Status anxiety

Meet Leo... my soppy, dopey, affectionate, deadly predator

No sandwich, leg of ham, Flake 99, loaf of bread or tub of butter is safe from his marauding instincts

21 May 2016

9:00 AM

21 May 2016

9:00 AM

Leo, the Hungarian Vizsla my wife brought home unexpectedly last year, is approaching his first birthday and not getting any easier to manage. Caroline decided to buy him on the spur of the moment because she ‘liked the way he looked’, by which she means he looks like her. Not the face, obviously, but his figure — thin, athletic, muscular, big ears, big feet. Indeed, she was walking Leo in Gunnersbury Park a few days ago when another dog -walker, spotting them together, burst out laughing. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen an owner who looks more like her dog,’ he said. This may have been his attempt at flirting — always hard to tell with dog owners. She noticed he had a pug, but managed to avoid the obvious -rejoinder.

To describe Leo as a handful would be an understatement. I was walking him in Acton Park the other day when he bounded up to a small child and his mum. ‘Oh no,’ I thought. ‘Not again.’ On a previous outing, he’d wrestled a toddler to the ground and then started licking the residue of a Flake 99 off his face, which didn’t go over particularly well with the mum. But this was worse — far worse. The child was eating a sandwich and Leo had it out of his hand in an instant, whereupon he devoured it like a shark eating a raw steak.

‘How dare you?’ screamed the mother. ‘How bloody dare you?’ I instinctively threw up my hands, as if to say, ‘Nothing to do with me, Guv’, which did nothing to placate her. ‘That’s a dangerous dog you’ve got there and you should have him put down,’ she said, shaking her head.

I mumbled something about being sorry and offered to pay for the sandwich, at which point she demanded £5, which seemed a bit steep. I was tempted to say, ‘Branch of Ottolenghi opened in Acton, has it?’ but forked over the cash instead. As I dragged Leo away, she told me I should be ‘ashamed’ of myself.

I’ve got dozens of these stories. My 11-year-old son Ludo was walking Leo in the same park a couple of weeks ago when he decided to mount an Entebbe-style raid on the newly opened café for Acton yummy mummies. (Yes, we do have some.) The first Ludo knew about it was when Leo came screaming out of the café with a leg of Iberico ham in his mouth, followed by the café’s owner in hot pursuit. No prizes for guessing who won that race. Vizslas have been clocked at 40mph. After the middle-aged owner had given up the chase, he told my son that his dad had -better pay for the damage in the next 24 hours or he’d call the police. That cost me £35.

It’s not as if Leo isn’t getting enough food at home. In addition to the ‘dog muesli’ Caroline has him on — a snip at £20 for a 12.5kg bag — he helps himself to anything we’re stupid enough to leave within reach. And boy is he quick to exploit an opportunity. Most of the time he’s a soppy, affectionate dope, but when it comes to food he’s a deadly predator. Just this morning, I left him alone in the kitchen to answer the door to the postman and when I returned he’d devoured half a loaf of bread and was busying himself with a tub of butter. I swear he was fast asleep when I left the room. He’s the canine equivalent of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

I daresay there are lots of responsible dog owners reading this and thinking, ‘Why don’t you train him?’ but believe me we’ve tried — and are still trying. My wife used to take him to ‘puppy school’ in the local church, but had to withdraw when Leo started trying to hump all the other dogs.

One thing that might calm him down is to get him done — and Caroline is keen as mustard — but I feel a sense of male solidarity that makes me reluctant to go along with it. He has a certain masculine swagger, as well as an indomitable spirit, that might not survive castration. I didn’t want Leo in the first place, but now that he’s mine I feel a duty to protect him, and that includes his bits.

The truth is, I’ve grown quite fond of the stupid mutt. Around the house he can be a pain in the arse, but when I take him somewhere he can really stretch his legs, like Hampstead Heath, he’s a joy to behold. I hadn’t realised how much simple pleasure you can get from watching a dog tearing round in ever-increasing circles with another dog, or just watching them run towards you when you call their name. If only I could get him some sort of gastric band, he’d be perfect.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

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Show comments
  • davidshort10

    You don’t need to train so much as keep him on a lead except in places where there are no people or shops or restaurants. Get one of those extending ones. They give lots of freedom but keep the dog under control. He’s too young to be off the lead.

    • CrestovaWren

      My newest dog is 10 months old, and comes from a similarly, ahem, independent breed. But she does come back when called, 95% of the time.

      Although I didn’t use this trick, a pocket full of treats that is regularly dispensed can help.

      Extending leads can be a menace – to the dog if they snap their necks while running, or to passers by, as they get tangled up in the rope. Not a huge fan of them, but they’re useful if the dog is e.g. in heat.

      • davidshort10

        You might be using the extended lead improperly. You don’t leave it loose. You allow out as much play as you want then lock it down. As for tangling, I’ve only had this happen to myself when the dog keeps moving from one side of me to the other. Passers by would never get snagged up with me as I would take precautions before they got too near.

  • #toryscum

    Next time I see you walking around London Toby, i’m going to pin you down and start licking your face. I’m working on the assumption you won’t mind and you appear to think this is acceptable behaviour. Be ready.

  • Paul Holland

    don,t chop his b**Ls off it dos,t work he needs a good run away from shops and peopel

  • Kate Bellamy

    Your dog ate my boy’s chicken nuggets!

  • David

    Use a lunging reign when walking in the park. 12m+ of marvelous canine freedom. Of course, when your length runs out and they’re still running, it can be a bit of an interesting (and airborne) experience.

    • CrestovaWren

      The snap on their neck when they run out of lead can be quite bad for dogs.

