Which Comes First?

I’m sitting in London’s Heathrow Airport, waiting for my flight back home to California and am taking some time to reflect on these last 10 days in England. Unlike so many of my trips this one was for social reasons, not work, and I had plenty of time to explore and enjoy my surroundings, which for me includes checking out the local dog scene.

This time around I spent a large portion of my time here in The New Forest. It is a place full of the usual forest animals (deer, fox, pheasant, rabbits, frogs, snakes, etc) and also a place where livestock animals (ponies, cattle, pigs, donkeys) free-graze, pretty much roam free in general, anywhere they’d like really, and it is fantastic.

Long ago (1079) the area was a hunting ground for William I, William the Conqueror. The landscape is varied and unique, from forests to moors and bogs, rivers, and streams. The unusual practice of free grazing, mainly for cattle and ponies, was instituted to help manage the forest and keeps this magical landscape and it’s many varied habitats healthy and intact.

New Forest Ponies and all kinds of cattle are literally everywhere. For example, when we arrived at the hotel there was a sweet little grey mare right outside the entry, in order to get into the hotel we had to pass by quite near her and she nudged me with her velvety nose in greeting as we sidled past with our suitcases. The streets are filled with ponies and their foals and everyone (well, almost everyone) drives very slowly to avoid collisions. One can literally find an entire herd of livestock around just about any curve in the road, often just standing there and with no plans to move I might add! While this is charming, and it is lovely to see human traffic and cars having to patiently wait for the animals for a change, it is a bit dangerous and can make for some unusual traffic jams in even the most remote places!

There are no fences around the forestland or open fields and all is accessible not only to the livestock, but also to the public as well. This is where dogs come in. The New Forest boasts miles and miles of hiking and locals and tourists alike take advantage of this generous access, especially dog lovers.

Every day we saw dogs happily setting out for their daily romp in the woods among the forest animals, and all but a very few (tourists I believe) were off leash and fully under control. The dogs and the New Forest resident animals seemed to get along just fine. It appears as though the local dogs are taught to respect, and generally ignore, the bovine & equine population that far outnumbers them, mere New Forest Canines.

I did not see even one incident of harassment in the entire week. No dogs chasing or barking at livestock, heck, no dogs lunging or barking at each other either. The dogs I came across where all well socialized and extremely well behaved. And, similarly to my experience in France just over a month ago, it appears as though this good behavior assured that the dogs where included in family activities, more so than in the U.S.

There were dogs in pub gardens, sitting with people and patiently waiting for a morsel to be offered as a reward for good behavior. Dogs proudly paraded through the crowded high street shopping districts and maneuvered through throngs of people, buggies, wheelchairs, etc. beautifully. Dogs accompanying their people on bike rides, dogs with mums pushing new babies in strollers, dogs sniffing and exploring the woods and streams, dogs in the beautiful traditional English gardens of the hotels we visited.

What kind of dogs, you may ask? A lot of purebreds with the most common cross being absolutely lovely Lurchers (I don’t know, do Lurchers count as their own breed type at this point?) A Lurcher is generally a collie or terrier of some type that is crossed with either a sighthound. They are everywhere in England and they are wonderful dogs.

I saw, tons of wiry terriers of all types – England is a terrier-lovers heaven, a good amount of English Labrador Retrievers, two Belgian Malinois, some Border Collies, plenty of Staffordshire Bull Terriers (enough to put a smile on my face anyway!), a few Poodles, an adorable Boxer pup, a Basset Hound, two Borzoi, an Italian Spinone, some Shetland Sheepdogs, a single Dachshund, two gorgeous Rottweilers, one Greyhound, a Doberman, and I am sure more that have temporarily escaped my memory.

I must also mention, that most dogs I met were indeed intact (not spayed or neutered) as well, same as in France. No dog fights, no human focused aggression either. I think it is worth noting.

This got me to thinking… all of these animals living in harmony and full integrated into the community and into their people’s lives. Which came first? Chicken or egg? Or should I say, inclusion or training?

Are the dogs in both the UK and France brought along because they are well behaved or are they well behaved because they are included and brought along? What do you think?

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