Jason Goodwin: ‘They swerved, reversed direction and became a solid wall that struck Aphra at 30 miles an hour’

Our spectator columnist discusses the wonderful (and frightening) moments of owning a miniature poodle.

Until Aphra came, I thought dogs slept on the sofa and opened an eye when you came in or went out. I believed that they stood patiently by the back door, hoping for a walk, ate everything in their bowl and rarely spoke. That’s because, until Aphra came, we only had lurchers.

Aphra, named after the 17th-century spy and playwright Aphra Benn, is a miniature poodle. She has a trick of running up behind you when you’re filling the kettle in the morning and jumping up to deliver a deft and painless blow to the back of the legs. Your knees buckle and hit the doors of the under sink cupboard. ‘What,’ she says 100 times a day, ‘is going on? What’s up? Wassup? Wassupwassupwassupwassup?’

If it isn’t questions, it’s suggestions. ‘Let’s go for a walk! I can jump on your knee! Let’s have a bit of that! Let’s run!’ She likes to comment on everything. ‘Great walk! Long grass! Clean trousers! Muddy puddle!’

toy poodle

Until Aphra came, I had no idea a dog could be so curious, bossy, chatty or energetic. There have been times, let it be said softly, when we have seriously considered giving Aphra away to anyone who took a shine to her apricot curls and her clever little face. People do. She jumps on their laps and she’s marvellously small and soft.

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If you hold out a treat, she’ll stand up on her hind legs and walk about to reach it, like a marmoset. She’ll settle on your knees on the sofa or in the car and, if you squeeze her, she grunts, like a tiny accordion.

If you make an unexpected noise, or rattle at the door, she explodes. Aphra can bark for Britain. Her yap, which is part a snap and part a howl, is so abrupt and loud that it makes strong men spill their tea. And it goes on, too, for ages. Even after a guest has been welcomed in, sat at the table and offered a drink, Aphra maintains a barrage of outrage. It’s then that we think of giving her away.

‘One moment she was gambolling towards them, the next she was nothing but a patch of apricot fluff on the grass’

Aphra, of course, has no idea. She isn’t even aware that she is a miniature poodle. She assumes she’s a lurcher. When she looks around the kitchen at night, she sees lurchers and she imagines that they, looking around, see the same thing. On walks, she races between them and after them; she’s almost as fast and covers twice the ground.

When we walked out with a visiting saluki, Aphra bounded carelessly along. At the cricket pitch, the saluki started to chase the lurcher and Aphra followed like a streak of fluff. They ran and ran, like those tigers in the problematic children’s book, who raced round a tree to catch each other’s tails and finally melted into a ring of golden ghee.

The dogs didn’t melt – on the contrary. They swerved, reversed direction and became a solid wall that struck Aphra at 30 miles an hour. One moment she was gambolling towards them, the next she was nothing but a patch of apricot fluff on the grass.

"Two young puppies, happy and cheerful, playing and running together in the field."

We knelt by Aphra in the rain. Her back legs were stretched and stiff and her little black eyes bulged, unblinking. I suspected that she had broken her back.

I cupped her fluffy head in the palm of my hand and she mewed. We slid my jacket under her, wrapping it over her frail body. Everyone froze in Victorian attitudes of grief. We carried her home and laid her tenderly by the fire.

In the morning, when I filled the kettle, a ball of apricot energy whacked the back of my knees. That’s another thing about poodles: they bounce.