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The Scrivener: Designing Dogs

…Labradoodles, spoodles and schnoodles are "designer dogs", I understand. As such, they are well designed. That's more than can be said for a cross between a beagle and a pug, which for some obscure reason is called a puggle,…

Brian Barratt introduces us to some of the canine characters in his life.

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Gus was so excited when we met on Saturday morning. We haven't seen each other for weeks, perhaps months. He wriggled and paddled around with joy and gave me that direct look that only his sort can give. Pushing his face up to mine, he licked my whiskers. I don't mind; he's clean and healthy. With wispy hair hanging over his eyes, hairy ears that stick up, direct gaze, impeccable behaviour and endearing personality, he is described variously as a mutt, a farm dog, or "a boy's dog". Gus is a mix of kelpie and poodle and something else, you see. There must be something else, because kelpies and poodles don't have beards.

Molly, whose parentage includes Jack Russell and Welsh corgi, greets me in an entirely different way. If she is on the other side of a door, gate or fence when I visit her owner, four doors down the street, Molly tells the whole world that the territory is hers. She knows who I am and she knows I will fuss her, but she barks her pretty head off until we are on the same side of the door, gate or fence, and then she condescends to be my friend. Later, at exactly 5.40pm, she starts shoving her nose into my hand or jumping up to tell me clearly that 5.45 is the time I go home.

The old dog who lived with me years ago also had mixed parentage. In his case, something went disastrously wrong in the birth control department. His mother was a purebred Rhodesian ridgeback. Beautiful dogs they are, too. She had a litter of little ridgebacks, plus the evidence of her indiscretion. He looked like a King Charles spaniel. If you know your dogs, you'll appreciate the disgrace. Their owner, who was a professor of history, named him Fitzroy.

Fitzroy was passed to me when he was getting on in years. With his white fur, well placed black markings, and finely feathered tail, he looked like some kind of pointer or spaniel. When friends, children and female dogs were around, he behaved perfectly, accepting and giving all the fuss he could. But if another male dog came within sniffing distance, all hell broke loose, and the lovable spaniel/pointer with ridgeback ancestry did his lion-hunting thing.

If you meet someone with a dog whose breed you don't recognise, you have to be careful not to assume it's a mongrel. That can get you into real trouble. Owners of pedigree pets can be very touchy. I breathed a sigh of relief recently when a magnificent creature of obviously mixed ancestry, combining long-legged stateliness with furry abandon, came lolloping up to me for fuss. "Is he a Labradoodle?" I asked. Yes, I was right. Just a few days prior to that, I'd managed to recognise a spoodle. But I struggled to identify another four-legged friend-of-all-the-world until her owner came to my rescue. That dog was a schnoodle.

So we can cross poodles with Labradors, spaniels, schnauzers, and Heaven knows what else. But, good reader, have you ever met a lurcher?

Lurchers look more like mongrels than any other mixed breed dog that I know of. They were originally bred by the Roma (my distant ancestors, Gypsies) for hunting rabbits and hares. The principal ingredient is greyhound. It seems to be almost arbitrary what else is added to the mix. They became more widely known when the old rogue Claude Greengrass in the charming and often hilarious TV series "Heartbeat" showed off his dog Fred, a pedigree lurcher.

Labradoodles, spoodles and schnoodles are "designer dogs", I understand. As such, they are well designed. That's more than can be said for a cross between a beagle and a pug, which for some obscure reason is called a puggle, In their ignorance, the designers evidently didn't know that a puggle is a baby echidna. "Pug" first appeared in print about 150 years ago as a verb meaning to push or poke something into or through a tube. When you've seen an echidna feeding, you can see the connection. There's more to that story but we'll have to stop now — I must go next door and have a chat with Zebedee.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2009


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