A lot of nonsense is being written about Dilyn, the adorable Jack Russell owned by Boris and Carrie, a lookalike for my dog, Perry, now nearly 16. Is Dilyn the currently subdued Boris’s alter ego, one journalist wondered. We read that Dilyn allegedly humped Dominic Cummings’s leg, and at Chequers ‘mounted’ a stool made from the hide of an elephant shot by Teddy Roosevelt. He also peed on an aide’s handbag after she arrived at Downing Street for a meeting.
Of course it is not the first time Boris has had a poorly trained dog in his life. When he was editor of The Spectator, a dandie dinmont called Laszlo terrorised the office, leaping on columnists and messing on furniture. The dog, who belonged to publisher Kimberly Fortier, was eventually castrated.
Clearly Dilyn has not been properly trained, probably because Boris was recovering from Covid and too busy with managing (and mismanaging) the pandemic, and because Carrie was occupied with her new baby. Dilyn is two now, and when Perry was two I bit the bullet and had him castrated.
Discipline wasn’t the main problem. I had acquired Perry in August, when he was four months old, and I could focus on house--training, in and out of my garden, up at 6 a.m. each day. I also drove 30 minutes on Sunday mornings to dog-training classes in a village hall, run by an ex-policeman who liked the dogs but shouted at us owners. He made us do exercises such as standing at one end of the hall and not allowing our dogs to come to us till we gave the command.
Like most Jack Russells, Perry was fun — and he still is sometimes, though he’s nearly 87 in dog years. When young, he would walk on your back if you lay on the floor, pick up something in his mouth to greet you, and chase you round the garden. The trouble arose when, nearly two, he became aggressive towards certain other dogs. Jack Russells are incredibly brave and I was terrified he would end up being massacred by an Alsatian, Staffie or boxer he’d stood up to.
He adored Freya, a sweet black labrador whom he met each morning in our communal garden, and was furious when another labrador, Bracken, appeared to fall in love with her. Bracken’s owner, a hearty Sloane Ranger type, seemed oblivious of any danger to my smaller dog and one day I found her training Bracken, off the lead, with a dead rabbit, doing a sort of commando course. (She had made matters worse by saying how beautiful Bracken and Freya looked together. Naturally Perry attacked Bracken, who then wanted revenge.)
There was also Pickle, a sort of pug-cross Perry hated, owned by an elderly woman in a neck brace. And there was Lidgate, named after the local butcher, a macho West Highland terrier, who was also crazy about Freya.
In September 2007, Finnie, a little dog from our communal garden, nearly lost his foot (it was repaired after several operations) when a pitbull-mix owned by drug dealers jumped into his owner’s car and savaged him. His life was saved by a stranger flinging his jacket over the attacker in a Walter Raleigh-like gesture, then disappearing. I also feared a boxer owned by Russians, who wouldn’t put him on a lead even after he had viciously gone for a dog at our garden’s dog show. I knew Perry would retaliate against any aggression, even by a bigger animal.
I engaged a dog behaviourist. She came to my flat and, after a couple of exercises, explained that Perry was an alpha male type and must be taught who was top dog. When I or Matthew, my then lodger, came into the flat, we must not return Perry’s greetings. This would show him humans were in charge. Unfortunately the effect of this was that Perry shunned Matthew for six weeks and he was very hurt. Meanwhile, Perry’s fighting spirit towards certain other canines continued. Things culminated at Freya’s first birthday party in the communal garden which was celebrated with a minced-meat cake made by Lidgate the butcher. Under a bench, Perry attacked Pickle; the dog’s neck-braced owner was livid and I was mortified.
It was time for the chop. I have noticed that most men don’t want to have dogs castrated, and sure enough my friend Duncan, who was staying with me that Easter, disappeared in his car for three hours after kindly removing Perry’s green plaster from his catheter wound on our return from the op.
The result was that Perry was less aggressive to other dogs, though not entirely, but he has never lost his idiosyncratic character. I suggest therefore that Carrie and Boris get in a proper dog trainer if they’re too busy to go to classes, and arrange castration tout suite for Dilyn, who could be a mite oversexed. Otherwise, when he starts competing with larger dogs for females, I foresee more trouble for that charming terrier and his owners.