04 December 2006

Interview technique

Louis, the Cavalier
Dogs who come to stay at Pension Milou live freely in the house with me, so I need to meet them first to make sure they’ll get along with others and at the same time, the owner can see how it all works here. It’s a mutual thing. There are exceptions – if a new dog needs to stay at short notice and it’s a puppy, well, what can a puppy do wrong except wreck the place, pee everywhere and keep me thoroughly amused? Today an 8-month old bouledogue français called Beebop is coming to stay. I couldn’t resist – I’m soppy about French bulldogs.

Normally, though, I have four questions:
  • If a male, is he castrated?
The majority of male dogs who come to stay belong to Brits and Americans simply because it doesn’t occur to the French to get their males ‘fixed.’ When I ask if their dog is castrated, they say,’Mais non, pourquoi?’ Ask a vet in France, especially on the macho Mediterranean, to castrate your dog and you will notice his hand moving (not literally, of course…) to protect his male bits and pieces. With a horrified expression on his face, he’ll say,‘Oh, no it’s not necessary to castrate a male - we only sterilize the females.’ I wouldn’t mind 10 euros for every time I’ve heard that. My neighbour planned on getting her dog castrated when he was 8 months old but the vet refused, saying it would ‘spoil his coat’ so now he runs around, 4 years old, endlessly mounting poor old Pepita, their spayed Berger Pyrénées. If you want your dog castrated in France, you need to be very definite about it otherwise the vet will try and talk you out of it. Or go to a lady vet. Funny that…

Who needs a dog who mounts other people’s legs, who masturbates on cushions and who smells? And here at Pension Milou, who marks his territory and who would probably get aggressive with other males too. I explain to owners that the main reason I don’t take uncastrated males is because they pee absolutely everywhere in the house. ‘Oh, but my dog is absolutely clean at home,’ they say, ‘he’d never do that.’ Of course he’s clean at home but put him in an environment with other dogs and it’s his instinct to mark territory, which means peeing on my furniture. He can’t help it and chastising him simply doesn’t work. I once had a Llasa Apso and counted the number of times I cleaned up his little tinkles against a chair, a curtain, a table leg. By the time I got to fourteen and it was only noon, I gave up. So now no uncastrated male gets past the first phone call.
  • Does the dog get along well with other dogs?
When a dog arrives for his or her interview, I keep the rest of the dogs in the house whilst I let the dog and owner through the gate and onto the terrace. The dog’s lead is removed and then the others are let out, one by one, to greet the new arrival. This can be daunting to some dogs, especially the shyer ones, as suddenly they are having their nether regions sniffed by all and sundry and understandably, some of the bitches don’t always like it. The flirts do, of course – they love it and think Christmas has come all at once. If a dog warns another dog away at this time, that’s fine. They have every right to do so. Some though, simply won’t accept the attentions of the other dogs and don’t even warn with a low growl. They snap or worse, attempt to bite. Looking after other people’s dogs is a great responsibility and I can’t risk taking these dogs. They need to get their interview technique sorted and are not accepted at Pension Milou.

En route to the garden
  • Is the dog house-trained?
Almost everyone says their dog is house-trained but it’s not always so. Some of the small Monte Carlo dogs are trained to urinate on the balcony of their apartment so when they come here, they use the terracotta tiled floor – after all, to them, it probably looks and feels the same. Or they’ll get as far as the terrace and pee. I’ve had dogs who will happily trot down to the garden – we’ll be down there for an hour playing – they’ll come back and immediately pee on the terrace or in the house – they just don’t ‘get it’ because of what they are used to. Others have been trained to pee and defecate in their owner’s shower. Words fail me here. Perhaps they should get a cat and a litter tray. Dogs need to go out and sniff all the delicious, unmentionable smells of this world – and then come home and give us a lick. Bien sûr.
  • Does the dog bark a lot?
Most dogs bark, that’s normal but there are some dogs who are happy to stand on the terrace and bark non-stop at absolutely nothing. Smaller breeds are worse than the big ones and terriers, especially, like to make their presence felt. Because the door to the terrace and garden is open all day, a continually barking dog makes life difficult because it’s simply not on to disturb the neighbours and it’s useless telling a dog to stop barking - he just barks more because he’s getting attention. I have an old and battered Bushells’ tea tin from Australia, printed with drawings of old Queenslander homes. It’s filled with coins and when I rattle it – like magic – dogs stop barking. Distraction - that’s the way to go. Some dogs go down to the bottom of the garden and we are talking down the steps, way along the lower terrace and then down several levels of garden. Holly, the beagle used to do that. Taco still does but he has special privileges 'cos he's an old man now and all of sixteen. Given the chance, he'll go down and stand and bark for hours - presumably he can smell the sangliers (wild boars) in the valley below the fencing. Really, a barking dog shouldn’t bother me, as I’m completely deaf in one ear. It’s something I recommend actually – so useful if a window rattles or you’ve a bed mate who snores – simply turn over and sleep on your good ear. Continually yapping dogs though, are a no-no.


Louis was one dog who didn’t come for interview. He couldn’t, as he was at sea with his owners, en route from Australia to the south of France. They needed to fly to the UK soon after mooring in Antibes and so planned his stay with me in advance. Louis couldn’t go to England because he’d not had the necessary blood tests and as he was a Cavalier King Charles spaniel I knew he'd be just fine here. I could have 40 Cavaliers here and not know it. They are probably the easiest dogs to look after. Give them a comfortable chair or a cushion and they’ll lie around looking beautiful. Louis was not only adorable but he was such a good-looking dog with the softest look in his lovely eyes.

Now to make the place as puppy proof as possible (fat chance) and await Beebop’s arrival. Oh dear, perhaps I should have interviewed her first?

Only kidding…


Anonymous said...

So no good me hoping you'll take my uncastrated Goldens then? I've never given up the hope of breeding from them though they're getting on a bit now.
I like the idea of the interview. Life would be hell if you took a difficult dog that wasn't socialised..
Good luck with Bebop....

Anonymous said...

Me again. What a fabulous makeover! I hardly recognised the place..
I'm not going to ask how long this took you.

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