Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

Milo's new mummy phoned us again the other day. This is the woman who lives in suburban Cheshire, the mother of a friend of a friend, who now owns the golden retriever that we had to give away after he and his friend Paddy, our Jack Russell terrier, went on the rampage in a field of sheep, ripping out their throats and rear ends. You will perhaps recall my account of the first phone conversation I had with Milo's new mummy, as she always introduces herself.

She called last December to say how much she and her husband love Milo and would I like a word with him? Not with her husband, but with Milo. Despite my protestations she put him on, and I found myself, sotto voce, saying "Merry Christmas and a happy New Year" down the phone to a dog.

Anyway, it's very sweet of her to give us progress reports, but also slightly disconcerting. She told me that Milo was about to go to the local dog-grooming parlour, and expressed surprise when I said we had never had him professionally groomed. "What, you never had him tootsied up?" she cried. I came away with an unshakeable image of Milo in curlers, reading Marie Claire.

Milo's new mummy also said that she and her husband were about to take Milo to the Lake District for a week. I reminded her - for the umpteenth time - that we had deliberately sought a new home for him in an ovine-free zone and warned her to be especially careful with him if there were sheep anywhere in the vicinity.

Once a dog has tasted raw sheep it needs less than half a chance to strike again. But she remains implacably convinced that lovely Milo would never do such a terrible thing on his own, blames it all on wayward Paddy, and quickly changed the subject.

It was like telling a disbelieving mother that her adored little boy, a paragon of good behaviour at home, had threatened someone with a flickknife at school. I sometimes wish that I'd taken photographs of the carnage Milo and Paddy caused: 18 sheep dead, seven or eight more staggering around with their entrails hanging out, and an angry farmer brandishing a bill for £2,000.

On the other hand, maybe Milo's blood lust is diminishing with his tootsying-up sessions; I'm sure he'd hate to break a nail.

Here in Herefordshire, meanwhile, his successor, Fergus, is approaching his first birthday and showing no signs of acquiring a criminal record. The only difficulty we've had with him concerned his flat refusal to jump into the back of the Volvo, which could be especially tiresome at the end of a long walk.

Milo only ever had to see an open boot to leap in, knowing that it probably meant a good long walk somewhere along the line, but Fergus was intractably opposed to the idea, and hoisting a heavy, muddy, reluctant retriever into the back of a car is nobody's idea of a good time.

Then we bumped into Bert Harris, the marvellous dog behavioural expert to whom we had taken Fergus a couple of times early in his puppyhood. We were keen to stop Fergus developing some of Milo's less appealing habits, such as jumping up at people, occasionally attempting to roger them, and randomly slaughtering sheep, and Bert had been full of good tips.

So we told Bert about the car thing, and he advised us to starve Fergus of both food and affection for 24 hours, then put a bowl of Chappie in the open boot, perhaps with a special treat on top, such as cheese.

He also said that the entire family should sit in the car chatting and laughing and generally appearing to have a good time.

The lure of the food, combined with the feeling that he was missing out on the fun, ought to tempt Fergus into the car, said Bert. And so it did, at the third attempt, just as we were all beginning to feel a little foolish for throwing a mock-party, in a Volvo, for the benefit of a dog.

I think I might have surrendered the right to poke gentle fun at Milo's new mummy for putting a phone to his big furry ear.

'Tales of the Country', by Brian Viner, is out in paperback (Simon & Schuster, £7.99)