and in his prime. That dog would go all bloody day and some! But I think thats just hindsight now I’ve got this blog up and running. Even as I sit here now hammering away on my keyboard with a sleepy Labrador dozing gently at my feet, I feel a bond with this dog that is honestly stronger than any relationship I’ve ever had. I am man enough to admit it brings a tear to my eye when I think about it. Animals are such humble creatures that offer unconditional love and its been a pleasure to share my life with ‘Dog‘ which he affectionally gets called more than Hugo these days.
I think its testament to Dog and how much a good dog does affect your life. My parents who initially wanted nothing to do with him now openly admit that they couldn’t be without him and the house feels empty when he’s not around. So much so, even my Dad now sheepishly asks when they go away for the weekend, ‘Can we take Dog please?’
So the next time someone is telling you how fantastic their canine companion is but can’t stop to chat because it’s dragging them down the street quicker than their legs can carry them. Just smile and think of Hugo because this boy is truly the best dog you will ever meet. I love you Dog.
In no particular order here is another collection of photos of the handsome lad just because this is all I really have of him. Credit to friends and family, having never really been much of a photographer myself!