The Terrier’s Apprentice


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 Β 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, Β 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.”


63 thoughts on “The Terrier’s Apprentice

  1. Adaptation – the theory never captures the reality like a true story! I once accidentally learnt that the cats would not climb on the table if I had lit candles on it.

  2. Kate, your admonishment reminds me of a cartoon that makes me chuckle just thinking about it. As the owner goes on, all the cat (or dog) hears: LalalaFluffyLalala …

    Yes, Macaulay’s apprentice, Clive Bond, certainly has learned his lessons well. Humans: on guard.

  3. Hysterical! In our house of three cats, the reaction for a scolding is to start licking private parts, then try to lick you. Yuk! Certainly distracts the scolder! We have also had the senior cat train the younger ones in bad habits that work well.

  4. I’m sure that Mac feels immense pride that his shenanigans are emulated by Bond. You should be relieved that neither of them are inclined to start a blog about the Shrewsday folk, especially the one inclined to bawl, “No!”

    1. It would be a hugely compromising affair and probably lead to the first case in Britain, at least, of humans sueing their pets for defamation of character, Lame. Let’s not go there.

  5. Ha we are the puppets, they the puppeteers.

    Are you saying that, you Kate, has a canine whom firmly believes he is lead dog; a position heir’d to him in the early hours of litter-dom. As for Clive Bond, (a Skyfall-ish tomcat), was born as all kittens are ‘equal status under the charter of felines’, all are kings and queens. Your only leverage and power comes as ‘royal food dispenser’.

  6. These two would be great cartoon characters! They are more and more like siblings. Mac has figured out how to take on the role of older brother–divert attention and lead the younger one into temptation. He’s a lot smarter than he lets on!

  7. Far more effective than the usual cat tactic of when in doubt, lick. And he learnt it from scratch?
    Mac must have cat in him. People say sneeringly that dogs are smarter than cats because they learn tricks. Actually cats are far smarter than dogs because they refuse to.

    1. You’re right there, Col.And terriers are the smartest of all because they allow the world to think they have little brain, yet have endless inventiveness at their pawtips.

  8. Hi, I came over via the link on Nancy’s blog. I’m so glad I did. What a great read. You obviously know your animals reeeeeelly well.
    Our last dog was a Standard Poodle – a perfect gentleman. We now have a terrier. He is not a gentleman.

  9. It sounds like you know my two West Highland White terriers Mac and Duffy. You have explained terriers behavior perfectly. But when they get in your lap they are hard to resist!

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