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Ireland has become a place of petty rules, restrictions, and signs telling us about them. It is perhaps most apparent in public parks. I’m not talking about small parks, where crowding might necessitate a few rules, but large parks, parklands, whose entrances tend to be dominated by signage giving a list of prohibitions. It might be easier to say what is permitted: walking and playing games within their designated areas. Ok, running is still permitted but there have been complaints about speeding!

Close to my home there is a huge park. Actually there are two parks, controlled by different county councils, and separated by the river Liffey. I used to go there often to run and to train my retrievers. However, while a dodgy knee has consigned me to the gym (for now!), park rangers have made it clear that retriever training is prohibited.

I argued of course. I made three points which I thought were persuasive. Firstly, I pointed out that my dog was under control on or off the lead. Secondly, I pointed out that sending a dog across a major river on, say, a 75m lead was both dangerous and daft. Thirdly, I drew attention to the fact that there were no other park users to be seen. Well, the answer was the threadbare one favoured by authoritarians all my life, yep: “A rule is a rule” and if exceptions were made, everyone would be sending dogs across the river, and law and order would break down. There is no point talking to someone of this type. They’ll eventually abrogate responsibility by claiming with a sad face that they are only doing their job. You’d have to admire their zeal and diligence in coming out to make sure that a solitary citizen was not using rain and cold as a cover for rule breaking.

Then there’s the man with the huskies and malamutes. He is ultimately training a dog sled team and, yes, that is now a sport on wheels independent of snow. I admired his idiosyncrasy, his commitment, and his beautiful, friendly dogs. He trained them in harness as they pulled him along on a bicycle. (I understand that smaller groups of sled dogs hauling a bicycle is also an organised sport.) They graced the park and gave pleasure to anyone fortunate enough to see them.

I hadn’t seen him in a long time, since my banishment from the park, but I met him by chance last week. We exchanged, “Haven’t seen you in ages.” I explained that retriever training was banned in the park and that I’d gone elsewhere. At least he was safe as sled dogs were necessarily trained in harness and could never be described as off the leash. But, but noooooooo … he too was banned. The huskies and malamutes couldn’t disguise the bike. According to the authorities he was cycling and that too is forbidden. Yes it is, look it up on the sign at the entrance. It’s just after all dogs must be on leads and just before the ban on horses or is it skateboards? Anyway it’s there.

Here’s some more: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/thinking-about-the-promenade-at-monte-estoril-and-irish-lack-of-freedom/

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I tend to have more serious pieces here but in the last couple of days I became involved in a discussion of Facebook and I realised that I had a reasonably serious and developed view on the importance of being able to predict the outcome of choosing to share a home with a dog.

I’m often accused of being a “dog snob” because for many years I’ve had well-bred Flatcoated Retrievers. They suit me, I admire them, they are fun and I like their company but I’m very aware that they could drive someone else to distraction. Now, that’s essentially the point: If you want a dog, you should get one that behaves and looks as you think your dog should. In that regard a pedigree dog is a better bet; it’s to do with knowing what you are getting into and I’ll explain.

ALL breeds are man-made, contrived for some human purpose. Their purpose determines not just their appearance but their temperaments and characters. Once you begin to think that you’d like to have a dog, you can research breeds and it’s very likely that you will find one that appeals in all or enough of these aspects. For example, gundogs are friendly BECAUSE their purpose is to work closely with lots of dogs and humans. Springers, however, appear crazy BECAUSE all that running around is what they’re bred to do in flushing game. They may be impossibly active as pets but a working springer doing what could appear crazy but under control is very effective.

However, most dogs are now kept as pets and if some day your pet reverts to type, there are different outcomes. Your pet Labrador might jump into a bush and retrieve a ball that you didn’t know was there. Your pet pitbull might revert to purpose by attacking another dog or worse! Your mixed breed from the pound is probably ok but you don’t know for certain and you’ve no idea if he/she will be active or quiet, will be destructive or not etc. etc. Pedigree dogs with some horrendous exceptions tend to be quite like their parents. In other words, if you purchase a particular breed, you are relatively certain of getting what you want or at least what you expect. Of course I’m not saying that your puppy will grow up without training to be like his beautifully behaved mammy. What I am saying is that with care, attention and training, he very likely will be.

Now, the alternative view is that rescue dogs are at least as good, are much cheaper, have a high success rate, have a million cute anecdotes to support them, and that rescue is a good in itself. Moreover, this view tends to be linked to an opposition to puppy farming. I don’t disagree with any of this but my point is quite different.

My son’s dog, Amy, is here now. She’s a collie/Labrador cross, she’s fabulous and possibly the best-trained dog I’ve ever seen. I like animals and dogs in particular. It would be great if homes could be found for all of the unwanted and greater still if they turned out like Amy. The difficulty is that breeds are very, very different and getting a dog is a big decision; you live WITH them and you better get it right. Now adopting a mature rescue dog might carry a degree of certainty as you’ve some idea what you’re getting but a pup of uncertain breeding is a gamble that I wouldn’t take.

A familiar line is, “A little bit of love, training and dog socialisation classes will do wonders for a rescue dog.” I wish that were true. However, if the line is changed to read, “… will do wonders for the vast majority of rescue dogs.”, I agree.

Two more points. Firstly, price isn’t an issue. The issue is degree of certainty that on having an animal literally share your home, it works out as you would like.

Secondly, I know that puppy farms exist for popular breeds but it would be very, very wrong to tar breeders generally with that brush. The few whom I know operate very differently: They produce very few pups and always for a particular purpose, and they subscribe to a code operated by their breed association

By the way, I’m certainly not recommending Flatcoats. They are friendly, excellent house dogs, beautiful, athletic, and marvelous as working gundogs but they are very playful, boisterous, confident, intelligent and physical; that’s why they are far less popular as pets than Labradors and Golden Retrievers. If you can endure the full-on American presentation, here’s a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7vARLJkW6c

The real thing, my friend, Stevie, is watching me as I finish this. He’s so much better than the ones in the video and though young (He was two a couple of weeks ago.) he’s already a super working retriever.