You don’t get a terrier for his gentlemanly habits.
I think we’ve been over this before. You want something that primps and preens? Get a poodle. A ribboned handbag dweller? Something chihuahua-based. An affable stick-chaser? That would be your labrador. Does tricks? Collie.
Terriers are like irascible old men and women. They like life the way they like it, thank you, and if that means every walk is just a deeply elaborate chain-widdle and your favourite cologne is forest fox-poo: get used to it.
Our dog Macaulay’s house habits are questionable. As I sit here writing this, he is engaging in noisy ablutions far better staged behind closed doors. He steals things, and drinks from mugs of half-cold empty tea and hot chocolate. He snores.
When you tell him off he does not look cowed or penitent like any half-decent retriever would: he sits down and scratches furiously. This has two advantages for Macaulay. i) It shows he is not listening. LaLaLaLaLaLa, so to speak.
And ii) it plants insidious unease in the admonisher that despite the highly expensive monthly treatments to keep little visitors away, he has fleas.
Terriers give the impression they are just your average intellect, but in fact they are fiendishly clever. Cleverer than the souls who herd sheep, or run through hoops and jump over obstacle courses for men’s satisfaction. Your average terrier uses his little grey cells for his own purposes. Which are: theft, subversion, filth and fermentation, guzzling and gratification.
Of course, the humans who choose to give a terrier a home live for the moments when a terrier’s agenda includes its owner. For their saving grace is that we are part of their routine, a warm hearth and a lap at the end of a hard day’s putting the natural world to rights. They don’t like us because they have to, but because they want to.
In September, Macaulay’s comfortable routine changed forever. In a misguided attempt to replace the last cat as some kind of company during the day, his family bought him a kitten.
The moment Clive Bond the small black bundle of kitten arrived he, and we, knew things had changed irrevocably. This was not some prissy simpering lapcat but a bloke, a brawny opinionated man-puma, whose personal habits were questionable, and who picked delighted fights, even as a small kitten, with the house mutt.
They joust. They choose to inhabit the same space. In fact I would venture that Macaulay and Clive have reached an understanding: that Clive admires Macaulay immensely even if he does nip his toes and charge at him from odd directions.
And Macaulay has started teaching Clive the trade.
Like a small hairy Fagin, Mac has begun teaching his charge to steal sachets of food and transport them to Mac’s domain, the floor. I will find empty sachets licked silver-clean in the middle of the sitting room rug. And Clive has learnt that advantageous things live in mugs. He has developed an unsettling penchant for cold tea.
I told him off the other day. He had got onto the dining room table to sample some cereal and milk. There is only one word which will stop him in his tracks: a loud “no”. “No! I bawled unbecomingly.
And strink me pink if he didn’t sit down and scratch.
I could almost hear Mac telling him: It’s a great tactic, mate. It makes them think you’re not listening.
“And it gives them the willies ’cause they’re scared you’ve got fleas.”