THINKING BUSINESS
a blog by Chris Barrow

Letters from a perfect imperfectionist: People, their dogs and brand management

An extraordinary encounter during a recent Christmas dog walk along the Bollin Valley.

There we are, me, Annie B and our two Vizslas Kibo and Sami, with Wendy and David and their German Shepherd, Bear.

Bear is huge – he’s a year old and already 45 kilos, a definite HGV in our canine convoy.

Now I’m the first to admit that, when you see a German Shepherd storming like a Panzer division in your general direction, it can be daunting.

In fact, we had a very bad experience a year ago in the Scottish Borders when, during a riverside walk, we passed by a bungalow from which a Shepherd sprang at Kibo, bit him and was only stopped from doing more damage to the dog and my leg by virtue of the fact that his owner appeared through a gate and literally threw himself on the hound to pin it to the ground.

He accompanied us on the resulting visit to a local vet and it was clear when we arrived that Kibo was not the first victim. The owner was genuinely sorry but also transparently concerned that we would lodge an official complaint.

It turned out that he was an ex-military freelance security consultant working in Africa and had trained the dog to protect his wife whilst he was away.

He evidently expected a Mongol horde to invade Hawick and carry off his screaming bride.

The dog was a nasty violent piece of work and deserved to be kept locked away – not my idea of a pet, more a deadly force.

Add that experience to the history of Shepherds as police dogs swinging on the end of their leashes as they snarl at miners, football fans and anti-nuclear protestors and you have plenty of bad press.

Bear, on the other hand, is a big soft lump of gentleness – there simply isn’t a bad thought in his head and he absolutely loves us, our dogs, the chance to play with us and with anyone else he comes into contact with. He is well-trained and comes from a home where love is in the ascendant.

The first time I ever saw him my nerves were a bit rattled by the previous experience described but Annie put me at ease and I quickly came to like his nature.

One could perhaps forgive a solitary dog owner approaching us along the river valley to be on her guard, presented with two ginger gun dogs and a giant Alsatian thundering back and forth along the pathway chasing assorted balls and sticks, whilst we owners are lost in a world of chat.

However, said Hale housewife is idling along the trail, mobile phone pressed to ear and looking very fashionable in her designer jeans, jacket and wellies as two very small balls of white fluff potter about in ever-decreasing circles around her legs.

The thing about handbag dogs is that they no doubt bring huge pleasure to their owners but generally speaking, throw them into a naturally wild environment like a river valley trail and they look like a couple of agoraphobic albino ewoks unwittingly signed up for a Tough Mudder.

I’m sure their normal life consists of sitting on Moroccan pouffes in front of an Aga when they are not nibbling away at fillet Rossini and Duchy originals.

So taking them on a Bear Grylls survival expedition without any training was always likely to end in trouble.

But said white fluffy things never had a say in it.

As we all approached her, she grasped both dogs, stuffed one under each arm and proceeded to march past us, mobile phone still clutched between chin and shoulder.

That, in itself, could have been applauded as a good move – better safe than sorry.

After all, neither of them would have made a full meal.

But what happened next was unexpected – her dialogue with whoever was on the other end of her mobile, at the top of her voice, perhaps so that we could hear?

It went like this:

“You’ll just have to hang on a minute.

I’ve had to lift the dogs up and carry them.

There’s a giant Alsatian here and you know what they are like.

They are vicious.

They are trained to attack anything and kill it.

I’ll have to get past them.”

The four of us just stopped in our tracks, listened and looked at her in silence and stood there open-mouthed as she walked past us, without making eye contact.

Unsurprisingly, this brief encounter occupied us in conversation for quite some time afterwards.

Wendy and David were outraged that someone could show such ignorance and prejudice and insult their dog.

Annie commented on how Hale housewives are such paper-thin muppets.

Yours truly recognised a blog post when he saw one.

A post about how appearances can be deceptive, how first impressions can take a lifetime to overcome, how the management of brand perception can be so tough to change, how affluence creates ignorance and unpredictably strange people can be.

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