There is no direct correlation between the size of a dog and its hardness, nor should the form of masculinity embodied in its owner be inferred from the unit-capacity or appearance of the dog in question. By Simon Mills
Did you see the Obamas being interviewed on US TV's Barbara Walters Show just prior to the presidential inauguration? If you didn’t, it’s well worth checking out on YouTube because the moment chat queen Walters suggests that America's first couple-elect might want to consider choosing the same breed of dog that she has at home (as the much-discussed White House pet) is not only priceless, but may also go down in history as the first time anyone saw Barack Obama nearly lose his cool.`
It’s a special breed, called a Havana, Walters explains on the clip. “It’s hypo-allergenic.”
Helpfully, the host flashes up a snapshot of the preposterous pooch on screen. It is about the size of fox cub with a platinum blonde coat teased out like back-combed kapok. “Her name is Cha-Cha,” explains Walters. Inexplicably, ChaCha is wearing a pair of half-moon spectacles.
Michelle Obama goes, “aaah.. sweet!” while Barack’s face freezes in hyper-allergenic horror. “That’s a yappy dog, right?” he says with more than a hint of resentment in his voice. “It sits on your lap. It’s like [and I swear he almost spat out this last bit] a girly dog.”
“Honey?” say Michelle as the Obamas turned into the Huxtables in front of my eyes. “We are a house full of girls!”
Grouchy Barack is having none of it. He is putting his big size-12 foot down. There would be no white fluff at the White House. Forget the war in Afghanistan and the threat from al-Qaeda; here is a president fighting the war on terriers. “We are going to have,” he says finally “a big, rambunctious dog.”
At that moment I looked down to my ankles. There was my dog, Alfie: 11 inches tall, irrefutably yappy, girly, “cute” and scruffy, a resolutely un-rambunctious thing in a studded leather collar, a canine that was having a rather distressingly emasculating, homosexualising effect on its male owner.
Alfie’s little salt and pepper paws scratched gently on my trousered shins and his wet, black eyes looked up at me plaintively. A mewling wince, a concave arch of the spine, a flop of one oversized, comically pointy ear and a Disneyish cock of the head signalled that he wanted me to pick him up and put him on my lap. Which I did, easily, with one hand. He settled in to the valley of my thighs and nestled his tiny jaw at the bony junction of my knees. I tickled the back of his head.
Aw shucks. What would President Barack Obama think of me and my yappy lap dog, I wondered? As we now all know, the Obamas settled on a rare, black-and-white Portuguese water dog. Why didn’t I put my foot down during the lead up to doggy delivery day a couple of years back and also insist on something faithful and loveable called, say, Laddie or Rufus in a similarly uncompromising senatorial manner.
All my life I have dreamed of having a rowdy, knockabout dog – a muscular, panty, and, yes, rambunctious medium-sized mutt that would sleep at the foot of my bed, nuzzle up to me when I’m driving, bark at the postman and growl at thunderstorms.
Instead, the doting dad and ineffectual husband in me has ended up with an oversized rodent that vibrates like a generously flocked marital aid whenever it goes outdoors (which isn’t often) and makes me look like a mincing queen when I’m standing next to him.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t object to small dogs per se. They just don’t look good on me. A cute dog like Alfie would go a treat on say, Nicole Richie. Air dogs and air-heads seem to go together nicely. Their demands are correspondingly uncomplicated. Both brat and pooch speak the fluent schmaltz of ribbons and baby-talk.
Me? I don’t really do cute. I am too much of an oafish, lummox of man to wear a dog that hardly has enough fur on its body to make me a decent pair of mittens. But it’s a disproportionate farago (think Lawrence D’Allaglio exercising a squirrel) I eventually have grown used to.
These days, you see, I look ridiculous anyway; clothes are either ageing or infantilising. I don’t look cool or hot, just luke warm. So why not look totally ridiculous with a small dog in tow? No one is looking anyway, right?
Wrong. When Alfie is at my heel, even a quick visit to the newsagent turns into a scene from Le Cage Aux Folles with every homosexual man in the area suddenly reacting as if I am blowing the tune of “I Will Survive” into a doggy whistle that is only audible to blow-waved 50+ old fruits called Warwick or Cedric. Once, a visit to Hyde Park turned into a camp farce with one gay couple and their bulldog getting so friendly as I promenaded the Serpentine that I actually thought the one in the mink gilet was going to start humping my leg.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this when Alfie first arrived. I just acknowledged that I’d been relegated from fourth most important person in the Endsleigh league of domestic indifference, to mid-table anonymity. That, and I hated the stupid, yappy thing.
