Spike the wonderdog

Our dog Spike is the most undoglike dog I know, and I’ve worried it’s my fault. When she was a puppy, we were walking home from school dropoff, and two giant retrievers, poorly tied to a stroller, broke loose and enveloped her. I listened to her scream – you could hear it a block away a friend told me later – before diving in. Actually, if I’m truthful, I didn’t dive in; the owner of the retrievers did. I was too scared, having been bitten by dogs many times as a child. I left Spike to her fate. I abandoned her. She emerged covered in retriever saliva and physically unharmed, but I’ve wondered since, did it set her wrong emotionally? Did it lead to some sort of canine disocciative personality disorder?

Because if Spike sees the white cat that lives across the street, she chokes at the lead, dragging me behind her, to get closer. The white cat hisses and bares its claws and Spike screams like a fan at a Beatles concert. She doesn’t realise the white cat wants to scratch her face off. She thinks she’s found a soulmate. If, on the other hand, we happen upon a dog, Charlie the gentle escape artist from up the street, or Lady (not her real name) the perfectly obedient red setter, even Belle, a friend’s mad spaniel, Spike stands frozen in terror, tail between her legs, until the other dog passes.


Spike is a cavoodle, a cross between a poodle, those smart but emotionally high-strung dogs, and a King Charles cavalier spaniel, gentle but not gifted with intelligence. She’s the kind of dog old ladies stop in the street to pat, until they ask her name. When our son tells them, they look slightly horrified and say, “Oh no, she should be called Duchess, or Caramel.”

After the retrievers, Spike spent week 1 of puppy school hiding between two bags of dog food on a shelf, her little apricot paws in front in sphinx pose, her black eyes watching all the other dogs cavorting about. Even Jazz the shy miniature terrier passed Dog Play 101. Even the troubled pit bull that ate its own faeces and attacked every dog in the room eventually mellowed. “Don’t worry,” Emily the vet nurse said. “Wait till week 8 and she’ll be having a great time. Why did you call her Spike again?” But week 8 came and went and Spike was alternating between the shelf and a cat cage in the corner.

Then it was doggy day care. I told them about her early trauma. They suggested an hour trial-run. But when I returned, the manager said Spike wasn’t suitable. She can’t socialise, he said. I went into the dog pen and there she was, backed up in the furthest corner. When she saw me she cried and leapt into my arms. “What would he know about socialising?” I said to her on the way to the car. “He just doesn’t understand you.”

Cavoodles are supposed to inherit the cavalier’s easy temperament and the poodle’s intelligence. Spike does have a lovely nature, but sometimes if you throw the ball she runs into the yard and forgets why she’s out there. Our neighbours say Spike’s intelligence is of the emotional kind. She has a high EI quotient, the psychologist neighbour says, which makes her more loving than your standard dog. I’m not sure about Spike’s EI quotient but her CI, culinary intelligence, is at genius level. If you tell her to sit, she’ll look to your hands. If there’s no treat, she will not sit. If there is a treat, she sits before you even say the word.

The council fellow who investigated the retrievers said they weren’t attacking Spike, they were just playing. “If they meant business, there’d be nothing left of your little dog if you don’t mind my saying,” he said thoughtfully. I asked him about emotional impact. He looked at me as if I had two heads. My son, who often sees things grownups don’t, says it’s simple. It’s not anyone’s fault, the way Spike is, he says. And the retrievers, well, they were just retrieving her. She’s our Spike, he says (named, by the way, for a spike of white hair on her head) and we love her.

First published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend 2 February 2013. Get in touch with MR about Spike, your own human dog or anything else.

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