Tuesday, 31 March 2009

All your football are belong to us

Bingley has loved football ever since his first introduction (Mad about the ball), but just recently his infatuation has turned into obsession!

Our basic twice a day walk almost always involves at least one ramble around the grounds of Gateshead Stadium. There’s plenty of green space there to walk through and to play in; Bing can have a good romp and we can enjoy the views down the river.

Gateshead Stadium of course has a long history of athletics events, but it also houses soccer and rugby clubs, as well as a football academy. Most of our routes around the grounds run close to the practice pitches for all these sports, and although most of the training areas are enclosed by high fencing, footballs inevitably get kicked over. With equal inevitability not all of these balls get rescued. At least not until (with yet more inevitability) Bingley turns up.

When he found the first abandoned football early one morning he treated it like the most wanted Birthday present you can ever imagine. Enthusiasm doesn’t come close! But sadly the ball was no match for Bingley’s teeth and within minutes it was a deflated lump of plastic.

The second football he found was greeted with equal surprise and enthusiasm. And it lasted about as long as the previous ball.

But having found the second ball we then also encountered the first of two problems.

Bingley’s a bright dog and he can put two and two together (even if he doesn’t always get the answer right). One football might have been an accident, but two footballs are surely beyond a coincidence. Those footballs must be there for a reason and that reason must be him. They were his footballs - no doubt left by some magnanimous benefactor who, presumably during the night, walked around leaving footballs just where Bingley would find them.

Expecting to find footballs was the first problem. The second problem was that when the football fairy hadn’t left him anything Bingley would go looking for footballs.

I’ve been walking Bingley off-lead for a long time now and he never goes far from my side. But earlier in the year my complacency was shattered when he suddenly shot off down an embankment and galloped across a rugby field. I was even more perturbed when my shouts were totally ignored: I thought we’d mastered recall!

His single minded intensity puzzled me; I just couldn’t work out where he was going. Then the penny dropped. It had been snowing the day before and Bingley was heading over to the remains of a snowman. It was round and white; and to Bingley’s little lemon brain that could only mean one thing.

A sniff and a lick and he realised his mistake; his tail went down and he ambled back over to me looking, it has to be said, rather sheepish.

Not that he learned anything from his error; it was just the first in a long list of mistaken identities that have had him dashing forwards with giddy excitement. Windswept plastic bags: footballs. Boulders on the beach: footballs. Soggy cardboard boxes: footballs.

He’s also started eyeing up the players who are training on the practice pitches; staring longingly (and with a touch of accusation) as the football gets kicked to and fro.

But footballs are still being lost and sometimes he gets it right and actually finds one; then its jackpot for Bingley.

Thankfully, the footballs now last longer since Jane had the brilliant idea of combining Bingball with football. With a small ball clamped in his mouth he doesn’t even try to bite the big ball. Instead he’s now become quite the footballer, using his paws and his muzzle to skilfully stop and direct the ball back to whoever’s kicked it.

Now that the footballs are no longer rapidly reduced to a flabby mass of plastic we play with them for a while and then hide them until next time. And we now have footballs hidden all over the place! Bingley being Bingley of course remembers every location and will run over and retrieve a ball whenever he’s asked to (and sometimes when he’s not asked).

But honestly, to watch him muzzle a ball back across the field is amazing and so funny: I’m certain that if he was on two feet he’d be a first round pick!

Friday, 20 March 2009

The Bingmobile

Bingley has changed our lives in many ways, most of which I’ve already talked about and most of which I wouldn’t want to change back again. But possibly the biggest event since his arrival has just taken place: we’ve bought our first car!

There was a time when Bingley would quite simply have had to learn to be a cyclist. Or at the very least he would have had to get used to being carried around on a pushbike: there are some very nice trailers out there, so it isn’t beyond the realms of imagination. Though the idea of getting Bing to sit still in one of those things is probably stretching things a bit.

I recently spotted a cyclist pootling along with a dog zipped up in his jacket: just its head sticking out, with ears flapping in the wind. The dog that is, not the cyclist. Small dog too, definitely not a Bingley.

A papoose would have been a possibility. Bing strapped to my back with his paws on my shoulders and his chin on my head. That would have worked, I’m sure; and been fun as well. But my back, as I’ve mentioned, has been very creaky recently and lugging around 6 stones of dog wouldn’t have done it any good at all.

No, Bingley and bikes were never going to work out.

But Bingley and cars seemed like a grand idea.

Learning to drive was an adventure in itself and deserves its own story. For the time being I’ll just say that I count myself as being very fortunate in finding an instructor who was not only a wonderful teacher but also a top dog breeder. I ended up learning as much about dogs as I did about driving cars; which is as it should be I think. Thanks again, Janet!

I’ve always enjoyed looking at cars – from a design point of view as well as that of a cyclist trying to survive on the roads. But finding a car just right for Bingley turned out to be a challenge. Zipping around in a small reliable hatchback was a very appealing idea; but we quickly realised that there was no way we were going to be able to wedge Bingley into the hatch, and getting him to sit still on the back seat of one of those cars wasn’t even close to being a possibility. Talk about back-seat drivers!

We did think about cutting port holes in the back of a van or strapping Bing’s cage onto a flatbed. But in the end it seemed easier just to buy an estate car instead. However finding an estate that was just right proved to be tricky: I discovered that some of these cars have backs with a very high step, some have a very deep inner lip. On some the wheel arches get in the way, whilst others are full of integrated netting designed to secure the shopping (yes, I did consider that one!)

Talking to the staff at the different garages I visited was good fun and very helpful: some of the people I met were dog lovers themselves and they not only understood what I was looking for, they also had very useful suggestions of their own.

But in the end, after much trekking around, we came across what seems like the perfect Bingmobile: a dark blue Golf estate with a low step and a large flat back big enough to comfortably accommodate an almost 2 year old bundle of boundless energy.

Bingley’s good friend Dave helped us out and drove the car home on the first day. Bing of course greeted both this newest addition to our household, and his friend, with typical giddy enthusiasm. Thanks again, Dave: I’m glad that you’re still talking to me and I hope that the bruises have started to fade (I’m sure Bingley didn’t do it on purpose!).

I’m still getting used to the new car and we haven’t driven very far yet; but after a couple of trips to the beach Bingley seems to be settling down to the idea that this is going to be fun. He’s quickly grown accustomed to sharing his back yard with this new room on wheels and he happily clambers into the back when it’s time to set off. On the first trip out he spent the entire journey walking round in circles, but by the second ride he seemed comfortable enough to simply lie down and wait for the fun to begin: he loves going to the beach.

So here we are at the beginning of a new series of adventures; and knowing Bingley all I can say is – watch this space!