It’s coming up two years (in November) and time for an update on living with a podenco, the Spanish hunting dog used for running down rabbits and hares, for anyone thinking of adopting one of these lovely sighthounds, especially a rescued working dog which has usually lived out.
Purdey loves little rituals, which become cast in stone – when I return from shopping I unpack the bags against the door, then open it so she can charge out and leap into the back of the car where she waits, trembling with expectation, while I transfer the shopping inside. Then we go find parking and detour into a brief walk on the way home. Not exactly exciting, but she loves it. She loves life generally, everything except thunder and bangs, which bring her trembling under the desk. She was five when we found each other and all I know of her background was that she started life as a hunting dog and three of her owners were hunters. She’s had at least one litter, possibly every time she came on heat although if a dog is too insistent (they still are, although she’s now spayed) she sits down firmly, removing temptation, and snaps crossly at him. No way José.
It seems likely she was never a house dog before, and very timid about coming indoors, but she decided eventually that anything the cat could do was surely legal. Ideal homes for them are large busy families, not single old ducks like me, but I own a guesthouse so there’s usually something on the go. Occasionally paying guests bring dogs with them – she was utterly fixated by a visiting Chihuahua which was very patient about being sniffed from nose to tail every time it appeared. Another guest brought a miniature Doberman which adored her and wouldn’t leave her alone, I’d find her sleeping in a hiding place while the little visitor searched anxiously for her. The very first guest dog was a particularly massive Newfoundland – even I was taken aback by its size. When I let her out she charged upstairs to see what was happening, took one startled glance, and charged back down, but they got on well during his stay. He was a gentle giant, still very young, and delighted to find my last dog’s neglected basket of toys. Purdey hadn’t understood the concept of play until then and now has a favourite teddy. She’ll also now chase a ball (and sometimes bring it back). Mainly she loves attention. She’s not a pest, but is radiant when being stroked and as for grooming, would probably stand rock still to the end of time so long as the brush kept moving.
Sometimes guests borrow her for walks or even dawn runs, both of which she heartily approves. Some guests bribe her with scraps when they are cooking (strictly against rules), but some shout at her to go away when she pokes her nose round the apartment door, and she skitters downstairs looking embarrassed and avoids them from then on. I worried about taking on a breed which needed lots of exercise and company but the walks are good for both of us and she seems to enjoy the turnover in visitors. Sometimes when a favourite guest is leaving I fancy the glance she gives me says well, we tried our best, maybe next time but then I am a writer and have an over-developed imagination.
She leaps about like Tigger when I lift down the lead and harness, and is always up for adventure – if I get to my feet, any time day or night, she’s instantly alert, those enormous ears pricked, amber eyes glowing. She’s friendly, loving, eager to please, but when I’m busy she’s quite happy to head up to the patio to sunbathe, or to my bedroom for a nap. She hates baths and she hates the sea, fleeing in panic from waves. She’s swum (politely, with a guest) in the river, but generally loathes getting wet, possibly because her wiry coat takes a while to dry even with a towel. Rainy days are few and far between here but those are our shortest walks, and she’s turning for home with a pleading look even as I’m bending down with the baggie.
Because she has way more energy than I do, we worked on her recall until now I can let her off the lead to gallop in open areas. She’s even learned that if another dog comes into sight, especially one on a lead, she has to resist temptation and return to her own lead before introductions, if they happen at all, are allowed. That was essential, as Spanish dogs aren’t generally as sociable as, for example, UK dogs, and are usually on the lead for a reason, especially in the open. They react in different ways to a pod galloping up to say hello. Some stand rockstill, frozen in shock, some launch straight into an attack, and some are delighted and the two end up having a romp while we owners make laboured Spanglish conversation. She’s very, very, good with other dogs, and very firm, tolerating no more than a polite amount of sniffing before pointedly putting a stop to it. We were on a street walk, on the lead, when a very angry terrier launched itself teeth first from a doorway. She owned him in about four seconds flat and had him on his back crying out in fear while she stood over him making dreadful noises into his face. She was in complete control of herself and the situation, and didn’t so much as nip him as she terrified him into good manners. She’s never started a fight, defends herself with vim and vigour when another dog turns hostile, but doesn’t hang about, using her hunting speed to remove herself from danger. She can jump like an ibex, from a standing start, and is surefooted on high walls or rocky terrain while I’m still palpitating with shock. She’s in her element, of course, when back in the campo.
That’s something to remember, anyone wanting to adopt a pod needs good fencing especially as they are the most inquisitive dogs ever hatched – she’s left in my apartment while new guests arrive, in case they aren’t dog fanciers, and can be seen through the glass door leaping up to five feet in the air while booming out her enormous challenging bark. When she’s let out to be introduced (as she has to be, even to the non dog fanciers since she has to know this lot are allowed in the house) she’s suddenly timid and diffident, then warms up to them by the day if they’re the right sort, and again that shared glance when they leave, as leave they must . . . she adores family visiting because they come into “our” space.
There were initial hiccups, to be expected. Even with 3 meals a day, she scavanged at first, still in “who knows when the next meal will come” mode. Although she has no animosity towards cats, anything darting away had her in automatic pursuit – she’s a sight hound, bred to chase. And she was and is stubborn when she thinks she knows best. I’ve previously nearly always owned bull breeds and know about bullheadedness but she doesn’t glower, she just – does what she thinks she should. This stubbornness makes some think them stupid but in fact once they have worked out what it is that you want, and why (logic matters to them) they are willingness itself. She is highly intelligent, clean in her habits, independent, loving, and far more protective of me than I’d expected from an initially timid dog.
I really wasn’t sure I was doing the best thing, for either of us, but she was in desperate need of a home and it turned out we needed each other. Thank you for reading to the end, perhaps you are doing so because you too are thinking of adopting a podenco. She is an enduring delight.