And they call it puppy love

French dogs have always been something of a contradiction to me. On the one hand, they are taken absolutely everywhere, and are welcomed in places where, to my limited Anglo-Saxon imagination, they have no place: the local library, or beneath the table in a swanky resto, for example. This to me suggests an attachment between owner and hound so profound that no degree of separation can be brooked. On the other hand, many French people contemplate with horror the notion that their pet dog would actually live in their house – hence the many family dogs shut outside without compunction, come rain or shine, night or day.

Two weeks ago we took an alarmingly muscular approach to solving this conundrum when we acquired our own dog, a beagle puppy. As a consequence I am currently navigating the predictable perils of puppy-dom (3am trips for a poo in the garden, chewed slippers and unwanted typing assistance) in conjunction with the less obvious perils of French canine mores.

Our first lesson in French dog-rearing came when we first visited the beagle breeder and were informed that our puppy’s name would have to begin with the letter “M”. For it transpires that the French attitude to dog names resembles nothing so much as the British attitude to cars: each year has one of 20 letters of the alphabet attributed to it (K, Q, W, X, Y and Z are exempted), and all dogs registered with the Société Canine Centrale must have names that begin with that letter. 2016 is the year of the letter “M”. Thus our puppy has been given a name virtually unpronounceable to most Anglo-Saxons: Myrtille.

Myrtille showing her fidelity to her owners' nation
Myrtille showing her fidelity to her owners’ nation

Our second lesson was in the delicate matter of excrement. Before the arrival of Myrtille, I had been out and purchased a truckload of (biodegradable) poo-bags. My husband is currently in the process of digging a sort of canine latrine in the garden, into which future turds will be deposited, but in the meantime, we follow our hound around and swoop in with the poo-bags every time she does her business on the lawn.

Myrtille has already been fortunate enough to be visited by a number of our French friends, and to a man, woman and child, every one of them has regarded my neurotic poo-collecting antics with amusement. Pourquoi tu ne les pas mets pas dans tes plantes ? they ask. I don’t know: because I’m incurably squeamish? because it smells?

Perhaps this attitude should not have surprised me. We did, after all, previously share a courtyard with a family consisting of a woman, her two daughters, and a large, elderly setter. This setter encapsulated the conundrum I identified at the beginning of this post: it was both the subject of loudly-pronounced affection and left alone outdoors in a small courtyard for up to twelve hours every single day. It was also the author of a number of large brown deposits which appeared daily on the gravel and which were less often gathered up and put in a bin.

This dog poo, which tended to build up directly in front of our garage, bothered me a great deal: I lost count of the number of times that one of us put a foot in a large turd when it was too dark, or too wet, to spot it in advance. But above all, it stank, which caused me no small degree of embarrassment each time anyone came to our front door. Did this bother the dog’s owners, though? Apparently not. The courtyard being their only outside space, they were to be seen sunbathing there in the summer, just a metre or so away from a number of pungent brown mounds, apparently untroubled by the stench that must have been swirling around their bronzed nostrils.

The sun terrace at its best
The sun terrace at its best

Indeed it is not just in their private outdoor spaces that people seem content to bask in their dog’s excrement. There are some chemins that I avoid entirely on foot, because I know that they are lavishly adorned with poo and consequently swarming with flies. There is a short walk from a car park in the centre of Lyon to my daughter’s violin lesson that we do each week, and my younger daughter (who is, admittedly, prone to histrionics) invariably walks along pinching her nose for fear of the smell that will assault her senses if she does not, whilst my elder daughter steps obliviously into the very midst of the worst deposits.

My third lesson came about during the course of an encounter with Madame Lipstick. You may remember that this is the woman who had previously attempted to run my children over and had shown not a shred of remorse, despite the evident cuteness and appeal of my offspring in a pair of wellies.

Last week I had the puppy on a lead outside the school (all part of the intensive socialisation programme prescribed by the vet). I was chatting happily to someone’s mum, when in my peripheral vision, I caught sight of an excessively coiffed head and a slash of red mouth bearing down towards me. Uh-oh, I thought: what have I done now? To my great surprise, instead of shouting at me or my girls, Madame Lipstick curled her lips into something that was probably intended to be a smile, despite its close resemblance to a snarl. Oh-la-la, qu’il est beau (this is France: all dogs are male unless proved otherwise), she pronounced, before emitting a noise that could have been a French translation of couchy-couchy-coo. She then proceeded to remain by my side for about five minutes, exclaiming and patting with very little restraint or self-consciousness.

