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Donkin's World: New Dog, Old Tricks

"She’s called Pippa, she’s a ten-week-old Jack Russell and she’s the latest addition to the Donkin household,'' Richard Donkin announces..

We’ve been thinking of getting a new dog for a while, ever since the two old dogs in our home began to show signs of fatigue, lethargy and boredom. The first, our 12-year-old West Highland terrier, Dougie, is nearly blind and has lost a lot of hair. The second is also losing his hair and spends much of his time these days sleeping by the fire in his favourite chair – that’s me.

The house needed something to liven things up a bit and a new dog seemed just the tonic. I have always liked Jack Russells. They’re tough little dogs and have a lot of spirit. A friend has one called Squirt. She’s a lovely little thing.

So we were looking but not looking if you know what I mean. I’d check out rescue dogs now and then but hadn’t seen anything suitable. We avoided specialist breeders when we were looking for a Westie, choosing a dog that had been reared in a friendly home and had not been removed too early from its mother. He’s been a great dog and now he’s reached his twilight years. He likes the quiet life – or at least he did.

We were bringing our youngest son George back from university on Friday and turned off the busy A3 before Guildford as it was approaching the rush hour and there’s a quieter way home. Just beyond the first roundabout we noticed a sign saying “Jack Russell puppies for sale.”

We drove on a while as I said: “Shall we have a look?” I turned the car around and we found ourselves on a long drive beyond some electric gates to a property that looked part farm, part builder’s yard. There were stables with horses and older Jack Russells in a kennel. In one of the stalls was this tiny white puppy with a brown head, the last of the litter. Once Gill had held her she was going to be ours.

That was about 60 hours and what seems like a lifetime ago, in the space of which, this tiny pup has transformed our house in to a war zone with all the power of a demolisher’s wrecking ball. Gone are those lazy evenings in the chair, gone is Dougie’s perpetual snooze. Instead Dougie and me are occupying our respective trenches trying to fend off the enemy’s next attack. He looks to me for help and I tell him: “If you knows of a better hole go to it!”

When Pippa jumped up to pull a newspaper out of the paper bin it was amusing at first but wearing a bit thin by the sixty-first time. Nothing is safe. She’s attacked the carpet, the settees, my precious orchids and even the orchids’ growing medium. She’s also attacked us, play biting of course, all harmless stuff until you notice the blood streaming down your arm.

I’ve been reading about Jack Russells. All the web sites agree they can be a handful, hence the reason that so many end up as rescue dogs. But we’re not first time dog owners daft enough to be sold on those puppy looks. We know what the word “spirited” means in a puppy. Except we’ve probably forgotten a few things. We’re trying to remember if Dougie tried to bite everything in sight. I don’t think he did.

Anyway the training has started and I’m hoping that she’ll be house trained in short order. The worst times seem to be the evenings. When the rest of us are trying to take it easy, she’s skating around the room like a pocket rocket, paying little heed to Doug’s warning growls.

Feeding times might go better too. We’ve found that Dougie prefers her puppy food and she prefers Dougie’s kibbles. She has a few toys but they don’t seem to provide as much entertainment value as a household object such as a lamp flex or a door mat.

It’s not all negative. I’m encouraged that she hasn’t yapped or whined much - not yet. She seems to have quite an easy temperament - for a Jack Russell. I’m hoping that because she’s a bitch she might not display too much of the breed’s infamous aggression. The only time Dougie was attacked by another dog, it was a Jack Russell that sank its teeth in to his neck and left them there, clamped. He’s been wary of the breed ever since and he’s not forgiving us for the new arrival. In fact I think he believes that this is all a bad doggie dream.

But she’s here now and Pippa will have to learn to live with us – rather than the other way around. You have to watch out for Jack Russells displaying a “little Napoleon” complex, where they try to dominate. If that happens, then you’re lost. No, I think things are going to be fine. Pippa might agree but just now she has her mouth full of trouser leg. This isn’t training; this is war.


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