One of the first things I learned as a new dog owner was: When you meet a new dog, don’t guess the breed.
My dad, a volunteer dog walker at two local shelters, had just called me excited about meeting a Blue Tick Coon Hound, so I looked up a photo. Then, like learning a new word and then immediately hearing it in conversation, I was at the dog park when what should I see, feeling so in the know, but what I thought was a…
“Oh!” I asked the lady owner of the two blueish-speckled hounds, “Are those Blue Tick Coon Hounds?!”
She looked at me like I’d just asked if her Hermes scarf was by Isaac Mizrahi for Target. “They’re English Setters,” she said pointedly.
What can I say? To a sighthound owner, they look like the same deal.
This reminds me of our friends telling us that passers-by once insisted that their fawn whippet, Algernon, was a Dalmation because “He has spots!”
I’ve also learned – again the hard way – that when you are told the breed and do not understand it, simply nod and smile. A woman told me her big-eared little dog was a rat terrier. I thought I hadn’t heard her right. “What kind of terrier?” I asked. She repeated, “RAT.”
“Rhett?” I asked, “Like in Gone with the Wind?”
I could tell she wanted to say, “No, stupido, as in rodent of the night.”
Few people have heard of a whippet, so the most common comment we get is, “Look at the greyhounds!” Or, “Are they puppies/miniatures?” Two women in Central Park who did not speak English still managed to ask, “Simpsons?”
When we were deciding to get a whippet, I saw a sign from the universe: A man with a giant whippet! I excitedly asked the question we now long to hear from strangers: “Is that a whippet?”
I am possibly the only person ever to make that mistake. “He’s a retired racing greyhound,” the man told me as he edged himself between me and his lanky hound.
Bob didn’t do much better. He called me from Central Park: “There’s someone sitting here with a whippet!”
“I’ll be right there!” I said, and ran a mile to see the “whippet.”
“It’s got long hair,” Bob told me. Uh-huh. It was, alas, an Afghan.
When it is your dog you are obsessed with, it seems perfectly and utterly clear: It is what it is, and could not possibly be anything else. In other cases, save other owners shock and awe at your ignorance (or maybe it’s just me…) and limit your comments to, “What a nice/beautiful dog!”