- - - Miguel de Cervantes
These are articles I wrote for 'The Windhound' in the mid-1980s. 'The Windhound' is no longer being published.
Undoubtedly every breeder has awful memories of assisting at matings; certainly some of my most embarassing moments have occurred at such times.
I started off on the wrong foot the very first time by being unaware that ladies do not take part in such things. They may accompany the bitch to the site, but should then retire to the house and partake of tea, leaving the details to their kennelman. Having proved I was no lady by insisting on remaining with my bitch, I earned a further black mark by owning up to not having a kennelman. That set the tone for the rest of the visit. The bitch was very willing to flirt, but became all Victorian maidenly at the prospect of going any further. When her swain refused to accept that 'No!' meant No, she did her best to rend him limb from limb. Such behaviour would have been embarassing any time, but this was the top winning champion of the day and I could only be grateful that his owner was not present to see him thrown to the ground and gnawed. After that, not surprisingly, he lost interest and we had to creep off home with what dignity I could muster.
The next bitch I took for mating was very keen. So was the dog, but, unfortunately, his interest was not in her but in me. His handler was no help, but simply rolled about laughing until, after I had fought off the stud's amorous advances for the umpteenth time, he called out: "Not that bitch, you stupid ....; this one!" So overcome was he by his own wit that he was unable to do any more than collar the dog and reel back to the kennels still chortling.
Undeterred, I agreed to assist at the first mating of a friend's young male. Since a primary school overlooked their garden, as a sop to the sensibilities of the teachers, if not the pupils, they had obtained permission to use a field owned by a local farmer. It was not an ideal choice as the field turned out to be at least twenty acres, bordered by roads and a river lined with anglers. It was a very hot day, but the two hounds had a fine time chasing each other around while we panted along trying to stay reasonably close. By the time they mated they were too worn out to stand on their own feet during the tie, but instead leaned heavily on us. It seemed to last forever, with us all sinking slowly under the strain, and then a police car drove past, braked suddenly, and continued slowly round the perimeter with the occupants leaning out of the windows to stare. Reaching the limit of the field it turned around and came slowly back while we watched in a mounting state of nervousness, wondering how many laws we were breaking and praying for release. The anglers had long given up fishing in favour of the more interesting goings-on across the river and their entertainment was increased when the hounds separated at last and immediately leaped into the river, while the bitch's owner danced up and down on the bank shrieking: "It'll all wash out! Why doesn't somebody DO something?"
As a sequel to this event, for some reason the dog held me solely responsible for the delightful time he had and the only way in which I could escape his passionate embrace when visiting his owners was to scatter a handful of his favourite tidbit inside the door as it was opened. This distracted his attention long enough for me to make a dash for the dining table, on which I had to sit crosslegged for the duration of my stay.
Another incident that will long remain to haunt me was a bitch coming to our
young and inexperienced dog. She was more than unco-operative and kept trying
to attack the dog, while her owner was so terrified of being bitten that she
let go of the collar with a shriek every time the bitch tried to whip around at
the dog. After several unsuccessful attempts, the bitch took off around the
house with the dog in hot pursuit and me trailing gamely in the rear. Halfway
through the second circuit the dog caught up and mated her, at which she
whirled around to bite him and, having tied, both crashed to the ground.
Fearful of the damage which could be caused to my beloved, I flung my arms
around their bellies and somehow managed to get both to their feet without
apparent harm. The bitch had decided to accept the inevitable and now stood
quietly, but I wasn't about to let go, despite the discomfort of being doubled
up with my hands locked under the bitch and my rear squashed against the fence.
Unfortunately, the fence was to the paddock containing Maxie, our teaser ram
and a creature of particularly malevolent disposition. Maxie either objected to
the disturbance of his afternoon rest or couldn't resist the opportunity of
indulging his favourite pastime of walloping humans, especially when presented
with such a target. At any rate, he went back on his quarters, lowered his head
and charged full tilt at the fence, after which he went back and did it again.
For the rest of that agonizing tie I bore the full brunt of Maxie's malice, an
attempt to shuffle the hounds sideways having resulted only in their leaning
even more heavily against me, thus pressing me harder against the fence. At
least on that occasion it was not my amour propre that was bruised, but it did
decide me that owning a stud dog was highly over-rated!
The Windhound, July-August 1985
I am full of admiration for anyone who can obedience train their sighthound to such a high standard as to have them gain initials after their name. I started off with such good intentions, fired with enthusiasm after watching an Irish wolfhound called Tara doing Working Trials in this country and beating top police and working dogs. My hounds had different ideas on the subject of obedience, though.
Gaia proved reasonably easy to train until we started on the high jump. Of course, if we'd had any sense we would not have started with a pole because, although she happily hopped over it to begin with, as soon as it was raised high enough she popped under it instead. By the time we realised the mistake and substituted a solid jump she had decided jumping was out and simply dodged around the outside.
Not that Gaia would have been any good in trials even if we'd broken this block, due to her habit of dancing up and down on her hind legs and screaming like a banshee every time she lost me when we were away from home - and I was lost as far as she was concerned any time I was not in her direct view.
Bella would sell her soul for a cold, cooked Brussels sprout. The only problem was that she was so anxious to gain her reward she would rush through her complete repertoire, deaf to commands, in the hope of hitting on whatever was required of her.
Midge learned the recall very quickly. Unfortunately, the first time I tried it out in the wide open spaces it was borne upon me that I had not paid enough attention to an important part of the training - the putting on of brakes when reaching the handler. I don't remember what happened after the moment when I realised she was neither going to stop nor swerve around me. I came around, flat on my back and unable to breathe properly due to Midge standing with her forepaws on my chest, gazing anxiously into my face and slurping me assiduously.
Midge was definitely my biggest failure. I swear her dam had an illicit relationship with a mule. I was forced to give up showing her after the time when the judge asked me to move her, but Midge dug in her heels and refused to budge. When I insisted she collapsed slowly to the ground and then rolled on her back, in which position she remained until the judge gave up and went on to the next in line.
I've never quite decided whether that was more or less embarassing than the time I was told to move Hera and she carried on out of the ring, through the next one and out of the hall in which the show was being held.
We incompetents do not always get our just desserts, though. I took Bella to an IWC Summer Party at which she was to be the model for a demonstration on show preparation. I'd forgotten her leash so had to walk her about loose, expecting that she would go her own sweet way, but she astounded me by giving an exhibition of the perfectly trained dog. Everyone was most impressed. "How on earth do you do it?" they asked, to which I murmured "Brussels sprouts" and moved on nonchalantly with Bella glued to my left knee. Years later our neighbour told me she had just returned with her Great Dane from a course run by a professional obedience trainer. As he had wolfhounds, she mentioned mine and he said he had not believed it possible for anyone to achieve perfection in obedience with a wolfhound until he saw one of mine at a Club party. "She can get her hounds to do anything!" was his reported comment.
The Windhound, January-February 1986