The Dogs of Santorini
28th Sept 10′

We just had a holiday on the beautiful Greek island of Santorini. It was a stunning place, warm, friendly, and, unlike other places in the Med I have visited, even in recent years, the dogs and cats were in very acceptable condition. This was an article I wrote whilst there……

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The dogs of Santorini are not feral. All appear to be ‘owned’, or, more accurately, all seem to have homes if they wish to use them. Some have collars, and all appeared in decent condition. There aren’t enough to be deemed ‘dog packs’ as such, but, never the less, they all seemed to have common ‘areas’ were they remained there or there abouts, for most of the day. Understandably, as evening moved on and the temperature dropped, they would take in a LOT more ground and you would see dogs a mile, two miles from the area they frequent in the daytime.

They cross endlessly, into one anothers ‘patch’ without confrontation. This may be different if there is a bitch around in season…… or it may not. Their entire demeanour is different to our Uk domestic canines. The way they move from place to place is with a real understanding of where they are heading. They do not ‘meandour’ like a dog being walked by a human, they get going a fast trot and don’t stop till they get there (whereever *there* is). They seem more mature, less dependent, more INdependent, less carefree, yet somehow they seem to carry less *issues*, less insecurities, less complexities then *our* companion dogs.

Are they loved less…..valued less because they are left to roam, taking their chances with the sometimes, almost suicidal, traffic? I honestly don’t know. Are they unhappy? dejected? I think, watching them, they are not. I think they fully understand the hot climate, the need to just rest in the heat of the day, not overexert themselves unnecessarily. To a dog they were all happy to accept carefully offered attention, were not shrinking from the hand, and definately understood a kind word and a pat, almost without exception. They don’t crave attention. They don’t ask for it, but when it comes, in the main, they happily accept it.

We saw two, small, slightly different looking crossbreds, most definately Chihuahua, probably Border Terrier (Really? Out there!?) and when we asked the two were half brothers…. same mum, different dad. They were loose, proudly defending the Vineyard courtyard that visitors ate little plates of Meze on in the sunshine. Their fierce tactics consisted of trotting up, tail waving, to each new couple, grinning with their cute little level bites, and utterly stealing the show  ;-) They were the only dogs we saw who actually solicited attention all the time we were there. And boy did they sucker everyone in. They would move on quickly as new visitors arrived, making you feel almost jealous, realising you WEREN’T special, and that they were just a Canine ‘meet and greet’ service   ;-)

Then as your plates of cold meats and cheeses arrived, they were back, wiggling their charm, pretendig not even to understand the CONCEPT of begging, but in the process being showered with cubes of pork sausage and crumbles of Feta, all of us completely aware that we probably *shouldn’T* but entirely battery operated by the brothers to dance to their tune! I believe we may of smashed plates if they had requested! They had real charm. A clever, methodical way about them. They didn’t jump up, or paw, or lick or bark as new people arrived. They had nothing fragile or needy or juvenile about them. They probably had never been taught a single command in their lives or even had a lead put on them. The Staff seemed vague as to if they even had names, but when the vineyard owner appeared, they ran to him, and heeled beautifully off across the vines, into the distance. The fact was, the connection was *there*. But neither party, dog nor owner, had put much effort into the relationship. The freedom appeared to create the bond, somehow.

In spending a lot of time viewing the dogs, actively seeking them out when sitting around the pool got a little *too* relaxing, we noted time and again that none of the tension, the over reactions, the obvious confusions we see between dogs in the UK occured. There was plenty of body language going on when the dogs interacted, but it was understated, immediately recognisable by both, and quietly appreciated and acknowledged. I’m sure occasions occur when the dogs conflict, i’m sure not all is entirely peaceful, dogs are dogs are dogs after all. But body language misjudgements would not be the cause. Not understanding their own species would not be the reason, I feel SURE of that.

The dogs of Santorini are all creatures great and small. all body shapes, colours, sizes, tail lengths, head shapes, coat textures and types. But those factors, we so often declare as characteristics our own dogs ‘always dislikes’, or ‘doesn’t seem to understand’  meant nothing to them. They read through their differences and spoke ‘canine’ fluently and naturally.

Their greetings to one another, even a dog new to the area off a fishermans boat, caused no mad charge of overjoyed canines. No gaping mouths or thrashing tails. No real energy spent. They would simply approach, if the need arose or interest was aroused, sniff one another, tail gently moving, then within, literaly, seconds, they would pass by and move on again. The only dogs seen acting like our familiar oversocial (or undersocialised?) pet canines, were tourist dogs, patently so by way of being on leads, strolling, sometimes towing (!) their owners down the promonade of an evening. They would spot a *local* dog, sitting calmly in the shadows, and dance their manic excitement, tugging to get over to it.

The local dog would raise an ear, turn their head away, discouraging eye contact, expressing total disinterest in this rude, over the top, ‘space invader’ (literally). On occasion when the pet dog was able to get near enough, the local dog looked almost taken aback by the onslaught. Moving away as quickly as possible, because of his freedom, able to avoid what he didn’t want, and quite probably couldn’t understand.

This experience on santorini, has cemented my view that in our common method of ownership, we literally train our dogs to acknowledge and understand *more* of what humans display and express, than other dogs. We encourage enternal puppyness, constant dependence on us, discouraging decision making, and making our dogs so focused on us they could not, and often do not, understand much about themselves as dogs.

The Santorini dogs were not little fluffy humans, they were so clearly canine. They were smart, and savvy, and streetwise, and peaceful, and undemanding. They didn’t believe they had the right to constant attention, nor did they want it. They did not conflict with one another even over boundary issues because respect quiet respect was expected, and given. They sought small amounts of companionship from one another from time to time, but didn’t pine when alone.

We would not WANT to raise a dog the Santorini way. We would not want the cool, detached, independent greek island, semi wild dog, as a pet.  Like us at the vineyard table at Meze time, we need THEM to need US FAR too much for that! However, there is absolutely no doubt, that every dog we saw, semmed generally speaking, completely comfortable in his own skin without the baggage that we patently heap onto our domestic dogs. It makes for an interesting demonstration of how *we* are the link in the chain of them misunderstanding other canines by our constant interferring, that it certainly seems, the less they understand about their own type! What a conundrum!

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