Puppy love that never goes away

Monday 2 May 2016

“Dog bites man” ain’t a headline. “Man bites dog” – now we’ve got a story.

But dogs were making headlines all by themselves this week. First there was Pero the four-year-old Welsh sheepdog banished to another farm 240 miles north in the Lake District. Pero wasn’t happy in his new home outside Cockermouth so one day he raced straight past the sheep he was meant to be rounding up and just kept on going.

Twelve days later he showed up back at his original home, Penrhyn-coch. This must have meant negotiating the mountain passes of Cumbria and Snowdonia, not to mention crossing the M6 and the M62. On average Pero covered 20 miles a day. When he arrived he wasn’t weak or underweight so he must have done a pretty good job of foraging, too.

The good news is that his first owners have no intention of sending him away again. Now that’s what I call a happy ending. I wonder, though, if they gave Pero a welcome home hug? Presumably not, because he might have run off back to Cumbria.

Research published on Wednesday shows the vast majority of dogs loathe being hugged by their owners. Apparently dogs like to feel they are free to run away anytime they choose, so holding them tight puts them in a panic. I was fascinated.

When I was a kid I had a collie called Prince. He was a dead ringer for Lassie and I loved him dearly but he was eccentric to the point of madness. His favourite food was Heinz tomato soup. It had to be Heinz; a bowl of Campbell’s would be met with a sullen growl. He had to be kept on a lead at all times.

We learned that if you unclipped it he would instantly race off at top speed and vanish over the horizon. But after several days he always showed up again – filthy, coat matted but with an expression of profound happiness on his doggy face.

Once, he slipped the leash in Epping Forest, a dozen miles from our semi in Dagenham Road, Romford. But three days later he was outside the kitchen door, barking to be let in. But here’s the thing about Prince and hugging. He certainly didn’t like to be held. But he gave terrific hugs himself – although only to me, and only in very specific circumstances.

You see, my dad – a wonderful father – could nevertheless lose his temper with me sometimes, yelling and shouting when I’d been naughty. Prince hated this. He’d slink into a corner, whimpering and growling, and when it was over and my father had left the room, my dog would pad across to me, rear up on his hind legs and put his front paws on my shoulders while nestling his long, sleek head into the curve between my neck and shoulder.

He’d stay like that for ages, only getting down when he was sure I’d finished crying. Crikey. Fifty years on it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

Read Richard and Judy's column in full here.