Get a pooch and a whole new doggy world opens up to you, says Fiona Gibson. Here are some types you’re likely to encounter in the park.
Which sorts of dog parent do you meet on your walks?
You’ll meet all breeds – of dog owners – on your daily walk. Yummy-dog-Mummy, or Unbearable Boaster… you recognise them all…
The different kinds of dog parent you’ll meet in the park
The unbearable boaster
‘Look at her,’ the woman gushes enthusiastically. ‘Isn’t she clever?’ You find yourself nodding in agreement, feeling somewhat ridiculous. Because this isn’t the woman’s child, performing the oboe solo from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
It’s her Miniature Schnauzer chasing a tennis ball. ‘Careful!’ she calls – because as well as being inordinately proud of her pooch, she is also the world’s biggest worrier where her dog’s wellbeing is concerned.
And the park throws up any number of hazards to be avoided at all costs – puddles and mud, which might dirty her just-groomed coat, and sticks that could injure her delicate mouth. Not to mention rougher dogs who might try to cop a sniff of her bottom or copulate with her. Last time that happened – with a randy Dalmatian with no manners – the woman and her dog fled the park. Fortunately, your own dog senses her rarified breeding and keeps well away.
The stoical mum
She was nagged for a dog until she gave in. Along came the pooch, and the whole family loves grooming her and dressing her up in outfits. What they’re less keen on is taking her out because that means leaving the house, where it’s likely to be cold. Even if it’s not, it still means propelling themselves forward by placing one foot in front of the other. And Stoical Mum’s family don’t like walking much at all.
So she’s the one striding out with rain dripping off her parka – however, she’s always eager to chat – as hardly anyone ever speaks to her at home, apart from to ask for money or when she’s next doing a supermarket shop. ‘The girls are busy with homework,’ she says with an eye roll, as you plod through the storm together, ‘and my husband’s just had a bath and put his pyjamas on.’
It’s 5.45pm. She pulls a rueful smile. ‘Still, it’s good for me,’ she adds. ‘I’m easily hitting my 10,000 steps a day.’
Mr small-dog shame
When you spot this towering rugby-player type, you assume he’s with the German Shepherd, Great Dane or some other sizeable hound to echo his powerful physicality. But no – it’s the fluffy purse on legs. You can hardly believe it.
He can’t either, because when his family decided to get a dog, he’d pictured something along the lines of a collie, with its associations of hard work and usefulness to society. As it is, he’s saddled with a pet that’s barely bigger than a guinea pig, which would be preferable, as he wouldn’t have to walk it.
He mooches along like a surly teenager embarrassed to be seen out with his parents. When the dog’s off the lead and daintily picking its way along the path, he walks several paces behind, pretending he’s never seen the minuscule creature before in his life.
For entertainment, you could squat down and fuss over the dog, forcing the owner to acknowledge his connection to the pocket-sized pooch. The kinder option is to smile sympathetically, say nothing, and walk on by.
The doggy dad
As well as walking the dog, this multitasking supremo is also transporting a bevy of small children, who are all strapped to his torso, while ignoring his wild-haired older kids who are careering around on scooters, crashing into elderly people who’ve had the audacity to walk on the path.
‘Oops, careful, Hector!’ Dad calls out to his son when an octogenarian lies on the ground, concussed. You assume he’s going to rush to their aid, but no – it’s you he’s staring at. ‘Excuse me!’ he shouts. ‘I think your dog’s done something.’
‘Yes, I know,’ you reply. ‘I’m just getting it.’ You were already delving into your pocket for a poo bag.
‘It’s just, there are children here,’ he adds. Yes, you can see them. The whole neighbourhood is aware of them screaming, as Dad struts about in his ‘I’m raising a tribe’ T-shirt, and growing his beard – as if his virility might be in question. ‘I’ve got it,’ you sing out, waving your knotted poo bag. ‘There’s no need to worry any more.’ He adjusts one of the infants tethered to his body. ‘It’s just there are children here – and it can make them go blind.’
This young couple are extremely proud of their pet. However, they are also interested in – and sweet about – all the dogs in the park, admiring them, politely chatting to their owners and being all-round delightful humans. You learn that they adopted their dog from Romania, and travelled to a service station at 4am to pick him up. That’s when it hits you – that this daring motorway dash is their ‘birth story’, their foray into dog ownership as a prelude to parenting.
They fell in love, moved in together and invested in some decent bed linen. Adopting a dog was the logical next step. Your heart almost breaks as you want to tell them that 3am feeds and being routinely humiliated at school parents’ evenings are nothing like this.
The cock of the walk
‘He’s just playing,’ says the swaggery male as his dog barks frenziedly at yours. That is, when he acknowledges the animal at all. Usually, he just stands there, smoking and prodding his phone, while his dog cocks its leg against a child’s schoolbag.
If his dog gets into a fight, as is often the case, then he reckons ‘the other one started it’. His dog is always involved – the common thread in any neighbourhood spat. Yet you can’t help feeling sorry for the mutt with his disinterested owner and no displays of affection. No tennis balls, no frisbees, not even a stick is thrown.
There’s no such thing as a bad dog, you decide – just a bad owner. In a rush of goodwill-to-all-pooches, you reach out to pat him. As he tries to bite off your hand, the owner puffs away on
his roll-up as if nothing has happened.
Yummy-dog-mummy & dashing fox
There’s no parka thrown on over pyjamas when Yummy-Dog-Mummy takes a walk. We’re talking lipstick, blow-dry and well-cut jeans. And she’s never rain-sodden. Not that she’d bother with anything as troublesome as an umbrella.
Instead, you’ll find her sheltering under a tree, where her male equivalent happens to be stationed – Dashing Fox, a dead ringer for the mature David Essex. They’re chatting away, their dogs frolicking together – hers a glamorous Golden Retriever, his a sleek Red Setter. They are the dogs of pet food adverts, bounding with joie de vivre. They do not steal people’s sandwiches. They do not eat grass then sick it all up.
There’s a bit of gossip flying around that their owners go for coffee together, with the dogs lying peacefully underneath the table. They’re probably neighbours, is the common consensus. No one will admit to being rabidly jealous that he barely acknowledges anyone else. Meanwhile, under the tree, Yummy-Dog-Mummy laughs hoarsely – sexily – at something Dashing Fox has said. He adjusts his woolly scarf and twinkles at her. You could join them, of course, perhaps even flirt a little yourself – but meanwhile your own dog has just rolled in fox poo, so you’d better hurry home and wash it off.
So which kind of dog parent are you?
Fiona Gibson’s new novel, When Life Gives You Lemons, is published by Avon.
When Life Gives You Lemons is out now.