Information • Entertainment • Opinion (Since 1985)
|Book Fairs||Book Auctions||Open Bookshops||Biblio Paradiso (The Virtual Book Fair)||Book Search||Rare & Unusual Books||Alternative News|
A Dog for Dr. Bierbrauer
Rather unexpectedly, a dog has trotted into my life. More exactly, it has trotted into the life of my close friend Dr. Bierbrauer, who, now he is retired, has for some time been on the lookout for someone, or something, to spend his time with, in a fulfilling relationship of mutual adoration. How happy I am to be able to report that his search is over.
From the outset, Dr. Bierbrauer had some clear criteria about the dog he would like to share his life with. For instance, it would weigh not more than five kilos. An important consideration, because in Germany dogs which weigh less than five kilos can travel free on public transport and Dr. Bierbrauer, who has paid a heap of taxes in his life, is not a man who feels obliged in his old age to subsidize unnecesssarily the running of public trains, trams and buses in the Bundesrepublik. Furthermore , the dog would measure not more than 70 centimeters in length, and not more than 20 centimers in breadth. Not because this represents some Golden Mean of canine beauty, but because these are the internal dimensions of the basket on the handlebars of Dr. Bierbrauer's bicycle. He had a clear vision of himself pedalling through the streets of Freiburg, and through the byways of the Black Forest and Alsace, with his small companion perched neatly inside his shopping basket up front.
He also decided that his dog would not be of a sort that drops hairs all over the place. He is an orderly man who values cleanliness and hygiene, and he knows that certain breeds have woolly coats, which do not shed hairs. Having investigated the matter, he found the choice of woolly dogs was rather narrow. Poodles, Maltese dogs and Bichon Frises fitted his weight and size criteria but none of them really appealed. "These are in fact dogs for women" he said. " Yes," I said, "we call them 'lap dogs'. But, you know, there are also lap dogs for men. Tibetan Prayer dogs, for example. They were specially bred as hot-water bottles for Tibetan monks. They sit on the monks' laps as they are praying or meditating in their draughty mountain monasteries and keep them warm." No, he did not know (despite our shared adventures in Tibet). Nor had he heard a piece of wisdom (not Tibetan) often quoted by my brother, who is a vet (i.e. a veterinary surgeon): "The smaller the dog, the bigger the vet's bill." Hearing this, Dr. Bierbrauer looked very thoughtful.
One thing was certain. The dog would come, not from a breeder or a pet shop or a private person, but from a dog's home. Dr. Bierbrauer, a man thrifty in small things but generous in big, was determined to pluck some poor mutt from its condemned cell in Death Row and offer it a new home and a new life with him. I warned him that this was his old Rescue Fantasy syndrome asserting itself again: how many waifs and strays from around the world had he rescued, and married, in the past, only to end up disappointed, depressed and divorced? As he began counting on his fingers, I said my question was merely rhetorical, and I just wanted him to be careful. "With a dog, it's different," he said. "A dog I do not marry."
The search began. Google yielded numerous possibilities. Simone and I were drawn into the hunt. We were asked our opinions, because it became clear that in some way we were to be godparents to the new dog. Having agreed to look after the dog when Dr. Bierbrauer went on overseas holidays, or when he fell ill, or had important appointments, we were invited to be minor shareholders in the venture, with a vote or two to cast when decisions were to be made.
Every week, every day almost, Dr. Bierbrauer forwarded pictures of dogs featured on dog adoption web sites, which might fit his criteria. What did we think? We thought it was really up to him. Every week, I asked him how serious he was about getting a dog. Some weeks he said "Forty per cent." Some weeks he said "Ninety per cent." But even in a ninety per cent week, nothing happened. Finally he showed us a photo of a dog which really appealed to him. "That's it," said Simone. "That's the one. If you don't write this minute and say you want it, then you can forget about the whole thing. I won't be interested any more." That very evening Dr. Bierbrauer sent off his application to adopt the dog in the photo. And a few days later a meeting was arranged.
The meeting arranged was not for Dr. Bierbrauer to meet and inspect his new dog. No. The meeting was for Frau Dicke to meet and inspect Dr. Bierbrauer, to see if he would be a suitable owner for the dog. And to see whether he could offer it suitable accommodation. This is Germany and they do things in this way, very thoroughly, and for this they are to be applauded. In any case, Dr. Bierbrauer passed the test. It helped that he borrowed Simone for a couple of hours to pose as his wife. Frau Dicke, accompanied by a meek man who was either her husband, or possibly a man posing as her husband, stressed the importance of love in the relationship between man and dog. It was clear that her own three dogs, which accompanied her, loved her very much. They climbed onto the sofa and sprawled beside her, as she interviewed Dr. Bierbrauer. After they had left, he spent several hours removing dog hairs from his sofa and carpets. But he was happy. Subject to the payment of 350 euros and the completing of a number of documents, the dog would be his. It simply had to be trucked in from Spain. In fact, it would soon be on its way.
