Social distancing for dogs

Try crossing a four foot police dog from the Low Countries and a small Scottish canine rabble-rouser of a West Highland Terrier: and what you get looks like this.

His legs are less than a foot tall, but he has the stare of a headmaster during exam week. His social skills are limited: in normal times (as opposed to Strange Times) he is what they call ‘Fine Off the Lead’. This means that when he is free to ramble and meets another dog he behaves unsettlingly like a stalker, invading the body space of taller doggy compatriots and sniffing where the sun don’t shine. Generally his subjects are gracious under his laser like stare because he is, after all, only one foot tall.

On the lead he is a scrapper. He foights with all the passion and natural ability of a Romany boxer.

His name is Riley. He resembles a teddy bear but smells rather differently. On off days he steals pants from the washing basket and gives them his full attention. He also, despite all these exceptionally anti-social traits, steals hearts and he is frankly, in the household and out of it, adored.

And now, for now, as long as we are allowed out into the forest, Riley must master social distancing.This requires being on a lead.


Social distancing is not difficult in our forest, because it is a forest. When you do come upon someone, there is ample room to step out of the way. Two metres? We in the forest are filled with largesse. Have three, Have five. No, take ten.

We bellow across the divide: have a lovely day, beautiful morning isn’t it, aren’t we lucky to have this beautiful open space, etcetera, etcetera.

And what is that noise beneath the dialogue? It resembles a phone call heavy-breather, a wheezy tramp. It is not an attractive addition to this pastoral bliss. I don’t mind admitting it jars.

It is Riley, who is on the lead, stalking the clueless boxer accompanying the other party. Despite many attempts at puppy training and an endless supply of available treats, Riley is pulling my arm out of its socket and wheezing like a good’ un, completely oblivious of everything except one thing. The rest of the forest has gone away, (Think Tony and Maria at that dance in West Side Story) and all that exists is the boxer’s bottom.

He strains at the leash. He has perfected this menacing growl quite out of proportion to his stature; it is meant to inform us he is a dangerous canine criminal with big sharp teeth. In reality he never uses his teeth, he just rumbles with the ominous tones of a Mafia boss about to total a diner. And though I do not know whether the dogs actually believe him, and are worried about a pint size staring stalker with attitude, his Oscar winning tones mean that there are those owners who choose to increase their social distance by some several metres with startling rapidity, leaving us with Dog Corleone, happily throttling himself on the extendable lead.

So for us, social distancing is effortless. It happens quite naturally, though with chagrin. One day, some day, Riley will be allowed off the lead again and we can go back to the old familiar unsettling stalker behaviour we have all come to know and expect. For now, Riley is helping the effort to keep social distance with ease.


13 thoughts on “Social distancing for dogs

    1. Hi Laurence, great to hear from you – I have been watching your adventures with pleasure – I believe congratulations are belated but probably still in order 🙂

  1. He is the best possible device for social distancing even with the drawbacks of tearung your arm from its socket and strangling himself on his collar..
    Roll on the days of freedom to roam…

  2. Hello Kate! So glad you are OK and protected by this ferocious pup ♥️ I hope the kids are happy and healthy, as well. We are hunkered down working from home, wandering the neighborhood, waving at people from afar. The cats are, typically, bored.

    1. Ha. Our cat Monty is a little peeved that the house is full all the time, and the garden taken too! His personal space is a little limited. Yes, thank you, kids are healthy though very teenage, and we are eating great home cooked food and have all the time in the world for each other. Things could be worse….glad you are well and settling into life at home.

  3. I trust each Riley is unique and irreplaceable but I have surely met his distant cousin somewhere in the alleys of my childhood, and shuddered at his growl sharpened warnings. It turns out domestication of our canine friends was an evolutionary urge to ward off dangers such as the one being faced by humans currently.

  4. Our pint sized dog also has a menacing growl. But she wouldn’t hurt a flea. We also describe her as a living teddy bear, she loves nothing more than being cuddled (except maybe for chicken?) She doesn’t smell like a teddy bear either…. Some similarities then!!
    She’s not enjoying lockdown or semi-lockdown because there’s no longer an onslaught of visitors for her to half suffocate with cuddles (the suffocation could be due to breath holding due to the smell, to be fair).
    Re smell: Do you also find that after bathing, Riley exudes even more doggy hormones and smells even more, well, doggy? Or is that just ours?

    Riley is stunning!! No wonder everyone adores him.

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