Today’s fashionable dog is bigger than you are and it’s your turn to be his best friend
ROBERT THOMAS ALLENAugust11969
SMILE WHEN YOU SAY'HEEL'
Today’s fashionable dog is bigger than you are and it’s your turn to be his best friend
Tu---whit!---Tu---whoo! . . . . . . what can ail the mastiff bitch?
SOMETIMES — tu whit tu whoo — you can’t help wondering what ails Canadians, particularly now that they’re going in for breeds of big dogs with backgrounds of baronial halls, landed gentry, moats, drawbridges and Viking sagas, bred for battling boar, pulling down elk, and fighting giant European wolves. A few years ago, poodles were so popular they showed signs of taking over the hairdressing industry. Now one of the most popular dogs is the Great Pyrenees, an enormous dog, which in the 15th century fought off bears around the castles of Carcassonne, wearing a collar with lVi-inch spikes, and today is selling so well in Sarnia, Ontario, that Armil Kennels are getting orders from all over Canada. The St. Bernard, a 200-pound dog used for locating people under mountain snows, is selling like cookies in Saskatoon. There, many of the requests received by the von Blucher Kennels, which can sell all the pups they can produce, are from people who already own two St. Bernards and want three. This is a quantity of housepet almost a quarter the weight of a Rambler American.
The Afghan, a hunting dog of Egyptian kings, has become a commuter’s favorite, and so has the Dalmatian, a dog that more than a century ago in England replaced the footmen who ran ahead of a carriage, shouting, “Make way for my lord.”
The Great Dane, a dog originally hred because it has the weight, speed and endurance to kill wild boar, is so popular that Sheridane Kennels in Pickering, Ontario, report that pups are sold even before their parents have met. A white Great Dane with black spots, creating an effect that you just finished eating a boar’s head to lute music, can set you back $500. The Great Dane can measure
37 inches at the withers even before it raises its head, which is nearly a foot long; from hock to pad it measures as much as I do from elbow to wrist, and rolls on its back like a pony. When it playfully rears and puts its paws over a total of 24 square inches of a houseguest’s shoulders, it’s taller than anyone under six feet five inches. The power of these dogs is incredible. A woman in west Toronto, who is inclined to be nervous even of dogs that can hide under record
players, looked up one day and saw her entire silver-birch fence moving toward Royal York Road and finally realized it was being moved by a Great Dane belonging to a new neighbor who had gone in for the latest fashion in dogs.
The Irish Wolfhound, which according to one breeder is now a “prestige dog” and which one kennel-club book describes as the dog that “exactly fits into the picture of the feudal life of the Middle Ages,” is a breed you couldn’t buy
ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN
in Canada seven years ago. Now there are three breeders listed in the 1969 Kennel Directory, put out by the magazine Dogs In Canada, with more coming along. The Irish Wolfhound was used for hunting the Irish wolf and gigantic European elk until it wiped them out and almost disappeared itself. According to an early report, these dogs can see in any man’s face “whether he means thee well or ill,” and you better mean well because the Irish Wolfhound is even bigger than a Great Dane; when it stands on its hind legs to greet a caller it will top any visitor under seven feet.
These dogs aren’t being sold to regiments or raddled dukes. More and more of one’s friends are going in for them. Broadcaster Ken Lefolii has a bullmastiff, known as a gamekeeper’s night dog, that weighs 120 pounds when in trim for a romp around the duchy. It was bred to knock down poachers and stand over them until the squire rode up and gave the fellow a thrashing. This is no mere folklore. Bullmastiffs used to be muzzled and set to knocking people down just for sport. Lefolii is a husky man I’d judge to be about five-foot-11, and his dog often knocks him down.
Another friend of mine, a dainty, vivacious French-Canadian woman, who goes to the same beach as I do in Florida in the winter, owns a Weimaraner, a breed that is selling on the west coast, according to Lorawill Kennel in Surrey, BC, and which is seen more and more frequently peering from suburban windows in the east. These used only to be seen peering out of medieval French tapestries, only princes owned them, and they were used to hunt bear, boar and elk.
My friend can’t hold hers. It’s a big mocha-colored dog with mad - looking eyes, back legs like a Green Bay Packer and a lot of weird ideas. It’s always digging deep holes and one day on the beach it went down about a foot and a half and came up with a Timex watch. Its owner said it located the watch by the smell of the whale oil on the bearings, which she said acts on Weimaraners,
or, anyway, on her Weimaraner, as an aphrodisiac. (I checked this out with a watchmaker and he looked at me as if I had said 1 was Captain Ahab; they haven’t used whale oil on watches for years.) My friend, undaunted, told me that Weimaraners are also used to locate fragments of exploded rockets at the missile base at Cape Kennedy. Weimaraners are made of 85 pounds of sheer muscle and this one has pulled my friend flat on her face a couple of times. The only way you can stop it is to choke it. But you don’t choke it just anywhere, you
have to get the chain on a certain part of its neck and often my friend can’t find it.
