The learning curve of living with a #podenco – a truly Spanish dog

I’m no expert. Total newbie, in fact. There have been many dogs in my past and for a large chunk of that past they’ve been rescue dogs of the bullbreed type, mainly staffies. The last 8 years, for example, was spent with a bulldog / Frenchie cross with a will of iron who only went into rescue because her doting owners unexpectedly produced a baby and she refused pointblank to accept the interloper. To the end of her long life she wasn’t to be trusted near a crying baby. Difficult rescue dogs? Been there, done that. A podenco couldn’t be more different, and I hadn’t expected such a learning curve.  So here’s what I’ve learned so far: some of it I looked up, some of it was passed on from others, and most of it from Purdey.

The Spanish have a reputation for cruelty to animals – it must immediately be said I’ve had Spanish guests here at the Casa with their dogs and even, in two cases, their cats, and they were devoted to their pets and couldn’t bear to be separated from them. The town has a conventional complement of much-loved house pets, often met out on walks. Like many generalisations it is not true of the majority. But – podencos (it literally means hound), a group of Mediterranean hare-hunting sighthounds, differing slightly by region (eg Ibiza, Andalusia, Canary Islands, etc) aren’t often as lucky. They are quite literally considered tools.

A working pod will often be kept in a dark shed, and is generally half-starved during hunting season to make it keener for the hunt. When the season ends, many are turned out to fend for themselves, and the persistent are driven miles away to be dumped, or worse. Pods have been dealt a fairly crappy hand in life and many people, both in Spain and out, are stepping up to adopt rescued ones. They make marvellous pets but they are not like other dogs. They are not, by the way, a breed as such, more an unmistakable type, with enormous ears, jaunty tails, and strong wiry frames.  They come in three sizes, small, medium, and large, and can be rough or smooth coat.

Purdey is a almost classic Andalusian medium-sized rough coat pod but has no tail – I don’t know whether it was deliberately docked, amputated after a mishap, or is a birth abnormality. She is around 3 years old, was found living alone in a tumble-down house in the campo, and handed over to me a fortnight ago. She looks dainty and rangy by turns, is immensely strong for her size, and uses her wonderful ears like semaphore flags.

So far she has proved charming, gentle, and increasingly affectionate. I was concerned that I’d not be able to give her marathon walks and runs, and that the household, especially during this covid year, is excessively quiet – me and an elderly cat.  After all, research says that they like children, love a bustling household with a lot going on, and many have taken to agility training and enjoy it very much. Turns out, though, they don’t need to be galloped twice a day, or worn out before they can sleep, but they do need regular walking. Great for me – that’s why I wanted a dog.

Loving and affectionate, yes. Lapdogs, not so much. Purdey likes to be near me, or where she can see me, but far from having to be chased off the bed or sofa, she won’t even sleep on a thickly padded dog bed and prefers a knobbly old dog rug with no padding whatsoever. She’s used to alone-time and doesn’t nag for constant attention, although when I do reappear she is flatteringly delighted. She would probably stand rockstill to the end of time if I would just keep brushing her – it is one of her passions in life. When it stops she sighs, does a nose-poke thank you, and heads to the knobbly old rug. Great for me – I don’t like dogs that demand constant entertainment and playing. She has no concept of play at all, and looks oddly at me when I bounce a ball, or squeak a toy. The one exception is the kong, which she considers an admirable way of serving dog pâté. We’re working on play.

As dogs they are hardy, robust, and fend remarkably well for themselves when turned out, as so many are, after hunting season. The downside is that they are skilled scavengers, and she ransacked the rubbish bin the first time I left her alone. She’ll also pinch the cat’s food and anything left out, even when she’s just had a meal, and gives me a guilty grin when I scold. That’s improving already, with regular food, but I don’t think she’ll ever completely lose the habit.

I’m warned I may never be able to let her off the lead on a walk because however devoted they are to owners, they are insatiably curious explorers.  Be aware, also, that a podenco puts Houdini to shame when it comes to wriggling out of collars and harnesses. A collar will likely not be enough and a harness must be fitted snugly. Purdey’s was adjusted by another half inch on each side after she showed me just how good she is. That was an exciting half hour through the streets of Velez, with her trotting anywhere between ten to fifty yards ahead, sublimely unaware of my cold dread that she would pop out in front of a car as I panted in pursuit.

They are gently stubborn – once they have decided a course of action, it is hard to convince them otherwise.  Purdey learned instantly, when I squawked, that peeing in the middle of the atrium was not going to be popular.  Her home loo became the terrace, which is near the hosepipe and easily washed down. It has also become her only loo. She loves walks, she is fascinated by what other dogs have left on the street and in the rough grass, but no matter how long we stay out, she pops up to the terrace with a sigh of relief when we get back. After the first week with me she did start peeing occasionally when out, and seemed embarrassed by my lavish praise. I’d welcome any advice on getting her preferring outdoors to indoors.

They are sighthounds, those huge ears are like radar antenna, and they have hunter reflexes. Introductions to cats must be handled carefully. There was no problem introducing them, but my cat is furtive around dogs, and likes to make quick dashes from hiding, especially outside at night. With a bulldog, no problem, he was out of range before she had her legs sorted out. With a sighthound, a couple of heart-stopping dashes until Purdey finally accepted his resemblance to a rabbit was purely coincidental. Me shouting NO devastated her: telling her she was a Bad Dog, the second time, reduced her to quivering jelly. Sprinting after small animals is what she was bred to do. In this pic (I’m a rubbish photographer) the cat looks nearly her size but is merely nearer the camera. They’re not friends, not yet, but settling down together.

Pods may be hunters, but they are unexpectedly timid. I’m used to imposing my will on difficult stubborn dogs – hence the shout NO. Purdey is highly intelligent and desperate to please, and that’s characteristic of the type too. If danger beckons they will remove themselves and expect you to have the sense to do the same. Your pod will not be challenging visitors, or bringing up the rear barking defiantly while you get to safety. On the bright side, they won’t pick fights with other dogs, and will go out of their way to avoid confrontation. This is proving immensely restful after all those years of bull breeds.

She was so timid at first that I tried her in a thunderjacket – she didn’t object, but then she never does. It could help for high-stress outings like vet visits. I might need to change to a female vet as she is definitely afraid of men.

If you want a roly-poly bundle of lively fun which will chase after balls and bring them back, be delighted by toys, and protect you to its dying breath, a pod won’t suit. My friend has had his eight years and Purdey is newly moved in, but in these things they are the same – very traditional dogs, bred to work for their keep, self-effacing, independent, needing only food and exercise, gratefully returning kindness and a place in your home with affection and the desire to fit in. His dog barks at the approach of cars (but then that’s out in the campo, so it usually means a visitor) and both dogs literally dance with delight at moments of high excitement.   

My phone takes awful photos which don’t do her justice. She’s utterly lovely.

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