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a blog by Chris Barrow

The strange behaviour of dog-owners


After a Thursday morning trip to Chester and a great conversation about similarities in the business landscape for dental implantologists and independent audiologists, I returned home and found myself completely exhausted by 16:00.

In my defence I’ve been banging out content and consultancy at breakneck speed for the last couple of weeks.

That, and a riotous previous weekend, were always going to catch up with me.

“At my age” you learn to listen to your body (except when you run 15 miles on a torn meniscus – OK – perfectly imperfect – remember?) and so I decided to take an hour’s nap, Thatcher-style, so as to be better able to deal with the rest of a day that would include my excited youngest daughter’s return from a 2-month tour of the Far East.

Afternoon naps are unpredictable.

50% chance of springing out of bed, ready to take on another 5 rounds and sting whilst floating.

50% chance of feeling like somebody poured quick-setting concrete in your ear.

This time, the latter.

“I know what will cure that – let’s walk the dogs!”

So off we set, on a sunny August afternoon, to a well-trodden route around nearby Rycroft Farm.

This is a route we walk 100+ times a year, bordered by the River Bollin and the annual rapeseed crop, currently being harvested.

But before I tell you what happened, let me set some background.

I have never considered myself as a dog-owner, more the companion of a dog-owner.

I’m not the alpha in our house and our two Hungarian Vizslas, Kibo and Sami, follow Annie around like familiars in a Philip Pullman novel.

I occupy an honorary position as tallest minion.

Out and about, one has to also be the public companion when the alpha walks the dogs 400-600 times a year and you walk them (alone) a mere handful by comparison.

There is a protocol I have observed when approaching another dog-owners out walking with the alpha:


  1. alpha greets the dog by name and says hello (human names are irrelevant – confusing for the companion);

  2. remark on the weather (to the other human, otherwise the point is rather lost);

  3. keep an eye on the dogs just to make sure their play doesn’t suddenly transform into violent protectionism (of ball, stick, wobba or alpha);

  4. update any existing or new local gossip;

  5. mention up and coming personal social events;

  6. say goodbye and attempt to separate dogs.


  1. conduct long-distance analysis of approaching dog to assess level of violence likely (in this context, strange dogs are like scorpions, the smaller they are the more potentially dangerous);

  2. establish whether dogs are on or off lead (a dog on a lead feels threatened by a dog off a lead due to inability to mount tactical counter-offensive);

  3. where necessary pull horny dog off the rear of sexy-smelling dog (they don’t even speed date) with high-pitched giggle and comment about how attractive their dog must be. This can be confusing in the case of intact and neutered males, when the former attempts to hump the latter – a real case of a square peg in a round hole;

  4. avoid eye-contact with the other alpha until the last possible moment and then mutter a swift greeting as you continue past.

When the companion is walking the dogs alone (which I manage a couple of times a week on dog-sitting day) the protocol changes to:


  1. desperately (and unsuccessfully) try to remember the name of either the dog or the human;

  2. remark on the weather;

  3. pray that violence doesn’t erupt as it may well expose your complete lack of technique or authority;

  4. explain absence of alpha;

  5. accept the bewildered look of the approaching alpha, wondering why on earth your potentially wild dogs have been let out with a simpleton;

  6. say goodbye and attempt to separate dogs.


As with alpha, (thank goodness) so easy to remember.

Now all of this is, for the main, light-hearted fun and it is rare indeed for a doggy confrontation to end in blood-letting (provided, in both cases a watchful eye is kept open during the exchanges). I’ve seen it happen – dogs who have been friends for months can turn and deliver a nasty nip. Skin has been broken, blood let and embarrassed apologies exchanged.

The protocol between friends is that the owner of the nippor apologies profusely and explains that the behaviour has never happened before and is inexplicable.

The owner of the nippee will normally graciously confirm that their dog shouldn’t have placed it’s ear in the mouth of your dog whilst it was running anyway.

The diplomacy is admirable.

Far more tolerant than a late tackle at a school football match which can have enraged fathers facing each other off, irrespective of their aptitude and altitude.

However, and now I come to the main event of my tale, we experienced a very new and sinister set of behaviours this week.

As we are walking, around a corner of the field walks Mackie, the ancient black labrador (remember, dog names first) with his owner, Les, clutching a bloodied hankie to his battered face.

“I’ve just been beaten up.”

Was his response to our astonished enquiry.

The story unfolds…

Les walks Mackie around Rycroft most days.

He approaches a stranger – a bloke in his mid to late 30’s with two dalmatians (you don’t often see 2 dalmatians and we haven’t seen them before).

The dalmatians have a go at Mackie.

Les isn’t afraid to voice his displeasure (he’s a Yorkshireman after all).

Said stranger grabs his shirt, punches him more than once in the face, cutting the skin in multiple places, Les drops to the ground, stranger kicks him in the ribs repeatedly before walking off with his dogs in the opposite direction.

Les is (albeit sprightly) 72 years old.

OK – I get it – it wouldn’t matter if Les was any age – but bloody hell.

What makes it worse is that we are in WA15 – its the area where they film The Real Cheshire Housewives.

I’m reading Philip Parker’s “The Northmen’s Fury – a history of the viking world” at the moment and can appreciate that back in the eighth century A.D., discontent with neighbours was most likely settled by popping round and slaying the whole community.

That was then.

But here, now?

You just can’t go round beating people up unless you watch football from the cheaper seats or go into town on a Saturday night for a skinful with “yer mates”.

We offer Les our help, sympathy and concern and he insists in scurrying back up to the car park by Ashley Mill to see if he can spot the stranger’s vehicle and grab a plate number (no such luck as it turns out).

We carry on walking, with a watchful eye and I soon stumble across Les’s bluetooth headphones lay in the grass along with the buttons off his shirt. A later visit to Chez Les finds him on the phone to the local bobbies and his lovely wife Sue alternating between concern and anger as she hands him fresh tissues to mop up the continued flow from his wounds.

I suspect the boys in blue will be far too thinly stretched to do anything much.

(My suspicions were correct – they promised to come round and never arrived)

There again – 2 dalmatians narrows it down a bit. Cue Sherlock and/or the local jungle drums.

The likelihood is that this chap will never be seen again (although I’m writing this on Friday afternoon and just about to set off with Les to try and recover a missing pair of glasses from the crime scene – pause and I’ll give you an update when I get back)…


No glasses, no bloke, no dalmatians.

But a good chat with Les who is sporting a huge black eye, much to delight of his crown-green bowling buddies who seem to have had a good laugh at his expense this afternoon.

There is a growing consensus amongst the Hale-ites that the perp may live on Cecil Road, even more shocking as this is the very epicentre of Cheshire-ness and almost central to the village.

We will all be driving up and down there with a watchful eye from now on. I wonder if he is frantically trying to think of a way to disguise his give-away pooches? Chances are he doesn’t give a damn I suppose.

So, at the end of a busy week, the locally viral breaking news of a parrot stolen from a garden centre in Timperley has been overshadowed by this saga of an unprovoked violent attack on a senior citizen.

This wouldn’t happen over cats.

There’s nowt so queer as folk – and dog owners are even queerer.

It woke me up anyway and as I spent the evening listening to Ellie’s adventures in Thailand and Cambodia, I reflected on how much our perceived civilisation is a thin veneer.

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