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Puppy training during a pandemic

Rudy (dog)

Puppy training during a pandemic

I got a new puppy recently and I’m becoming concerned he is a coronavirus super-spreader.

He’s called Rudy and he has no concept of personal space. Social distancing is a joke to him and the public are no help at all. They rush over to him constantly. Old men stoop down to tell him he is a “cracking wee dug”. Middle aged women laugh gleefully as he tries to steal their jewellery. Small children ask serious questions about his habits and behaviours, nodding along sternly with the solemnity of academic experts.

A yellow Labrador, Rudy was bred to retrieve from land or water, but at thirteen weeks old he shows little interest in fetching anything. Instead, home renovation is his passion. In the course of a month he has reworked the hall, added a more distressed style to the carpet and torn down two posters. Apparently he considered them tasteless, almost literally. He approaches these projects with a single-minded focus typical of all great artists.

Rudy is one of Scotland’s many new lockdown puppies. Vet registrations jumped by 26 per cent between the start of April and the end of June, bringing a spike in concern over puppy farming, alongside a rise in ‘dogfishing’ ads, encouraging people to send money for dogs that don’t exist.

Rescue shelters must be watching nervously, and while Rudy isn’t going anywhere, it’s easy to see how you could be overwhelmed. He brings chaos wherever he goes. He is a recidivist, yet when I inform him of this fact he stares back blankly, as if he doesn’t know the meaning of the word. A rebel with giant paws.

It’s lucky the neighbours like him, because he’s destroying the communal garden. He chews up plant pots, he snatches the solar lights, he has even begun work on a hole.

They don’t care in the slightest. They admire his criminality, if anything, giggling while he climbs up to chew their ears. Our next-door neighbour praises him as he prances around with her gardening equipment. The Czech couple from the other side of the garden whip him up into a frenzy while complimenting the size of his “dog hands”. “He’s waving to me with his dog hands,” one claims, though I am confident he’s not.

He can be hard work, but he’s definitely a powerful antidote to the pervading sense of doom spread by the pandemic. It feels like there is a dark cloud subsuming the world at the moment, and at times I find myself wondering just how anxious I actually feel. The sense isn’t helped by the reintroduction of restrictions and the knowledge that a second lockdown won’t coincide with the arrival of spring.

The world can feel overwhelming, but watching Rudy explore it, even in the smallest ways, brings a sense of release. He tried cheddar for the first time recently, for example, and I saw a definitive change in his eyes. His world had grown larger. More interesting. Cheesier. He now conducts a regular cheese patrol of the flat. It’s pointless, but he doesn’t care. He is eternally hopeful.

And maybe that’s the biggest lesson I have taken from Rudy. He doesn’t sit and worry about factors outside his control, he steals plant pots. He doesn’t plan how he will approach Christmas with current distancing measures in place, he shreds every piece of toilet roll in the flat.

He may be a furry little thug, with no respect for society at all, but he certainly knows how to live in the moment. Standing, watching him cheerfully attacking my neighbour's dressing gown earlier this week, I wondered if it was a lesson for all of us.

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