As I wrote in my last post (a month ago, ahem…) this post is all about how having a dog has changed my world. Before Siggi I wasn’t exactly dogless; I grew up with first a GSP , then a Hungarian Vizla (who unfortunately almost bit my brother’s face off so had to be rehomed where there were no boisterous 2 year olds), then a series of Labradors: Sprite ( who allowed three kids under 10 to dress her up, give her parts in plays and pretend she was a horse), Poppy (the sweetest and most intelligent Lab I’ve ever met who had 2 litters of puppies with us), her babies Blue and Mabel (Blue was the tiny runt who sadly died early because of a liver shunt and Mabel who was the most beautiful dog but had a tendency to roam and was hit by a car), and now Dot who spent most of her first year in a barn until she came to us and is now absolutely besotted with humans, especially my mum, and who should really be a therapy dog given how deep her empathy is and how she helped my mum cope after the death of my dad.
And now I have Siggi. A dog as far removed from a Lab as it’s possible to get, both in looks and temperament, and a guy who has turned everything i thought i knew about dogs on its head. Being a rescue dog from the streets of Bucharest, we can’t be sure exactly what breed he is, but I think a Husky/Greyhound X is about closest.
So this is what I’ve learned so far and how I have changed as a person in the last three months:
- Not all dogs want as much fussing as labradors
This was a revelation! To go from having a dog that follows you even to the loo and has to be told to go and play, to one that would be gone in a flash if he was off-lead and barely wags his tail when I come home was a real shock to the system. I have to admit that I was really sad at first that Siggi often seemed to be completely ambivalent to us being there, but having read up a lot about rescue dogs it’s possible that his window of human socialisation went by without him actually meeting or engaging with many humans. The upside is that when he comes over for a cuddle of his own accord, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.
2. I drink less coffee
Lots of people say getting a dog makes them healthier. It’s usually for the obvious reason of getting outside and walking, but in my case I already did this without a dog. What I have noticed though, is that I have drastically cut down my coffee consumption since Siggi arrived, which was something i’d been trying to do for ages. I always felt jittery and more prone to anxiety when I drank several cups a day, and now I’m living with an anxious dog I want to be the calmest version of myself I can be.
3. I meditate more
This point is linked to number 2, but after a few weeks of life with Siggi, I realised I was becoming over-anxious about him. I worried he didn’t like us, I fretted about how much exercise he was getting, if we were good owners, if he liked Berlin, if he missed his buddies etc. etc. This kind of worrying does not in any way help a dog and in his case probably unsettled him even more. So I decided to go back to my Acem Meditation that I’d begun in March. Admittedly at the beginning I felt guilty about taking 30 minutes’ time to sit and practice instead of playing or walking with Siggi, but I think it’s pretty clear i’m a better human to him if I keep it up. After I’ve meditated I feel calmer, my actions are more mindful and that really helps when I’m training Siggi.
4. I’m more creative and inventive
Even before Siggi arrived I found myself wanting to journal more frequently and it was also why I started this blog! I have also since dug out my old SLR camera in the hope of capturing some portraits of Siggi and other dogs, and some of the wonderful things we see on our walks. For Christmas I found myself asking for some sketching pencils with the vague idea I might be able to transfer some of my teenage horse- drawing skills to dogs and landscapes…
I’m also developing the useful knack of turning rubbish into toys or games for Siggi. It might be a bottle with treats in a sock or an obstacle course of packaging, but I love coming up with new ways to challenge him and get him puzzling over how to do something. Although I think he gets plenty of exercise, there’s always this nagging feeling telling me because he can’t go off-lead on a daily basis that he’s missing out. Creating games for him gives us both something to do wth our monkey minds!
5. Berlin is very dog-friendly
This is technically something i’ve known since I moved here, and one of the reasons I decided to get a dog in this city, but it never stops amazing me (and visiting friends and family). Siggi comes almost everywhere with us: the bank, the post office, the pubs, the restaurants, the department stores, the train… Most cafes and restaurants have a bowl of water for dogs outside and in the pubs they bring one over for him. In one of our favourite cafes- Neon Toaster– they even feed Siggi titbits of cheese which he loves and means I can’t walk past their door without him howling to get in (and if you’ve ever heard a Greyhound howl….). Generally people too, are understanding when he sits on their shoes in the U-Bahn or rubs his belly across their outdoor carpets…
6. Dog ownership can be frustrating, stressful and lonely
Despite point number 5, it can sometimes be extremely tiring having a dog. Siggi is an anxious dog and if not managed properly it could get worse, so we’re often reading up on how best to train him, planning social situations carefully not to stress him, and having far fewer visitors to our place than we’d like because we’re still working on his tolerance of people at our place. If Siggi’s training hasn’t gone as well as I wanted, or if i see other behaviour problems creeping in, it can be difficult not to blame myself and wonder why I didn’t just buy a labrador puppy instead. In these situations it’s the most wonderful thing to connect with others in the same boat and here I’m going to plug the excellent Alex over at Lily and Ardberg for all the help and support i’ve had. Something as simple as hearing the words: “It just takes time” or “Problem dogs are not uncommon” can be enough to make me think positively again and crack on with some more training.
7. I’ve improved my German
Ein bisschen. My German is embarrassingly bad (a post for another day and a serious bone of contention between me and my in-laws) but having a dog forces you to interact with people. I’ve been guilty of living in an expat bubble and only really speaking German when I absolutely have to so it’s been both a shock to the system and a welcome kick up the arsch to have to interact with people in their own language. As everyone knows, the best way to learn is repetition and I’m lucky that most Hund owners don’t go in for long political discussions. Instead I hear the same dog vocabulary basics over and over again: Mädchen oder Rüde? (girl or boy) is normally the starting point of most conversations. As for Siggi, he’s bilingual. Because I do most of his training I tend to teach him English commands, but the basics are Deutsch (komm; sitz; warte; platz) and when I’m back in the UK with my mum’s dogs, I end up confusing them by saying bei fuß instead of heel!
So there you have it! Sharing our lives with this beautiful, intelligent animal has certainly opened my eyes to lots of new things, both geographical and personal. I’m so grateful to Siggi for trusting us, and for teaching me more about myself and how I see the world. I look forward to building up his confidence and bringing the best out of him as the months go by.
Have you learnt anything unusual or special through having a dog? I’d love to hear it!
Love and Frid!