Going Solo – Going to the Dogs

I’m a dog lover without a dog and I miss having one. Happily, I get plenty of dog love as I travel because dogs are designed for connection even more than humans are. Everywhere I go, I see dogs walking with people. And people who might be hesitant to talk to me if I walked up to them for a chat have no problem telling me all about their four-legged companions in intimate detail if they see that I like their dog. 

A St. Bernard gives me the sad eye in France

I speak several languages but this holds true even if you don’t. In many countries, people have enough English to appreciate your praise for Fritz or Fifi. And learning a few choice phrases and questions in their language will open the floodgates. People will launch into telling you all about their dog if you show interest. 

People love their dogs like children but don’t feel the same “stranger danger” when you show an interest

One caveat: this has to be genuine. I think it’s the noticing that really matters. Attention is the seed of affection, even love. So you have to spend your attention until something catches your affection and then express it.

Italian Greyhound in seaside Weymouth, England

Here’s a basic list of phrases you should know how to say:

  • Beautiful dog!
  • Male or female?
  • How old?
  • What breed?
  • I love the _________. (fill in as appropriate: face, color, smile, eyes, personality)
An old Lagoto Romagnolo in Emiglia Romagna, Italy

But above all these, there is question that is the ultimate icebreaker. 

  • Can I take a picture of your dog?
Beverly Hills Maltipoo

99% of people will respond with delight. I found this out when I was doing a dog-a-day art project during the Chinese calendar’s Year of the Dog. I had been traveling solo for about three years and this one question transformed my experience of every place I went that year. I met all sorts of people from all walks of life. Wagging tails welcomed me in places from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

Often owners will pose their dog when you ask to take a photo like this one in the Bay Area

A dog lover is never a stranger in the company of dogs no matter what country or language people speak. And since dogs often come with humans on a leash, it added up to a feeling of belonging in the world and to the world every single day. 

My new Irish Setter friend in Tuscany

Susan diRende travels the world on her own and has been living with no fixed abode since the end of 2014. This twice-monthly column aims to encourage others to try going solo and explores what can be gained from the experience. All photos ©Susan diRende


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