I recently read a book by the TV Gardener, Monty Don, called ‘Nigel – My Family and other dogs’. It is primarily a book about his very famous dog Nigel who regularly appears on ‘Gardeners World,’ the television programme that Monty Don presents. Naturally he throws in a little gardening and quite a lot about the other dogs in his life, so as these things interest me it was the perfect book. Reading it inspired me to share a few thoughts about our two dogs at Top Barn – Gus and Maisie.
There is a saying about dogs, ‘a Labrador is born half trained, but a Springer Spaniel dies half trained’. Gus and Maisie are Springer Spaniels – they are extremely energetic. They are not well trained and given half a chance will escape from the grounds at Top Barn and run and run and run. They are never happier than when running free and once on a scent our dogs are unstoppable! We have been in trouble with our local gamekeeper on numerous occasions, so now we have installed a double gate to ensure visitors close the outer gate before opening the inner. This is quite a pain for everyone but is essential to keep the dogs in.
The dogs are now just over five years old. Their mother and father are both working dogs, so early on we had a reasonable expectation to train them to work during the shooting season.
We have many shoots locally and a good gun dog club nearby, so at about age nine months we took Gus and Maisie to an evening training session. It is normal for new puppies to be a little disruptive, but such was the mayhem caused by ours that we never returned. Gus and Maisie are therefore not working dogs.
Gus is a male dog and he likes to be first to do everything. Maisie is a female dog and is generally submissive and better behaved. Together they roam around the grounds and terrorise any wildlife stupid enough to think it can come close and outwit them. I love the birds in our garden and it therefore disappoints me to find that Gus has climbed a tree or a large shrub to pillage a nest. He is so very determined.
Working together Gus and Maisie can often corner and capture or flush out rabbits, rats and game birds, they are after all hunting dogs. At dusk, they will patrol the gardens and lay motionless, gradually edging towards their prey. I mentioned in another blog the damage they have done to our chicken flock.
Keeping dogs like Springers is not all plain sailing and will be hard work, time consuming and costly! There are the basic things you must do every day – feeding, exercise, hygiene, welfare and general good animal husbandry. When you can’t take them with you, dogs will also need to be cared for during holidays and trips away. I hate to put the dogs in kennels, but sometimes it is the only option and fortunately the kennels we use are responsible and extremely caring.
For all their bad behaviour and the work involved keeping them Gus and Maisie are the most adorable dogs. Well natured with people and especially good with young children. I am happiest when working in the garden with the dogs pottering around with me. I can’t say they help me with my work but without them around I would be much less content and I would not swap them for the world.
The dogs occupy a very special emotional place in our family. The saying a dog is ‘man’s best friend’, referring to the close relationship, loyalty and companionship with humans is so true and something in my opinion very different from all other domestic animals. I’m not sure what I do to deserve such unstinting loyalty from our dogs but I’m grateful to have their affections.