"Wow! That's a BIG dog!"
This statement of the staggeringly obvious is probably the most frequent and
least offensive remark I, as the owner of a really big dog, hear when I'm out
with my dog. But there are many others on the "Top Hit Parade of Stupid
Questions and Comments."
To be fair, my dog Finnegan IS a big dog. He's an Irish wolfhound, the
tallest breed of dog recognized by the American Kennel Club. (Don't send me
contradictory e-mails -- there may be individual Great Danes, Mastiffs, or
other dogs that are larger, but as a breed, the IW is the tallest.)
The breed standard for males, established back in 1950, is a minimum of 32
inches tall at the shoulder and at least 120 pounds. Today's average male is
34-36 inches and 140-180 lbs. They grow in height through about 18 months or
so, and they continue to fill out in weight until they are about 3 years old.
My Finnegan is 20 months old, 35 inches and 140 lbs. If he follows in his daddy
Alfie's footsteps, he'll top out around 170 pounds.
"Where's Your Saddle?"
Why do I hate this question so much? HE'S NOT A HORSE, PEA BRAIN! Now I know
most people (and they tend to be blue-collar males, by and large) who say this
are trying to be funny, but giant breed dogs are actually quite delicate. They
grow so fast they need very gentle exercise until fully developed. Other
variations on this theme include, "You should be riding him!" and
other truly brilliant observations that show just how little most people know
about big dogs. Or probably horses, for that matter.
"How Much Does He Eat?"
This one doesn't bother me that much. It's a reasonable question, I suppose,
and one for which I have a ready answer: "About 6 cups dry and one can
daily." I just find it strange that people would care. As though, perhaps,
that's their main consideration in choosing a dog. Whoa, better not get THAT
dog, he'll cost five bucks more a month to feed! Occasionally, however, I have
to repress an almost irresistible urge to answer this question with another
question: "How much does your WIFE eat, buddy? Yeah, her, with the thunder
thighs." Give it a rest.
"Is He An Afghan Hound?"
Is he a Newfoundland? A giant Schnauzer? (Yeah, dude, a REALLY giant one.) An
Airedale? Or my most recent favorite ... "one of those Egyptian
People like to play Trivial Dog Breed Pursuit, apparently. And one in about
25 or 30 guesses will actually be correct. Others get close: Russian wolfhound
(no, but they're similar, so nice try), English wolfhound/deerhound (no such
thing), Scottish wolfhound (it's Scottish deerhound, and they, too, are
similar, just slightly smaller), and so forth. This one doesn't bother me, unless
they're pathetically off in left field. AFGHAN hound, indeed. They're a
beautiful breed, to be sure, but there's absolutely no resemblance.
"Who's Walking Who?"
Far and away my MOST DESPISED question. (In the first place, it should be
"Who's walking whom?" but I won't be a word weenie.) My discomfort
around this question comes from the fact that Mr. Finnegan has indeed been a
challenge to train on the leash. I've tried standard training collars, pinch
collars, harnesses, "Gentle Leader" head halters (OK, that's a bit
like a horse, I'll admit), and even an electric shock collar. I've taken him
through an 8-week obedience course, consulted private trainers, watched
"The Dog Whisperer" and read his book. But Finn still pulls on the
leash. He is a puppy, after all, albeit a large and powerful one capable of
bringing down a wolf if he took a mind to. But all he's trying to do is play.
Needless to say, the fact that he outweighs me and is significantly stronger is
apparent when I'm being flung around at the end of his leash like a game of
"Crack the Whip" gone awry. But he's getting better all the time. So
who's walking whom? I'M walking HIM, thank you very much, and working hard at
Whether we're camping or hiking or just strolling the banks of the river near
our home, our giant dog attracts a lot of attention. Most people are just
curious, and we don't mind the questions. "How big will he get?"
"What's his name?" "Where'd you get him?" "How much
does he weigh?" "Does he shed a lot?" and "Is he
gentle?" are also popular.
The only one I don't like to think about is
"How long do Irish wolfhounds live?" This is usually asked by people
who know that, in general, large dogs live shorter lives, and the larger the
dog, the shorter the life. It's an honest question. The honest answer is
"6 to 8 years." Which reminds me, time with this fabulous dog is
short, and he's ready for a walk.
Sally O'Neal Coates is a travel and outdoor writer whose dogs have included
two Samoyeds, a Chow Chow, and an Old English Sheepdog. She also has a Siamese
cat and three chickens. She makes her home in southeastern Washington State, and writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.