The man at the next table looked down at my fidgeting spaniel and shook his head. ‘Not trained,’ he said.
How rude. There I was, having a quiet drink with my friend at the local pub, when the man at the next table decided to give me some unsolicited advice about how to control my dog. There is nothing worse than unsolicited advice about techniques of cocker spaniel stewardship. As any cocker spaniel owner knows, if you manage to train one not to leap out of too many third floor windows, then you are doing well.
I have to admit, however, that the man at the next table had some right to intervene. Cydney was driving the pub mad by whimpering and wriggling at my feet. Actually, she was howling as though her lungs were fit to burst, and yanking so hard on her lead that she was pulling me across the floor on my seat.
The noise of the spaniel howling and the chair scraping across the flagstones and me gasping ‘Oh, Cydney, please!’ every few minutes was rather ruining the ambience of one of Surrey’s most modish gastropubs (clientele include Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and there is often a queue for the helipad).
Also, it was quiz evening, so the howling did rather interfere with the compère calling out the questions. But you have to understand that Cydney has sat through a lot of these quizzes and is beginning to get a bit hacked off.
Yet again, we were being asked for the number of bones in the human body, the number of states in the US beginning with M, and the number of keys on a ‘standard’ piano — none of which we could remember, as usual. The number of numbers on a bingo board, the number of Spanish Steps and the number of ‘walking legs’ of a shrimp and it was all too much for her. ‘Howww-uuuuuuuuuuuuu-aaagh-uuur!’ she wailed, and she spoke for us all as she did so.
But the man at the next table didn’t see it that way. The man at the next table was in a party of people that included a visually impaired lady who had a guide dog. An impeccably behaved guide dog. A guide dog who lay at his owner’s feet and barely moved, except when Cydney pulled me across the floor on my seat and threw herself on top of it.
The man was something to do with guide dog training and had also tamed bull mastiffs, which was just about as impressive a thing as anyone on planet earth could do. He told us so after striding over to our table to make clear that my dog was what those in the dog-training business like him would technically term ‘not trained’.
I wanted to say ‘Ya think?’ in a sarcastic voice but I said, ‘You’re right, but she’s still a baby.’ Cydney thrashed and howled on the end of her lead, then broke free and threw herself on top of the guide dog, begging him to live a little.
‘Hmm,’ he said doubtfully. ‘I know from my experience that if you don’t train ’em, they’re trouble.’
‘Thing is,’ I said, ‘this isn’t a Labrador. It’s a working cocker. You can’t just tell them what to do.’
‘Nonsense,’ he said. And he straightened himself up, raised his hand like a Nazi salute and bellowed ‘SIT!’ at the top of his voice. It was terrifying. My friend and I had been lounging in our seats but we both sat bolt upright at his command.
Cydney, however, gave the impression that she had not even noticed Adolf Dogtrainer. She was still rolling on her back on the floor.
‘UP!’ he yelled furiously at her. She batted the Lab with her paws. ‘NOW!’ She stood up and turned her back on him. ‘SIT!’
She looked over towards the bar. ‘It’s no good,’ I tried to explain to him. ‘She doesn’t do sit.’
‘SIT NOW!’ he yelled. Still standing, Cydney looked intently at the space behind his feet as if to say ‘I’m sure there’s a crumb on the floor there.’ ‘SIT!’ She looked the other way and yawned. A huge, bored yawn.
He huffed back to his table, where the Labrador was still lying motionless under his owner’s chair.
Later, he came over for one last attempt. At what, I really don’t know. ‘That dog,’ he said, pointing to the motionless Lab, ‘knows 300 different commands. Specific ones, like “where is the door”. He can find anything.’
‘That’s marvellous,’ I said.
‘Yes. It is,’ he said, before following his party, with old goody-four-shoes out the door. Ten minutes later, his iPhone started ringing on the table. He came back alone to pick it up. Turns out old goody-four-shoes couldn’t find everything, after all.