No, really. Wife and I actually had a proper bust-up when Alfie first appeared. I was furious that I hadn’t been given the benefit of any prior consultation. Why should I have any say? After all it was me who was going to have to live with him, walk him and clean up after him. So, when his head poked out of a box that my delirious, youngest daughter Maddie unwrapped on her birthday, Dad visibly bridled and suddenly went very quiet.
A sodding Yorkshire Terrier; the girliest, weediest, most Heat magazine-ish, yappiest air dog in the Paris Hilton pound of vacuity. But no, I was wrong, my wife informed me proudly. It was actually much worse than that. He might look just like a Yorkie but he is actually half Chihuahua, half Norfolk Terrier. “Chihuahua?” I said. “Paris Hilton actually has a couple of those. One of them is called Tinkerbelle.” How will I ever live this down? So, we had a difficult first few weeks, the dog and I.
On day two, I realised that Alfie was too small to run, so stick-chasing and ball play out of the question. If he didn’t want to go for a walk he’d do this splayed-out limbs act on the pavement just like Sherman McCoy’s dog does in Bonfire Of The Vanities when he goes to make a call to his mistress from a street phone booth.
On the plus side, he didn’t eat much and, if I stuffed his head down with the force of my ham-sized palm I could carry him around in my coat pocket. Did I also mention that gorgeous young girls would flock to me (well, to the dog) cooing and petting Alfie every time we went out for a stroll? Very slowly, I started to see more and more stuff I liked.
I began to like the little chap because he so clearly liked me, freaking out and jumping up in the air whenever I returned home. I liked the pitter-patter of his dainty claws on our painted wooden floors and his proud, trotting gait – little head held high, tail swishing in the air, cock of the Gloucester Road walk. I liked the way he could sleep for hours, never howling us awake at daft o’clock in the morning like I knew other, bigger and more needy dogs did.
I liked the way that when he tried to jump up onto the bed he would sometimes completely miss, clatter his head into the side of the mattress and then, apparently undeterred, immediately have another go. I also liked the way his compact size seemed to fit our compact home.
Even as a puppy he was fearless. It quickly became clear that for a mini dog he had massive cojones and real delusions of grandeur, clearly believing himself to be a dog six times as times as big whenever he encountered a more larger and more aggressive animal. Honestly, left to his own devices Alfie will have no hesitation in taking on an Alsatian or Labrador in a pavement stand-off. He usually wins as well. I put this down to breeding. As a Chihuahua /Norfolk terrier cross he has both Mexican and Norwich in him. In other words, he’s half Aztec and half Alan Partridge - a dog with a few complicated issues.
There is something else in the air too. Something thrillingly fashionable even; a new theory that, far from being an embarrassing, emasculating accessory, little dogs are actually a bold statement of macho contrapuntalism. For example, 6’4” four Simon LeBon owns a pug while Ian McShane likes a dachshund. McShane is in that edgy cowboy series on Sky TV and he used to be the antique-dealing detective Lovejoy. Let’s face it you can’t get much more macho than leather chaps and tallboys.
In a recent issue of American Vogue there was a picture of Brit model Agyness Deyn and Albert Hammond Jnr walking the New York streets with his ’n’ hers Dachshunds. Then there’s the odd case of Mickey Rourke, a man so macho he appears to be bursting at the facial seams with overactive male hormones. He has several Lilliputian Chihuahuas called gooey names like “Ruby Baby” and “Little Mickey.”
Little Mickey bit Rourke on the lip when he picked him up at Chihuahua Rescue. He still has the scar to prove it. Why does the star of The Wrestler love the girly dogs so much? Small dogs, he says, live longer than big dogs. And Mickey tends to get very, very attached.
Over in America (which means it’ll happen here too pretty soon) there’s been a dramatic shift in the doggy demographic. Large dogs are still most popular, but led by toy breeds, little dogs are gaining ground with medium-sized dogs - English Springer Spaniels or a Vizslas - being slowly edged out. In 2006 the aforementioned Yorkshire terrier knocked the golden retriever out of second place on the American Kennel Club's list of most popular breeds.
Contrary to popular belief little dogs are not scary juvenilized, or neotenous wolf derivatives, reduced not just in size but also diminished in physical and mental capacity, they are actually just as smart as big dogs.
So, with all this in mind, I’ve decided to be openly upbeat about my clever, cute little dog. He might not be exactly what the boyhood moi wanted, but he’ll do until the children grow out of him. I’ll take him out him with pride, dress him in his natty knitted coat when it’s cold and to hell with the local pansies, the world leaders and the woof-whistling builders.
It takes a big man to walk a dog this small.