There we are, you see: it is perplexing. Dogs can be left shivering in the rain, and children can be heartlessly mown down, but my beagle puppy seems to be capable of melting even the icy heart of Madame Lipstick.

17 thoughts on “And they call it puppy love

  1. Not all French love dogs. I hear plenty of complaints about the people who walk their dogs near the village park, reach down to undo the leash, the dog tears off into the park (where it’s not allowed–signs everywhere), does its business and ambles back to the owner, who puts the leash on again.
    One time a dog made a beeline for the playground, where a birthday party was in progress. It watered the presents, despite being yelled at by the adults, and took off. The owner just shrugged as the mother hurled interesting insults (no “gros mots” because of the kids, so she got creative–I learned a lot!).
    At the same time, French stepdaughter does keep her dog in her house. It regularly pees where it wants and then walks through it, all over the house. It also leaves piles around, especially in the kitchen. She says it’s normal for a dog. I can hardly stand to be there. We are not allowed to wear shoes in her house because she considers it unclean. (I took a special pair of flipflops and then tossed them).

    1. Oh yes, that’s what I mean! Some love them to the point of accepting poo on the floor, and some treat them with indifference but have them all the same. Thank you for stopping by!

    1. The useful thing about this is that now I know they were born in 2012… I don’t think that it is anything to do with love, actually: more an attitude to a dog’s place in human life. And the French attitude is a bit confusing as it seems to veer from one extreme to the other. What are your dogs?

  2. An enforced first letter…would have reduced some of the long lists of ‘possibles’ that preceded the arrival of our Aussie Shepherd. As it was, we chose a name that had never featured on any of our lists – that of her grandmother. Surprising in the end, after all of the discussion, how quickly it was all decided!

  3. This brought back memories of puppy socialisation in the UK. We did our level best but there are some things you just can’t predict. People, children, bicycles, trains, buses – no problem. But as a young dog Izzy had some terrifying experiences (therefore rampant barking) when (1) …… a fell runner passed us carrying his mountain bike on his shoulders up a local hillside (human with three heads possibly???) (2)…..a charity walker in a Santa Claus outfit tried to make a fuss of her (3)…….(this was the most embarrassing) some men fishing in our local canal had camped out overnight just in their sleeping bags on the towpath – they raised their heads from their slumbers when a dog approached and all hell let loose (aargh….humans with NO BODIES…..their heads are just growing out of the ground…..HELP). The men were remarkably forgiving about it!

    1. I love the way that you get into Izzy’s head, Vera. Myrtille is frightened of a golden football and a watering can. Can you enlighten?

    1. It’s just for the papers if your dog is purebred (for the French AKC equivalent). You can call your dog whatever you want day to day and at the vet and everywhere else.

  4. I’d been in France for 18 years before I heard about the alphabet naming rule, it’s quite peculiar. Luckily I think Myrtille is a cute name, even if hard to pronounce. Can’t you do the usual English thing of shortening it…Tilly perhaps? (That’s not shorter, but you know what I mean). I’ll never comprehend the French attitude to dogs, you sum it up well. Unfortunately for us and our neighbours a horribly yappy dog lives in the street and it yaps and yaps all day and night. It’s left outside, both owners work all day and I’ve never seen them walk it. It drives everyone insane. I can’t see the point in having such a pet if you never pay it any attention or show it affection. I bet their garden is full of poo. Luckily I’m not near enough to smell it, just hear it. Good luck training your puppy, I’ve heard Beagles are particularly naughty (we have a friend with one who can open the fridge!!) Thanks for linking up to #AllAboutFrance

    1. Thank you Phoebe. French people all think that beagles are impossible to train and that we are insane. I am telling myself that this is just the French tendency to generalise on the basis of individual instances… Ha.

  5. Congrats on your new pup! About the name, the letter thing is just for the papers. My Dagny’s registered name is Gemma (year of G) but that name means nothing to her and we’ve never used it.
    I think well-behaved dogs should be accepted places and am happy the French are open to it. The best compliment is when we leave somewhere and someone exclaims, “Oh, I didn’t even know there was a dog in there!” 😉 #allaboutfrance

    1. Yes, I think it’s lovely that dogs are allowed – it’s just the contrast with the dogs who are left alone all day and night in the garden that confuses me…

  6. Welcome to your gorgeous new puppy! I didn’t know about the letter/naming thing, very interesting! I did know a little about the way dogs are treated though, and I too find it quite bizarre. Our French house is in the country, so I just figured it was a country v’s city thing, ie that country folk keep their pets outside like their other animals, but I guess not. Anyway, love all the poo chat! #AllAboutFrance

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