When Chris Cooper and partner Klara took on a border collie puppy six months ago, he wasn’t prepared for the extent to which his life would change almost beyond recognition. Not least in the way that his hitherto taciturn neighbours suddenly squeal with joy and laugh delightedly while asking how the little one is getting on…
Some people love dogs, others do not. Some people also like cats, or so I have heard. There are 93,000 dogs registered with the Veterinary Society of Valencia, which equates to one per three and a half homes in the city. That’s a lot of dogs.
Unlike children, there are many things to consider before having a dog, especially in a large city such as Valencia. Questions arise: What breed should I get? Can I adopt? How do I get a puppy? To which vet should I go? Where can I take my dog? How do I train my dog? The list is apparently endless…
Having recently obtained a rapidly growing puppy, and living in a flat in central Ruzafa, I am slowly acquiring the answers to these questions, rightly or wrongly. Here are some of my findings…
1. What breed of dog should I get in Valencia?
When I was born, my parents had a border collie called Sherpa. The dog adapted well to me as my birth was likely an intrusion into his comfortable, already adult existence. Learning not to savage an annoying, noisy little toddler must have taken a lot of willpower on Sherpa’s part.
I still recall riding him like a horse as a tot and his joyless tolerance as he paraded around the living room. Border collies are great with kids, super smart and trainable. I have always wanted one and a border collie was my first choice when we decided to get a dog in Valencia. Our main concern was that border collies need a lot of exercise, so living in a flat we knew what a great responsibility this would bring.
Smaller breeds require less exercise and are easier to manage in the city. Little poodles, Maltese bichons and West Highland terriers are very popular, affectionate and intelligent. Smaller cross-breeds are equally popular.
As my heart was set on a border collie, no amount of common sense was going to change my mind. We just had to work out how to get one.
2. How do I get a dog in Valencia?
As with most people, I always start a new endeavour with Google. Searching for “border collie Valencia” brings up a host of Facebook groups, hordes of ads on Milanuncios and various pet shops, dog farms and animal shelters.
We had no idea of the ethics involved in getting a dog and found posts on Facebook that were heavily trolled by dog lovers concerned by animal cruelty at puppy farms and also wanting to be horrible to someone online, from the comfort of their homes.
On Milanuncios we found some real farms. The farms have working border collies who occasionally breed, and the farmer then sells off or gives away the litter. In our case, we found a farm in Toledo that had some border collie puppies and sent us photos and videos of the parents, the conditions in which they lived, vaccination details – basically, everything we asked for in order to ease our consciences over whether our future dog had been ethically brought into the world.
We were able to visit the puppies and chose a female. The puppies need a couple of months with their mother to be weaned and also to be checked by a vet and given initial vaccines. We were allowed to visit the puppy as often as we liked in the meantime.
We thought of a name, not Isabel or Susanna, but Zoë Kravitz, nice and catchy with an umlaut above the “e”. Kravitz is reserved for when she is naughty. We wanted to get our dog in time for Christmas (I know!) and on 7 December, she was ready.
So we collected our beautiful, fully weaned bundle of joy and took her home to our flat.
At first very shy, she warmed to us and her new home very quickly and was happily shredding her new toys and our fingers within hours. Our next task would be training her.
3. How do I train a dog in Valencia?
Much like home-made bread makers during confinement, The Dog Whisperer spawned an army of amateur dog experts, such was its popularity. Now, I have never seen the show, but I imagine it involved César Milan whispering some kind of threat into a bad dog’s ear and the dog became a good dog for fear of Milan making good on his threat. Here in 2021, dog training has become big business, and most of the current crop claim Milan’s methods to be dated. Modern dog-training tends to be bribe-based and requires endless patience.
Armed with a few tonnes of treats and hours of YouTube videos, we decided to start with “Sit”.
“Sit” is the classic command, used comedically in films when a T-Rex jumps out, it worked within a few goes, treats and gentle pats on the bum. Teaching a dog to sit for the first time feels great. You are a naturally talented dog trainer. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
It is the equivalent of being able to turn a computer on and declaring yourself an IT expert, as we were soon to find out.
So “sit” seems like the logical first step. In truth, dogs tend to naturally sit down, much like people. The difference being: people know their names. The main starting point is teaching the dog to come to you when you call her name.
Zoë learned her name quickly as it is generally related to receiving food, love or play time. Calling your dog to rub her nose in a recent secretion is a big no-no in the 21st century, as the negative result of coming will understandably result in a reluctance to come. The dog must associate “come here” with positive experiences.
After hours of practice in the flat, and the dog up to speed with vaccines, we decided to take to the great outdoors to put her training to the test.
With so many dogs in Valencia and the enormous Turia park running through the city, it comes as no surprise that Valencia caters quite well for canine needs.
Training a dog in the comfort of your own home should easily translate to the real world, right? WRONG!
How a three-month-old puppy weighing barely 8kg can drag you along like Indiana Jones behind a truck is beyond me, but that is exactly what happened. Sounds and smells never before experienced must be sniffed, licked and pawed at. Revolting, unidentifiable items must be consumed. They all arise from the opposite direction you want to go in.
On the plus side, locals (many of whom may be souvenir shop owners) who ordinarily take one disdainful look at us before muttering something derogatory about tourists under their breath, squeal with delight and ask permission to pet Zoë, already squirming around on the floor, tail-wagging, often in a growing pool of urine. “Cuánto tiempo?” They ask. “How much time?” I think. “But I don’t even know this person.” They are, in fact, asking the dog’s age. Being obviously a puppy, she hasn’t yet gained any years for the usual “Cuántos años tiene?” question.
People crawl out of the woodwork to pet your dog. Families stop so their kids can have a go and you pray the “Don’t bite” command will work. All of this happens just a few metres out of the front door.
The best places to train your dog outside are quiet, ideally pedestrianised streets or quiet areas in parks, where there are few distractions. By distractions I mean pretty much anything. Generally other dogs, people and traffic count but Zoë has been known to throw a wild tantrum at a paper bag blowing in the breeze. Distractions cannot be altogether eliminated.
Hours turn into days and thousands of treats are administered by heavily licked hands. Of course, once back in the street on the way home, the obsessive dragging resumes.
Don’t let all this put you off getting a dog in Valencia as with time, patience and a “firm yet benevolent tone of voice” (thanks YouTube) having a dog is a joyful experience.
And, of course, it works wonders for your friendships with the neighbours…
NEXT WEEK: Just where should you take your dog in Valencia – and what happens when you do.
Chris Cooper is co-owner of BikeAlao, a bicycle and electric scooter rental shop in Grau, near Cabanyal