Dog wagging tale

Ever since hearing Allen Parton and his famous dog, Endal, take an assembly here (promoting Canine Partners in 2003 or 4), I have tried to have a dog-based assembly every year. Sometimes it has been to illustrate how much more (I trust) a departing year group has learnt in its five years than one of my dogs has learnt in a comparable period: so with Ailsa, the Westie, September 2001- July 2006 vs the 6.2 leavers of 6.2, I am pleased to report a comfortable victory for the latter. Sometimes it has been a bit more discursive: the degree to which a recently shampooed and barbered dog can give you the illusion you have feelings dangerously on the edge of love towards it, whereas in its normal state your feelings are more prosaic; or last year’s 8 Things You Can Learn from a Dog  (conclusion: Dogs remind us of our need to care for other creatures but also the creaturely in us). This year’s assembly had an evolutionary element to it, with a touch of rough research. The chosen breed was the labrador retriever whose origins in Newfoundland tugging away at fishing nets and grabbing the odd cod has always struck me as exotic and intriguing; and how the smaller Newfoundland or St John’s dog (as what became the labrador retriever was known) started up as a breed in the UK, lit upon initially by two aristocrats – the Duke of Buccleuch and the Early of Malmesbury – and, then quickly becoming sought after as working dogs on shoots in the late 19th century.

After introducing them to Zazu, our two year old black lab, my quick spin over the history of dog evolution, which has arguably been a bit of a triumph for the breed, certainly compared to the progress of the wolf, and a recommendation that students read Michael Pollan‘s The Botany of Desire which looks at the clever evolutionary adaptation of various plants to suit humankind’s needs, we are into the field research, which involves us meeting almost all the teachers who have black labradors: 5 in all (2 Rowes, 1 Newman, 1 Coates and 1 Selby) and asking each owner what is a virtue and a vice of each dog. My research assistant, Freya D, records the answers. The conclusion is that labradors are generally quite gentle and patient but very greedy and occasionally show off. As far as the audience goes, they see some beautiful behaviour – no barking and only a small amount of unseemly sniffing – certainly plenty of patience; but the show is stolen by the final entrance – Toby Hardy’s Labradoodle puppy, Bella, who, in spite of being very small, walks on stage.

Hand-shaking involves a lot more patting and stroking than normal.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.