Hearing this, Dr. Bierbrauer was alarmed. He was not quite ready to welcome the new dog into his home. When it arrived, he would not even be in his home, as he had booked ten days holiday in the Isole Liparesi. (Dr. Bierbrauer is a man who finds it uncomfortable to spend a summer or autumn without visting at least once some part of Italy). Could the dog be put "on hold" until he got back? Yes, this being Germany, it could. A student in Freiburg was already designated as its temporary foster mother: she would look after it until he was ready to take over. Wunderbar! Before he left for Italy, he could at least meet his new dog and its foster mother, under the supervision of Frau Dicke and her husband, before he left for Italy. Could he perhaps visit his dog unsupervised? No, unfortunately, that was not possible. There were rules, and Frau Dicke was not the sort of person to break, or even bend, them.
Being a methodical man, with scientific training, Dr. Bierbrauer prepared himself for dog ownership by studying several manuals on how to train dogs. The best of these was given to him by Simone: "Mit Hunden Sprechen" ("The Dog Listener" Harper Collins 2000). This book written by an Englishwoman, Jan Fennell, models its dog training methods on the horse training methods of the famous horse whisperer, Monty Roberts. Ms.Fennell freely and generously acknowledges her debt to Mr. Roberts, who was initially her inspiration and later became her mentor and friend. Her system is very simple. Every dog (she says), even a lap dog with a silly haircut and a pink ribbon in its hair, is still basically a pack animal, with the same instincts and responses as a wolf in a pack of wolves. The dog owner must, as far as possible, replicate the behaviour of the wolf pack leader: the dog then will recognize its own role as underdog, and can then by and large relax, secure in the knowledge that its needs will me met, and dangers and decisions dealt with, by its leader. All behavioral problems to do with dogs (she says) flow from the inability, or the unwillingness, of dog owners to impose their status as pack leader. "Love your dog, make it feel subordinate to you. It will love you back even more." Counter-intuitive stuff. But (she says) it works.
She proposes four simple rules for asserting your dominance:
Ignore your dog. Especially when leaving it behind at home, but most especially when returning home. When you come back home, do not greet it, pat it, talk to it. You must ignore it, for at least five minutes. When you are ready, when it has given up trying to paw you and kiss you, turning cartwheels and somersaults to gain your attention, only then say hello to it. Pack leaders do not give attention to their underdogs, when leaving or returning to the pack. Nor should you. And when your dog comes nuzzling up you as you sit on the sofa, asking for a cuddle, or for a game with a ball, ignore it. Stand up and walk away if need be. You are the one who decides when to cuddle and when to play, and when to stop.
Reward your dog. You want your dog to be biddable, obedient and well-trained. The best way to achieve this is by positive reinforcement. Make it want to do what you want as much as you do, by rewarding it liberally with treats. It will soon obey with joy commands like "Sit", "Down", "Heel" and "Stay". The security of the pack depends on the obedience, and often the vigilance, of the underdog. When someone rings your doorbell, and your dog starts barking, don't yell at it to shut up: say instead "Good dog" and reward it with a treat. It has done its job as an underdog, alerting the leader (you) of a possible danger to the pack. Now you can take over, make the necessary decisions, and it can lie down and relax.
Feed your dog last. In the wild, when the prey has been stalked and killed, the leader of the wolf pack eats first. Then his mate feeds, and after her, the underdogs, turn by turn, in descending pecking order. So you should eat before feeding your dog. And if this is impractical, you can give the impression of eating before your dog does, by munching a crunchy biscuit or cracker before putting its bowl of food down. You as leader are the food provider, at a time of your choosing. And not ever at the dinner table.
Be the Leader. In other words, lead! Be the first to go through a doorway, to step outside, to enter unknown territory. That is your job as leader, to sniff the wind, to check for danger. When you go walking, you dog does not run on ahead, it walks behind you or (at least) beside you, to heel. Similarly, assert your dominance physically: let your dog know you are stronger than it. If you must play tug-of-war, be sure you always end up the winner. And if your dog actually is stronger than you, don't play tug-of-war games. Do not let your dog sit, stand or lie in a position which dominates, or is equal to, your own. In other words, do not let it sleep on your bed, on your sofa, on your lap or on your favorite armchair. The place for your dog is below you, on the floor, on its mat or in its basket. The leader gets the best and highest seats (and beds) in the house.
I could tell that Dr. Bierbrauer was impressed by Ms. Fennell's method. He urged me to read the book too, which I did. I was impressed too. My only quibble was this. If you followed Pack Law to the letter, you would have to punish your underdog when he stepped out of line. A nip on the ear, a grab of the scruff, a serious bite on the flank for misdemeanours: for serious infringements of The Law by an underdog, mutilation, expulsion from the pack, even death. How did Dr. Bierbrauer reconcile this violence with Ms.Fennell's soft and gentle only approach? "You are right," he said. "It is not completely logical. But then it is not completely logical to keep a small wolf in your house."
