Almost three years today, I got a little American cocker spaniel, by way of the Hope Association. Same sad story. Owners going back to the UK and leaving two dogs behind. I took both of them and although Saffy died only two months after arriving here, I like to think she had a happy time. She certainly seemed like she did.
Tilly took ages to settle, though mostly she seemed fairly content. That first walk she went on, she collapsed after a couple of kilometres and just lay down in protest. Two months later and she was happily managing the occasional 10km walk without a whimper. I can’t even remember the last time she lay down on a walk.
Tilly is perhaps not a typical American cocker, but given that my only other experience of American cockers has been my Nana and Gramps’ dog Sunny, I’d say she is so like him it is untrue. She is a massive bin-dipper and will faire les poubelles or ‘do the bins’ at any opportunity. Her favourite way to spend a half hour if I’m out is in shredding the recycling bag to get at anything I might have forgotten about. She will happily climb on the table the moment I leave the room. We got so used to this with Sunny that we became habitual chair-pusher-inners. She is incredibly loyal and it took her a while to get used to me but now her favourite place to sit is right next to me and her favourite place to sleep is right next to me. I’m not allowed to touch her though, and she grumbles if I do and moves away, but she likes to be right up next to me.
Anyway, Tilly has never been a playing dog. She is not interested in sticks, balls, chasing, running or catching. She had a stone she quite liked to skid across the floor, which was a little sad, but she has never been a player. Apart from rolling in unpleasant smells like manure and fox droppings, she doesn’t have much by way of doggie behaviours at all.
Or, she didn’t.
She will chase after a deer or a wild boar if one crosses her path. And the other week, she joined in a chase with Heston after a hare.
You can just see her in the middle of this field – typical cocker stance – back legs wide, staring up at the bird she’s just scared off. And this was the first time she’s ever taken the initiative to seek out game. It’s the first sign I ever really had of the cocker within.
But last Saturday, we were pootling along down by the hedges and Tilly got all excited. She even ran into a bush. She is a very obsessive little dog and she wasn’t for coming out, even when I called her – and she usually has excellent recall. She was just in and out of the bush trying to find different ways to get at whatever was in there. Personally, I thought it was a rabbit, since there are often rabbits down on that part of the walk. But no. Two minutes later, she found a way in and out flew a huge male pheasant, taking a little while to get into flight. They are such ungainly birds. And then out popped my Tilly. She chased him over two fields until he came to rest in a tree, and she worried around that tree for about twenty minutes, trying desperately to get at Mr Pheasant. In fact, I had to grab her and carry her off in the end. She wasn’t for giving up.
On Sunday, we went on a new walk and every time we went past a hedge, she was ferreting about near it. Then she got all cocker again, racing round and round one hedge, trying to get at what was inside. I couldn’t see anything and there was no movement. I put her on the lead to get her to move off and just as I was doing so, out popped two pheasants – a male and a female – and flapped off after a bit of a run up.
Now Heston is not bothered by birds. He likes to chase crows and swallows, admittedly, but I’m not sure what that is about. He has even brought me back a bemused duck. That Sunday, he was totally uninterested in the pheasants. Give him a deer and he’ll chase it for miles. Likewise a hare. But a big pheasant doesn’t flap enough for his liking and just isn’t his cup of tea. Maybe he thinks it’s just a big chicken and he is very fond of my chickens, who put up no protest and squat down as if he is about to mount them. He sniffs them and runs off.
So the only place that little pheasant chasing instinct has come from in Tilly is right inside her.
I think we have Heston to thank for discovering her inner dog. She is very much his sidekick and on virtually every picture I have of the fields round these parts, he’s off in front and she is chasing along behind him.
See? Big black smudge, smaller blonde smudge.
Who knows – maybe one day she’ll learn to be a real little dog after all! Not bad for nine years old though. I’m pretty impressed. And had I been of the hunting persuasion, had I got a loaded gun, had I listened to Tilly’s flushing instincts, I could have bagged myself a handful of pheasant this weekend!
What has been funny though is walking past bushes and hedges after this – she’s been desperate to have a look for any bird life.
Funny little dog.