A nightmare dog – or is it the owner ?

JR Ackerley was for many years the arts critic of The Spectator. He lived alone (he was openly gay at a time when it was very courageous to be so) and in the 1960s bought his first dog, a German Shepherd bitch. In My Dog Tulip he tells his story of what it was like to share his life with a dog, to be responsible for her and to try and understand her. This book is a series of small adventures in their life together.

The author’s attitude to dog owning is unusual and, to some extent, a relic of its time. Tulip is often off a lead and the author feels no inclination to pick up her poop from wherever she deposits it – in one section he refuses to make Tulip use the gutter when they are out walking because he feels that it is beneath her. She also doesn’t seem to be very well house trained although on the occasions when she messes inside it seems that it is the fault of the author for not taking sufficient notice of her.

Quite a lot of the book is about the author’s attempts to breed from Tulip and to allow her to be covered by other dogs. These days we would probably have a bitch spayed because of these issues but he chooses to allow nature to take its course and is then faced with the task of finding good homes for a litter of puppies.

To be honest, the author’s dog-owning skills are slight and his dog is poorly trained and often badly behaved. I don’t find this at all laudable but I am interested in the very different way that he regards his pet – as a sentient being with its own rights and expectations.

The book is short and in places it is very funny. The descriptions of how he thinks about his companion animal and how other people react are beautifully written although you are aware that he often behaves appallingly and that his dog must have been a nightmare to encounter. This is a curiosity of a book but as a story about love and how a dog changes a life it is touching. Even if you are not a dog lover you may enjoy the insights to human behaviour that the story reveals.

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