Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Canines of so many colours

October 31st, 2015

White labNOW THE sun is sinking low,
Gloaming hour is nigh;
Clans of rooks that homeward go
Flit across the sky.

The opening lines of WD Cocker’s poem, The Rooks, from Random Rhymes and Ballads. Over his lifetime he produced such a torrent of verse, mainly in vernacular Scots, that it’s a wonder he had time for his day job as a journalist.

Much of his youth was spent running around Strathendrick and the Campsie Fells near Stirling, and an insight into, and appreciation of, the outdoors and nature shines through his poetry.

A couple of fields away from our front door is a large rookery. It’s a common sight at this time of year, when the gloaming hour is nigh, to see the rooks congregating about the houses, tumbling and twisting in an evening chorus of hoarse caws. Jackdaws join the party with their slightly metallic kyow, kyow greeting and softer chak, chak calls.

At some preordained signal, understood only by the birds, the black battalions’ tattered ranks / speeding through the sky, head for the beech woods where their roost is.

Cocker was clearly familiar with this dusk flocking of rooks. With the poet’s skill he tells the story in a spangle of evocative words. In my estimation he stands alongside the north-east’s Violet Jacob, one of my literary heroines, in his ability to fuse the vocabulary and idiom of the district he grew up in.

White Labradors
This week I’ve met two white Labradors. It’s unusual to meet one, let alone two. I suspect that some people think of the breed as just black or yellow coated. The yellow coat (never Golden) comes in a range of colouration from chalk white through shades of cream and yellow to a handsome fox-red.

Gaining in popularity are chocolate Labs which tend to be more heavily built than their black and yellow cousins. Certainly, the biggest and heaviest Lab I’ve ever seen was a choccy. Luckily his owner was a hefty Royal Marines colonel because the dog refused to jump over or go through fences and had to be lifted across.

I was advised to avoid the chocolate strain when I first thought of buying a Labrador because of a supposed tendency for drooping lower eye lids which get caught and torn when they go through thick undergrowth. Another piece of advice was that there’s an unpredictability to them that doesn’t appear in the more placid blacks and yellows.

I suspect it was the isolated experiences of disappointed owners being inflicted on the whole breed. Mind you, if the daft trait is true a more careful look into Inka’s ancestry might explain a few things!

Now, however, a new silver strain is appearing. I’ve yet to see one in the flesh but in photographs their colouring looks similar to a Weimaraner.

Ghost dogs
My father owned a Weimaraner in the 1950s and because of their colour they were nicknamed ghost dogs. It was one of several inappropriate dogs for a busy Montrose lawyer, living in the town, to keep. There was also a German Short Haired Pointer, an English Pointer called Dileas (pronounced Jeelus, Gaelic for Faithful), an English Setter, and a Gordon Setter, none of which lasted long.

They are all breeds with long legs and boundless energy that need far more exercise than Father could ever give them. He was always surprised that they galloped off over the horizon whenever he took them out.

Mist, the Weimaraner, was an affectionate animal and would rise up on his hind legs, put his fore paws on my mother’s shoulders and lick her face. The last straw was when she burst into floods of tears and had to be comforted by the gardener. Mist bade farewell to us.

The last one – I can’t remember which – had the singular ability to scramble over an eight foot fence and go roaming round the town. It met its end when it ran under a bus.

After that, Father bought a cocker spaniel. He persuaded himself that a dog with legs so much shorter than her predecessors couldn’t run so far. The reality was that Molly could run just as far, she just took longer to do so.

Cross breeding
I’m wondering if the silver Lab is another example of the craze for designer dogs – crossing two pure bred dogs to produce a new breed. They used to call dogs like that, mongrels – but they seem to be all the rage now.

You can have a Cockapoo, which is a cross cocker spaniel / poodle. Labradoodles are Labrador crossed with standard poodle. There’s some practicality in this cross as they don’t shed hair, cutting down the need for eternal hoovering – ask the Doyenne about black Labrador hair all over the carpets!

The combinations seem endless. What about a Bug? – Boston terrier cross Pug.

I hope it’s all a short-lived fad. Manipulating dogs for financial ends in this way seems pretty undignified for the dogs, quite apart from the oddities and potential health problems that some crosses might produce.

Written on Saturday, October 31st, 2015 at 9:20 pm for Weekly.