The Dogcharmer: Calvin

Not a fan of fellow canines.

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Calvin the Saluki. Courtesy Susan Arthur.

Hi Tom,

Our friend Bob O’Rourke said he ran into you yesterday, and mentioned our dog problem. We have a saluki, Calvin, who is aggressive to other dogs. We’ve had him about a year, and he is otherwise sweet, a little timid, and aloof around other people (not us). He was given to us by people who showed him, but couldn’t keep him because he bit one of their other dogs. I’m not sure what to do about this other than keep him close to me when we go anyplace there may be dogs. Ideas?

Thanks for your help.

 

Susan Arthur

 

Dear Susan,

Many people’s perceptions of show dogs is that their life is a life of leisure. “Constantly attended to and pampered and gushed over for their beauty. I should have such a life!” said a woman I met at Tradewinds not long ago. I’m no maven when it comes to show dogs, although my one — and only one — experience in a ring showing a dog was amazing. Amazing because it was equivalent to competing for a gold in the Olympics, flying on a horse in the Kentucky Derby, pitching the seventh game in the World Series, or quarterbacking the Super Bowl. I think it was 1977 or ’78, when I was living in Queens, and my neighbor was slated to show her silky terrier (looks like a Yorky to most onlookers) at the Westminster Dog Show in Madison Square Garden. The night before the show she knocks on my door and tells me she doesn’t have the nerve to handle Pepper, the silky, in the middle of Madison Square Garden in front of a million eyes. Would I do it for her? Granted, I had trained Pepper to be a cooperative companion, but I had never been in a show ring in my life. So I, of course, said, “Sure!”

I wore a shockingly ’70s purple velour paisley jacket and pranced around, trying to imitate the other handlers in the ring. I won nothing other than to be able to say, “I showed a dog at Westminster.” But It was great fun, and I got to speak to a lot of the handlers who travel with the dogs touring the show circuit. I got the impression that it wasn’t that great for the dogs, because it sounded to me like the dogs didn’t get enough time to be “just dogs.” That was my impression back then, and I could be completely wrong.

Show dogs are in the presence of other dogs a great deal, and therefore have to be dog-friendly. The fact that your saluki, Calvin, was taken off the show circuit for biting another dog says to me that we’re probably never going to transform him into a social butterfly, but rather teach him to be civil in the presence of other four-leggeds. When asked by other dog walkers, “Friendly?” the answer will be “No!” By civil, I mean Calvin will be disallowed to charge and threaten other dogs he encounters. He needs to be taught a proper “heel,” whereby Calvin stays next to you, ignoring everything (including squirrels, a dropped slice of pizza, or dogs) while walking. He also needs to be taught “Leave it,” ignoring whatever he’s focused on. I had a pharaoh hound for 14 years, also a sighthound like your Calvin. The sighthounds are the fastest and have the best eyesight in the world of dogs; they see their prey and run it down. And my experience with greyhounds and whippets and other sighthounds is that they’re extremely intelligent, but often sensitive to a fault. This, of course, is a generalization based on my experience. It is also my experience that very sensitive dogs, when handled properly, are very quick learners. Susan, take heart; with a little help, the likelihood is Calvin will quickly want to please you by cooperating.

 

The Dogcharmer

 

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