  • RavenRandom

    A dog running at you is unnerving, no matter how much the owner says “he won’t hurt you”, the owner knows that, I don’t. A dog knocking over your child and licking its face, looks at first glance like an attack and is terrifying for the parent. Put your dog on a lead, train it, and understand what it looks like to a toddler’s mum. You’re lucky you didn’t get hit.

  • CrestovaWren

    My cousins – mum and three daughters – all have copper red hair. So does their Viszla. They are a very striking sight together.

  • jeffersonian

    ‘I didn’t want Leo in the first place, but now that he’s mine I feel a duty to protect him, and that includes his bits.’

    Silly sentimentality. Get him ‘done’ ASAP – for his sake as well as yours.

    • Eques


      • jeffersonian

        Mental and physical well-being.


        Same goes for cats.

        • Lawrence James.

          Are you sure ? Dogs are by nature scavengers and, given the opportunity, will guzzle to excess and with scant regard for what they eat. I once owned a Newfoundland who enjoyed being stuffed full of chocolate bars by undergraduates, attempted to open dustbins, came home with a mouldering deer’s head, and once consumed an entire camembert. Toddlers were no problem, for they thought he was a friendly bear.

        • Eques

          Again, why?

          • jeffersonian

            I bet you have no pets.

          • Eques

            Tell me!

        • Nomad

          Would it improve your mental and physical well-being?

        • E.I.Cronin

          Agreed. Especially cats. At least with an unspayed dog they’re contained in a yard. The number of unwanted kittens & puppies that are dumped is horrible.

  • HammyTheHamster

    I sympathize greatly with spirited dogs and their owners, I also can’t stand the presence of people like the mother described who presumably recounts the tale of losing the sandwich like a near-death-experience.

    However I cannot side with Mr & Mrs Young here. Even a cursory bit of research would have revealed that this breed is a highly active one that requires the opportunity to exercise and hunt/play, even if they are pets rather than working dogs. Moreover the behavior described is simply inexcusable and any seasoned dog owner should know that training school certifications aren’t even worth the paper they’re written on if the dog doesn’t respect its handler(s).

    If you want your dog to behave and obey you when required you must command his respect, castration will not solve this either.

  • Karen Tolstrup

    there are no leash laws in the parks near you? Ridiculous!

  • E.I.Cronin

    Give him to me! What a top dog. Yes a dog at play is pure joy. I had a kelpie x that looked like wind rippling a field of wheat when she ran and a pitbull x boxer who was the best and biggest clown.

    The problem is owners don’t smack their dogs when they’re being trained – it’s the same lunacy that’s ruined 2 generations of child rearing. Friends who bought puppies and tried to raise them with the latest techniques (light scolding instead of roaring at the beast) now have uncontrollable animals.

  • Jeremy Poynton

    The City is not place for a dog like that. It needs to be out and running. Great dogs, Vislas – but not for city life.

    • Jonny Jones

      Nothing wrong with a vizsla in a city. Ours is perfectly happy in an urban terraced house.

      Most cities have parks. An hour off-lead exercise every day is what’s needed and a park is in many ways better than a field – lots of other dogs to meet and no livestock. A 10km run around the park is even better, but fee owners will want to do that very regularly.

      Vizslas are notoriously slow to mature and behave like a toddler with ADHD until they’re about 18 months old.Our was still pretty manic at 12 months but was calm and obedient by 2 years.

      They’re the best dogs in the world in my view: beautiful, loving, fun, energetic, friendly and desperate to please. But they do need a lot of high intensity exercise and they really, really hate being left alone. If you can’t provide what they need, they’ll be bored, attention-seeking, disruptive, destructive pests.

      • Jeremy Poynton

        They gorgeous dogs, with a wonderful temperament. But they are hunting dogs. And any dog of energy needs two good walks a day – our two mutts (Patterdale x Border Collie and a Lurcher Staffy mutt) are walked for at least two hours a day and often longer. Many dogs don’t like to defecate in the garden, and our Staffy would rather pee away from the house – so if they are not properly walked in the afternoon and evening, it is not good for them.

  • Donny44

    Get him snipped – there are far too many unwanted pups already. Don’t make it worse!

  • magi83

    My parents bought an English Cocker Spaniel for my sister when I was 3 year old. Lovely dog but dumb as a brick. She was generally passive and well behaved but had zero manners when it came to food. I had burgers snatched out of my hands and the ‘two second’ rule for dropped food was obsolete in our house as the ‘one second’ rule was than a Brown furry animal will have hoovered it up. She could have come to a sticky end when she decided to eat an entire gift sized box of after eights while we were out for the day, which she retrieved from the dining room table, wrappings and all. Fortunately the theobromine seemed to have little effect on her.

    My wife and I have trained our current dogs well, to the point that they will only commence eating their food on command. But while they present the appearance and demeanour that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, they have proven to be most effective at murdering any wildlife (we live in Australia so there’s plenty of it) stupid enough to set foot in our large suburban garden.

  • Lloretta

    No, DON’T get him done! What your dog is suffering from is Voracious Dog Disease, I don’t know the scientific medical name for this affliction but what you need to do is take him to a vet who will diagnose the illness and prescribe appropriate treatment. Your dog will probably need to take this for life but the food-stealing problem will be dealt with. It’s not normal for a healthy, well-fed, well-trained dog to steal food. I knew a dog who had this illness, once we were on Broadstairs beach sitting in front of another family: they went down to the sea to bathe, our dog leapt forward and in less than a minute their picnic-basket was emptied – rather embarrassing. But later after appropriate treatment he was fine. Please don’t get him snipped – this has nothing to do with his sex-drive or the fact that he’s male or anything to do with all that!
    Good luck to Leo and may you and your family go on enjoying him for a long time.