The great day came when Dr. Bierbrauer took possession of his dog Its name is Cabal, perhaps short for "Caballero" which as you know is Spanish for 'Gentleman" and, if so, it fits him perfectly because this is exactly what he is: a little gentleman from somewhere in Spain. He belongs to the proud race of Spanish hunting dogs called Podencos, of which there are a number of regional varieties ( Andalucian, Canarian, Balearic etc.). Cabal is clearly of the variety called Guapo. I never saw a prettier dog. In build he is like a small greyhound, an Italian greyhound perhaps, or a plump whippet. His coat is a tawny chestnut brown, and he has pretty white paws, a white star on his forehead, and a white blaze on his chest. To look at, Cabal reminds me somewhat of "Jock of the Bushveldt" as pictured by Lionel Edwards, in a special illustrated edition of that famous book written by Percy Fitzgerald: but Cabal has a European elegance and distinction lacking in his South African cousin.
In the eighteen months of his existence, Cabal has had some challenging experiences: months spent in a death cell in a Spanish dog's home, a long overland trip in a truck from Spain to Germany, a fortnight with an unknown foster parent in Freiburg, a new home with Dr.Bierbrauer. These are simply the challenges we know about. Who would be surprised if the dog turned out to be severely traumatised? As it happens, he is as sweet-tempered as he is beautiful. Simone was right: he is exactly the right dog for Dr. Bierbrauer.
Interesting that in Europe there is a considerable traffic in dogs. In the countries of Northern Europe, where dogs are regularly, if not systematically, de-sexed and where responsible dog ownership is seriously encouraged, there is a shortage of dogs for adoption. In the south and east, on the other hand, there are dogs a-plenty. This is partly to do with current economic conditions: in Greece and Spain, for example, many people simply can no longer afford to keep pets; Romania and Bulgaria are historically not rich countries. And perhaps machismo plays a part too: a dog without testicles is, for some people simply not a proper dog. So de-sexing (which incidentally sounds less drastic than "castrating" or even "spaying") is not as widely practised as here in the north. Germans, famed now for their generosity in housing the displaced and the unfortunate, are eager to offer homes to the unwanted dogs of elsewhere.
After a couple of weeks , I asked Dr. Bierbrauer how happy he was with his new dog. "Ninety-nine per cent," he said. "And you're putting into practice all four of the rules for being Leader of the Pack?" I asked. This was a mischievous question, because I knew darned well he wasn't. Very few dog owners can. How can you ignore your darling dog when you have come home from work, or from shopping, and he has been left all alone in your house or flat for two or six or eight hours? Of course you can't. "Come here, my snooky-pooks! Yes, you missed me. And I missed you too!" A love scene follows. I am happy to see Dr. Bierbrauer in love again. I know they even sleep together. It's all wrong of course, and I tell him so. "I must say, with Cabal I am not so disciplined" he says. This is an understatement. Where is the Prussian self-discipline the Germans are so famed for? I notice that Dr. Bierbrauer's bedside reading matter is no longer Jan Fennell's dog training manual, but a short book by Thomas Mann "Herr und Hund" ("Master and Dog"), first published in Munich in 1919. I've read it. It's a delightful account of Mann's life with his hunting-dog Bauschal. But it has nothing to say about how to train your dog.
"Only ninety-nine per cent happy?" I pursue this statistic. Dr. Bierbrauer explains that he has only one reservation about dog ownership: the hairs that Cabal sheds all over the flat. "But you knew this," I say. "You always said you wanted a dog which would not shed hair. Like a poodle." He makes a face. " A solution I will discover," he says. And he does. A few weeks later, he introduces me to Robbie. Robbie is Dr. Bierbrauer's pet name for a little robot vacuum-cleaner which scoots around his flat, sucking up Cabal's hairs. "You must watch Robbie," says Dr. Bierbrauer. "Isn't he wonderful?" He is pretty wonderful but not wonderful enough for me to want to spend more than thirty seconds observing him. Unlike Dr. Bierbrauer, who seems to be completely rapt. "I'm going home," I say. Dr. Bierbrauer doesn't hear me. It's obvious why. He's in love again.
Anthony Marshall, is a retired secondhand bookseller now living in Germany. He is a member of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers, a past member of the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association in England, where for ten years he ran the County Bookshop in Oakham, Rutland, and former owner of Alice's Bookshop in Melbourne, Australia. Mr. Marshall has contributed many articles to book magazines, all of which with the exception of “Book Source Magazine” are now defunct. Some of these articles reappear in his two books: “Trafficking in Old Books” (Lost Domain, Melbourne 1998) and "Fossicking for Old Books” (Bread Street Press, Melbourne 2004).