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The Scrivener: Best Friends

...Carefully proffer the back of your hand, wiggle your fingers, make a nice tsk-tsk noise, and you'll often be greeted by a floor-mop with a vigorously wagging tail...

Ace columnist Brian Barratt surveys the canine scene in Melbourne.

'Lively, intelligent... friendly, alert.'

'Active, playful... an engaging little dog, seemingly without fear or awareness of its diminutive size.'

That is how the dog books describe the Maltese, once called Maltese Terrier although it is not a terrier.

The latest edition (March 2013) of the Monash Bulletin, which is distributed to the 65,500 households in the City of Monash, a suburb of Melbourne, notes that Maltese and Maltese cross are the most popular dogs in the city. 1,397 of them are registered as pets.

The most popular 'cross' with a Maltese seems to be the Shih Tzu, another little dog with generally pleasant outlook on life. There is certainly evidence of just a few of the 1,397 if you glance around local shopping centres on sunny Saturdays. Carefully proffer the back of your hand, wiggle your fingers, make a nice tsk-tsk noise, and you'll often be greeted by a floor-mop with a vigorously wagging tail. Carefully, though, because you could be greeted by a volley of aggressive barks too. Some floor-mop dogs can be pretty defensive.

The next in the list of the most popular dogs in this suburb will never bark at you. You'll be greeted by a welcoming look, a gently wafting tail and a friendly nuzzle. We have 1,901 registered Labrador Retrievers and Labrador Retriever crosses.
The list goes on to include a few hundred each of Jack Russell Terrier and Jack Russell Terrier Cross, Golden Retriever, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, German Shepherd, Border Collie, Poodle Cross, Australian Kelpie Cross and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

It can be a bit difficult to identify the origins of those Poodle Cross dogs. I've met a few Labradoodles, crossed with Labradors, and what lovely dogs they are. One day, I had a pleasant chat with a Schnoodle. Yes, you guessed: crossed with a Schnautzer. Then there was a Spoodle, crossed with a Cocker Spaniel. And a Cavoodle, crossed with a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. All these designer dogs are hybrids, not breeds, even though hybrid is not the strictly correct term. All dogs are of the same sub-species of Canis lupus, the grey wolf.

Like it or not, we live in an era of 'designer dogs'. In the 1990s, an enterprising person in the USA crossed a Beagle with a Pug and called it a Puggle. That's an understandable designer name but it is not original. It was already the term for a baby Echidna, the unique egg-laying mammal of Australasia which is the only creature that has a 4-headed penis. No doubt the proponents of so-called 'Intelligent Design' can explain why that is so.

On the other hand, I have met dogs whose breed and origin confounded me and they're certainly not on the list of the most popular. The American Staffordshire Terrier was easy to work out once its owners explained it to me. But the Bull Arab was a different matter. According to one website, it was '...originally developed in Australia ...in the 1970s by crossing a Bull Terrier with a German Shorthaired Pointer and a Greyhound. The dog was 50% Bull Terrier. Later, the Bloodhound and English Pointer were added in and some bloodlines have also added in Mastiff.' That is a curious mixture for a dog with a rather silly name. It was bred for wild boar hunting and apparently does not have a good reputation:

However, the one I met was a big soppy thing, and just rolled over for a tummy-tickle and lots of fuss.

Tummy tickles, scratches in hard-to-reach places, warm beds on cold nights, companionship when separated from their own pack, water whenever needed, a reliable supply of food dogs get their own way. We think we have tamed and trained them to accept all this but the reverse is more likely. Since Canis lupus, the grey wolf, first hovered around groups of homo sapiens sapiens, looking for food, thousands and thousands of years ago, they have taught us to respond to their every need and become Canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog. Well may we call them 'Man's Best Friend', the 1,397 Maltese and Maltese cross dogs in the City of Monash and all the others, whatever their size, shape or colour. Even if we do sometimes give them inappropriate names like Bull Arab and Puggle.

Copyright Brian Barratt 2013

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