I’m pleased to announce an addition to the Young household — a ten-week-old Vizsla. For those unfamiliar with this particular breed of dog, they are Hungarian in origin and when fully grown are about the same size as a lab. They make good bird dogs — they’re excellent retrievers — but can also double up as household pets. We’ve named him Leo on account of his leonine colouring.
Caroline says it’s like having a new baby, save for the fact that she isn’t breastfeeding him, and that’s not a joke. For one thing, I had no choice in the matter, just as I wasn’t consulted on the four occasions she decided to get pregnant. She drove up to Wales one morning to ‘look at’ some Vizsla puppies and returned in the evening with Leo under her jacket.
Having a dog is also a big expense. I was dimly aware that he would cost the best part of £1,000, but had no idea there were so many extras. Not just the food — and the meat content of his diet is already higher than mine — but all the accessories, including a ‘den’, a winter jacket and a range of toys. Then there’s the Kennel Club health insurance, which is more than £600 a year. I’m amazed that no politician has run on a platform of setting up an NHS for dogs. I’d vote for him.
In some respects, it’s actually harder work than having a baby because you can’t put a nappy on a pup. At ten weeks, his urinary system resembles that of a rat in that he produces a constant trickle of wee wherever he goes. We’ve confined him to the kitchen, which would make our lives easier were it not for the fact that he’s worked out how to climb on to the kitchen table. Meal times are chaotic enough with four children under 13, but if you add the fact that a dog may leap on the table at any second and piss on your chips, they’ve become unmanageable.
Unfortunately, disciplining Leo in any shape or form is verboten. I’ve buried my head in various owners’ manuals in the hope of learning how to house-train him, and the modern method, as with raising children, is to praise them for good behaviour rather than punish them for bad. Apparently, if you give them a clout on the nose after an ‘accident’, there’s a risk they may think that doing their business anywhere is bad, not just on the kitchen table, and subsequently make every effort to lick it up or — worse — start eating it. So the recommendation is to reward him with an expensive meat-flavoured pellet when he goes to the lavatory in the garden. Needless to say, this method is totally ineffective. After defecating on the table, he now looks at me expectantly, hoping for a ‘treat’.
Caroline has enlisted in ‘puppy school’ at the local church, but that hasn’t proved very helpful. When she told her we’d bought a Vizsla, the trainer shook her head in disbelief. ‘Have you owned dogs before?’ she asked. When Caroline said no, the trainer almost fell off her stool.
‘And you got a Vizsla?!?’
It was as if Caroline had turned up with a velociraptor.
There are some upsides. He’s a very attractive animal — the sole reason Caroline chose this particular breed, obviously. He has short hair, so doesn’t shed, and once housebroken should make a good family dog on account of the breed’s loyalty and protectiveness.
In some corner of my mind, I also entertain the fantasy that having a dog will teach my children to be more responsible, although there’s little evidence of that. When he does his ‘table trick’ they fall about with laughter and, to date, none of the little horrors has volunteered to take him for a walk. Their main contribution has been to wind him up into a frenzy of excitement, then disappear to watch television after the inevitable mishap.
The main benefit is that we will eventually come to look on him as a member of our brood, and one of the paradoxes of families is that the larger they become, the stronger your sense of attachment and belonging. A family unit that includes a dog feels more solid and dependable, somehow. There’s also the fact that he’ll never leave home. When seven-year-old Charlie follows the other three to university, Leo will remain behind. In my lonely old age, that will be a comfort.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.