Is there an age where a dog can be called a grown-up? I've been wondering, because as of this week, both my dogs have reached a certain age, and there are some signs of what could, with a stifled snort of laughter, be called maturity.
That age is 5 years. For Dachshunds, this is about 35 to 40 per cent of their life expectancy; if they were human, then they might be in their early 30s - a dangerous age at which inexperience combines with groundless self-confidence, but also an age when you're held fully responsible for yourself and people expect you to be a grown-up.
Phoebe turned 5 in June, and Connor reached this age yesterday. Are they grown-ups?
In some ways, the idea of them being "grown up" is ridiculous. They can still be scatty, hasty, chaotic and clueless. They're still likely to work each other up into a lather of shrieking over nothing more exciting than a bee.
Yet in other ways they seem more ... settled. More world-aware. A tiny bit less gullible.
At 2 to 3 years old, Connor was a social mess. Around other dogs he lost it, not violently but vocally. But now the hair trigger seems to have grown a safety latch: he usually meets other dogs without a sound, exchanging sniffs safely and moving on. Sure, sometimes he barks in excitement/alarm, but then turns and runs back without direct conflict. Which means we can walk him off leash with confidence unthinkable a couple of years ago.
Phoebe has grown more introverted among dogs - there's little play, and she lets her views be known fiercely if another dog gets in her face too much. But with people, she's as sweet-natured as ever, bowing and rolling on the ground for a tickle from anyone she meets. It's as though she has taken control of her own space, admitting her beloved two-leggers into it but shunning most dogs.
Both dogs still have the personality we could see several years ago - but their traits are mellowed, a touch more controlled, a degree calmer. They're still fit and vigorous and hungry for experience, but more aware of risks and realities.
It's a good time to be with them. It could be their prime.
I posted on Facebook the other day about my cat Merrick's health. He was in a bad way and I thought he wouldn't last the week. Lots of you left messages of encouragement and consolation - tthank you. I'm glad to report that Merrick has bounced back. His eyes are bright and he's eating well. I'm now confident he'll sail into 2014!
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Merrick has bounced back from a scare.