This is a blog inspired by the acquisition of a new puppy (Simon, a Dobermann, born 15/11/2010). However, since even I don't really believe the emotional life of a puppy can sustain a blog indefinitely, I'm combining such reflections as Simon's progress gives rise to with my other indulgence, books. So this will be about books and dogs, in particular books about dogs, and dogs in books. There'll also be plenty of photos of Simon.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Getting to Know You

Socialisation, it seems, is the other buzz word (the first one, of course, is Pack Leader). The books all warn, cajole, threaten: if you don't make use of this unique window of opportunity, these first few weeks, you'll end up with a Badly Socialised Dog, one that chases after wheel chairs and growls at babies. The idea is to expose the pup as early as possible to as many categories of people and things as possible, under pleasant circumstances, so that he'll retain benign feelings towards all these. My bible, Gwen Bailey's The Perfect Pup, has a check list of 43 people, things and places that the pup is to be systematically exposed to in the first sixteen weeks of his life. That's a Young(ish) Adult up there, my friend Hans getting to know Simon and vice versa over a glass of wine. I now need some babies and toddlers, people wearing motorbike helmets, and some loud, confident people. My friends are all confident enough but not, thank heaven, loud.

All of which makes me wonder: why do we expect our dogs to put up with every conceivable type of person and situation, when we ourselves go to some lengths to avoid at least half of Gwen Bailey's categories? (When is the last time you voluntarily spent time with a teenager, for instance? Or went to a car boot sale? Or a village hall? ) But the poor pup has to learn to tolerate all these, or else be branded a Badly Socialised Dog.

Which brings to mind, predictably, Philip Larkin, and his poem about socialisation, Vers de Societe. It doesn't actually mention dogs -- well, there's a bitch in there -- or other animals, apart from an ass and the rear end of a pig, and frankly, has little to tell us about the socialisation of pups, but it's a great poem, and says all there is to be said about being a Badly Socialised Person:
Vers de Societe
My wife and I have asked a crowd of craps
To come and waste their time and ours: perhaps
You'd care to join us?
In a pig's arse, friend.
Day comes to an end.
The gas fire breathes, the trees are darkly swayed.
And so Dear Warlock-Williams: I'm afraid --
Funny how hard it is to be alone.
I could spend half my evenings, if I wanted,
Holding a glass of washing sherry, canted
Over to catch the drivel of some bitch
Who's read nothing but Which;
Just think of all the spare time that has flown

Straight into nothingness by being filled
With forks and faces, rather than repaid
Under a lamp, hearing the noise of the wind,
And looking out to see the moon thinned
To an air-sharpened blade.
A life, and yet how sternly it's instilled

All solitude is selfish. No one now
Believes the hermit with his gown and dish
Talking to God (who's gone too); the big wish
Is to have people nice to you, which means
Doing it back somehow.
Virtue is social. Are, then, these routines

Playing at goodness. like going to church?
Something that bores us, something we don't do well
(Asking that ass about his fool research)
But try to feel, because, however crudely,
It shows us what should be?
Too subtle that. Too decent, too. Oh hell,

Only the young can be alone freely.
The time is shorter now for company,
And sitting by a lamp more often brings
Not peace, but other things.
Beyond the light stand failure and remorse
Whispering Dear Warlock-Williams: Why, of course --

So hey ho hey ho, it's off to Puppy Class we go. Simon has at least cosied up to a wire sheep and tossed about what looks like the hind leg of a cow. It's a start. Mr Congeniality 2012.

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