Leo, the Hungarian Vizsla my wife brought home unexpectedly last year, is approaching his first birthday and not getting any easier to manage. Caroline decided to buy him on the spur of the moment because she ‘liked the way he looked’, by which she means he looks like her. Not the face, obviously, but his figure — thin, athletic, muscular, big ears, big feet. Indeed, she was walking Leo in Gunnersbury Park a few days ago when another dog -walker, spotting them together, burst out laughing. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen an owner who looks more like her dog,’ he said. This may have been his attempt at flirting — always hard to tell with dog owners. She noticed he had a pug, but managed to avoid the obvious -rejoinder.
To describe Leo as a handful would be an understatement. I was walking him in Acton Park the other day when he bounded up to a small child and his mum. ‘Oh no,’ I thought. ‘Not again.’ On a previous outing, he’d wrestled a toddler to the ground and then started licking the residue of a Flake 99 off his face, which didn’t go over particularly well with the mum. But this was worse — far worse. The child was eating a sandwich and Leo had it out of his hand in an instant, whereupon he devoured it like a shark eating a raw steak.
‘How dare you?’ screamed the mother. ‘How bloody dare you?’ I instinctively threw up my hands, as if to say, ‘Nothing to do with me, Guv’, which did nothing to placate her. ‘That’s a dangerous dog you’ve got there and you should have him put down,’ she said, shaking her head.
I mumbled something about being sorry and offered to pay for the sandwich, at which point she demanded £5, which seemed a bit steep. I was tempted to say, ‘Branch of Ottolenghi opened in Acton, has it?’ but forked over the cash instead. As I dragged Leo away, she told me I should be ‘ashamed’ of myself.
I’ve got dozens of these stories. My 11-year-old son Ludo was walking Leo in the same park a couple of weeks ago when he decided to mount an Entebbe-style raid on the newly opened café for Acton yummy mummies. (Yes, we do have some.) The first Ludo knew about it was when Leo came screaming out of the café with a leg of Iberico ham in his mouth, followed by the café’s owner in hot pursuit. No prizes for guessing who won that race. Vizslas have been clocked at 40mph. After the middle-aged owner had given up the chase, he told my son that his dad had -better pay for the damage in the next 24 hours or he’d call the police. That cost me £35.
It’s not as if Leo isn’t getting enough food at home. In addition to the ‘dog muesli’ Caroline has him on — a snip at £20 for a 12.5kg bag — he helps himself to anything we’re stupid enough to leave within reach. And boy is he quick to exploit an opportunity. Most of the time he’s a soppy, affectionate dope, but when it comes to food he’s a deadly predator. Just this morning, I left him alone in the kitchen to answer the door to the postman and when I returned he’d devoured half a loaf of bread and was busying himself with a tub of butter. I swear he was fast asleep when I left the room. He’s the canine equivalent of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
I daresay there are lots of responsible dog owners reading this and thinking, ‘Why don’t you train him?’ but believe me we’ve tried — and are still trying. My wife used to take him to ‘puppy school’ in the local church, but had to withdraw when Leo started trying to hump all the other dogs.
One thing that might calm him down is to get him done — and Caroline is keen as mustard — but I feel a sense of male solidarity that makes me reluctant to go along with it. He has a certain masculine swagger, as well as an indomitable spirit, that might not survive castration. I didn’t want Leo in the first place, but now that he’s mine I feel a duty to protect him, and that includes his bits.
The truth is, I’ve grown quite fond of the stupid mutt. Around the house he can be a pain in the arse, but when I take him somewhere he can really stretch his legs, like Hampstead Heath, he’s a joy to behold. I hadn’t realised how much simple pleasure you can get from watching a dog tearing round in ever-increasing circles with another dog, or just watching them run towards you when you call their name. If only I could get him some sort of gastric band, he’d be perfect.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.