Kaiserswerth, Germany, a small village just outside of Düsseldorf, is a dog haven.There are vast green farmers’ fields for miles, very little traffic, and the shore of the Rhine offers many interesting things to smell and discover. Dogs in Kaiserswerth are always off-leash. They never bark. They greet each other so politely, you expect them to shake paws. They sit silently under tables in restaurants and cafes, and stand calmly as children pat them. They even wait at pedestrian lights as dutifully as the Germans themselves.
Enter my seven-year-old cocker spaniel, the former stray, Tess. Tess really doesn’t like other dogs. Tess barked at kids. Tess never sat still.
I first moved to Kaiserswerth in 2007 with my then very-new-boyfriend, and my dog. On one of my first outings in this new land I was floored at the sight of a golden retriever lying ever so comfortably under a table at a neighbourhood pub.This would never be allowed back in Canada (trust me, I have since tried), and my dog would surely freak out being in such a situation. I quickly learned why dogs are allowed in so many public places in Germany: They are just so well behaved! (Or perhaps it is the other way around.) In Canada, dogs are different. They bark, a lot. It’s normal, and they are always kept on leashes. Unfortunately, some dogs live in backyards, and sometimes dogs even fight with each other. In Germany however, as I was sternly told, this is not acceptable.
Once, after just a few weeks in Germany, I was taking Tess for a walk when she spotted a big golden lab. Oh great, her favorite, I thought. She proceeded to yank me toward it, barking and growling, showing her true Ausländerin colors. I yanked her back the best I could in the other direction, until the dog passed. All the while I could see the owner looking at me like I had five heads. A moment later a neighbour from across the street ran out of his flat, yelling at me in German. I told him I didn’t speak German and after an eye-roll and the standard “My English is not so good,” he began yelling in perfect English. I was told it is illegal to do this to dogs in Germany, to pull them, that “here in Germany they will take your dog away for this.” I was in shock of course, being told in this new country that my dog might be taken away. I did my best to explain that she was a stray, that she is aggressive with dogs and I don’t know why, and that I was just trying to get her under control. These were not excuses. I went home bawling.
I soon was on the search for an English-speaking trainer, desperate to make sure my dog would never again make such as scene. Hey, with the right help, I thought, maybe one day she might even be able to sit in a restaurant! Getting my dog up to German standards became my life, and she quickly got much better. I was so confident that my now-fiancé and I got another dog, and then another! Now, four years later, dog training has become a part of my daily routine like Swiffering and checking Facebook. Our three dogs come with us everywhere. Ten countries is the current count. When we return to Canada in the summers, we shine in the dog parks. As for here in Switzerland now, well Tess spent a lovely day having fondue with us in Zurich last weekend. She sat under that table like a pro.