Although the new trend to medieval feudal life is taking place primarily in the affluent suburbs, people in more congested areas downtown are trying to buy baronial backgrounds at bargain prices from the city pound. The Toronto Humane Society gets 10 calls a day for what fanciers call “the larger breeds,” and what Humane Society men who have to catch them call “big aggressive dogs.” One of the reasons usually given when you ask breeders what’s causing the Canadian big-dog syndrome is that Canadians want guard dogs, and if the trend keeps on it’s going to change the visiting habits of the nation. A Great Dane in Pickering welcomed friends who dropped in on its owners, who were out for the evening, but when the friends tried to leave it stood guarding the front door from the wrong side, with bared fangs (a sight you don’t soon forget) and wouldn’t let them out. They were still there at three in the morning when the owners came home.
This trait of guard dogs of being confused about what they’re supposed to guard is well known to Humane Society workers. One of my personal heroes. Inspector Roy Greer of the Toronto Humane Society, a quiet, earnest man —
who, incidentally, has an uncomplicated explanation of the current fad for big dogs: “I think, well, like one person gets a big dog and other people say maybe we should get one” — told me of a big dog, part Newfoundland, that usually guarded a scrapyard in downtown Toronto, but often got off the property. Away from the scrapyard the dog was friendly and good - natured and would get on the Humane Society truck of its own accord, wagging its tail, but once on the truck it started guarding Greer and wouldn’t let him get off. If he did manage to get off, it wouldn’t let him get on again. When the dog was finally picked up at the owner’s request, a man named Ernie Tanner, a small man who was going to make the call, was warned of the dog’s habit and told to be sure to get the dog when it was off the scrapyard, but he said to quit worrying and that he could handle it anywhere. The next word they got from him he was in Western Hospital with a chewed chest.
The Norwegian Elkhound, a dog bred to corner elk in Norway and to defend Viking farms from wolves and bears, is now cashing in on the new trend to the extent that a pup, which sold for $75 five years ago, now goes for as much as $150. Like all dogs the Elkhound increases a hiker’s danger from bear by (a) finding more bear, (b) hightailing it for his owner with the bear chasing it. Don Beers, a Calgary breeder of these dogs, who says they photograph magnificently with mountains in the background, had one that may have been ready to defend a Viking farm but was terrified of water. One time the only way Beers could get her across a creek in the Rockies was to put her in his pack and carry her, nearly drowning himself in the process. He was rescued, not by his Norwegian Elkhound but by a United Church minister he was hiking with.
Labrador Retrievers, big noble dogs that sweep teapots off coffee tables with their tails and are often referred to as “companions,” tend to go away with any-
body, while ignoble little dogs with no personalities grieve when they’re left with a vet. St. Bernards are generally known to take a dim view of anyone who gets lost in the snow. R. D. Crawford, a university professor in Saskatoon, took four of his St. Bernards and a cat called Dirty Nellie out for a walk on the prairie one night at 40° below and pretended to drop from fatigue to see if the St. Bernards would try to warm him with their body heat. The dogs took a good look to make sure he was dead, then started chasing the cat, which apparently they had always wanted to eat.
All of which does no harm to anyone as long as the dogs are in the hands of the right people, but I’ve already seen signs of the wrong ones taking over. They let dogs that were meant for retrieving ducks, herding cattle and going to war, roam at large around suburbs while they go downtown and forget about them. Pointers and retrievers with no ducks to retrieve or grouse to point at will stalk garbage pails. The Irish Setter, a big beautiful dog that tends to look at you sideways, needs plenty of exercise and will go right through screen doors to get it, orbiting the neighborhood.
Within the past three weeks I’ve had a German Shepherd that weighed 115 pounds prod me from behind, apparently with the approval of my hostess, who sat smiling while I crossed the room in little idiotic laughing lurches. I sat almost hypnotized watching a woman try to listen to me and at the same time reach out with her foot and close the legs of a Golden Retriever that lay in an abandoned position on its back on the livingroom floor, displaying its underparts; every time the woman brought his legs together they’d spring apart again, and the dog would look up at her reproachfully from between its legs. On another visit, a Great Dane shoved me into a wall (Great Danes are known as leaners), hit me in the groin with its tail and butted me with its head. I’ve seen the beginnings of a neighborhood, if not an international, feud between a man who doesn’t like dogs and an Englishman who lets two Labradors run loose.
One time the owner of two St. Bernards (an insurance salesman who told me that the secret of all successful selling was to like people) stood watching with peculiar interest while one of his dogs booby-trapped a driveway right where his neighbor would step from his car. I asked him if the neighbors didn’t complain about that kind of thing and he looked at me in surprise. “They’re always complaining,” he said.
I don’t blame them, and I hope there aren’t many more like him among the Canadians who, as one breeder explained it, “have a color TV, two cars and a dishwasher, and decide it’s time they had a big dog.” □
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