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The Zen Of Terriers

March 15, 2010

People have written asking me why I always refer to my dog Jade as the Extremely Spunky Border Terrier™.  It’s fairly obvious to me, but I would like to answer the question by telling you a little bit about why terriers will probably achieve world domination in our lifetime and how Jade came to develop the art of Dog Shui (that’s Feng Shui but with more drool.)  Consider yourself warned.

What it boils down to is this: there are two kinds of people in the world, Those Who Love Terriers and Those Who Have Given Up On Life.  I belong to the first group.  If it’s blind obedience and slobbering devotion you want, get a Golden Retriever.  If you can overlook a certain amount of ballsiness and independent thinking, terriers are a hoot.  You tend to get the dog you deserve, and since I’m a subversive of the first order, terriers are a perfect fit.  I also sleep with one eye open.  Stupid I’m not.

Some breeds, like the Labrador Retriever, are hardy, bullet-proof dogs that are bred to run through bramble and retrieve downed fowl.  Border Terriers are bred to outthink us.  Well, that’s not entirely true;  originally they were bred to flush out and kill vermin.   But since the vast majority of vermin here in New Jersey work in the State Capital in Trenton, Jade has a lot of time on her hands.

Before Jade came into our lives, we had Kady.  Kady was a Border Terrier mix who has since moved on to the Big, Smelly Fire Hydrant In The Sky, but while she was here she outthought me every step of the way.  If I strapped her into a safety harness in the back seat of my car, she had wriggled out of it before I even got back around to the driver’s seat and joined me in the front, which is where she sat for the rest of her life.  If I tried to give her medication, she learned to hide the pill in her cheek and spit it out when she thought I wasn’t looking.  Since she needed the pill, I tried making her swallow it by holding her muzzle closed and rubbing her throat, just like the vet had shown me.  Rub the throat, spit the pill out, repeat. This went on until we had developed it into a half-hour comedy routine.  She sat patiently and watched me while I held her muzzle and rubbed her throat relentlessly.  Desperate, I began gently talking her through it.

“You’d better swallow the damn pill this time, if you know what’s good for you”, I would threaten.

“Ptui”, she would reply.

They’re quirky.  They don’t do things like normal dogs.

For one thing, they like to be comfortable.  This in and of itself is not unusual for your average dog, but Borders do it their own way.  If you’re going to spend your day being Extremely Spunky™, you’re going to need to be as comfy as possible the rest of the time:

Yes, that’s a guitar case.  Like I said, it’s a Border Terrier thing; you wouldn’t understand.

They also enjoy being busy, which is where the Spunk comes in.  Oh, don’t worry if you forget to give your Border Terrier something interesting to do.  If you don’t give your BT a job, it will be more than happy to think one up on its own.  More often than not, it will not be one that you had in mind.  When we went to pick Jade up from the breeder, I noticed that there were many things inside the woman’s house that were wrapped neatly but firmly in chicken wire.  I thought it was an odd decorating choice myself, but I chalked it up to the fact that she lived fairly far out in a rather isolated part of the countryside.

After Jade was house-trained, I began giving her more freedom to roam around the house.  The day finally came when I needed to run out for an hour and decided that she could have her freedom even though I wasn’t there to keep an eye on her.

This is probably a good time to tell you that we, as a family, own many pairs of shoes and have a tendency, as a family, to leave them all under a desk by the the front door.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door was that our shoes were missing.  I briefly entertained the idea of a “shoes-only” burglar, but put that out of my head as being both paranoid and ridiculous.  What was strange was that in their place was a sheaf of looseleaf paper and placed neatly on top of that, a Nylabone chew toy.   I found the shoes piled in front of the door to our back yard.  It must have taken her the entire hour to transport them all.

So what was her line of thinking, you ask?  I’m guessing the chi in the house seemed unbalanced to her, so she used her knowledge of Dog Shui and re-distributed it.   When she realized that the area under the desk looked kind of naked, she covered her tracks by replacing the shoes with random objects.  The two-leggeds wouldn’t know the difference; they never notice anything good, like smells or sounds.  One sheaf of looseleaf paper and a chew toy later, and she was good to go.

At least now I understand what the chicken wire was for.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2010 6:52 PM


    What a lovely verbal self-portrait!


    Bill Campbell


  2. joanna felder permalink
    March 17, 2010 4:38 PM

    Oooh boy is that right!!!! I am on my 2nd and 3rd border terrier (glutton for punishment) and have to say, this article nailed it. Too smart for their own good — and mine! I call Teddy the unibomber. He is stealth personified. He is cryptic, hyper intelligent and a bit sneaky. He waits until my back is turned (read: in the bathroom, in the pantry, looking the other way, talking on the phone) to do his tricks. They are for the most part harmless tricks that say, “see I pulled one over on you.” Sometimes, it’s a tiny tinkle of pee, where it shouldn’t be…just to let me know, he’s still in charge. Not often, but sometimes. He knows when he’s cold (head under the covers) and just as independently, when his farenheit reaches the right degree, out he comes to stretch frog-like, back-legs extended, face toward the door. He routinely ignores me, yet will look quizzically if I am doing something new or something that involves food. Especially chopping. He considers the “crunch” of vegetables being chopped to be his siren call. He considers affection to humans to be beneath his terrier-like dignity. Yet his younger brother, Winston, can bring out all the playful terrier like spirit in him. Winston, BTW, considers human-love and licking to be his mission in life. So there you have it — two Borders, two distinct personalities, both indispensable to my life.

  3. TommyO permalink
    March 16, 2010 1:27 PM

    I do the same thing! As one that has recently moved, I can say that Jade was only stationing them (the shoes) at the backdoor until she was ready for the next step in the relocation process.

  4. March 16, 2010 11:20 AM

    Oh, definitely. You certainly do get the dog you deserve. And by “deserve,” I mean, whatever higher power decided you needed to be challenged at every turn, that’s who decides what dog you get. But it’s worth it, because, like you, I haven’t given up on life, and I “sleep” with one eye open (and 4 cats taking turns sleeping on my feet). Great article!!

  5. March 15, 2010 7:39 PM

    Wait. Jade didn’t chew up and destroy your shoes? She just moved them? That’s insane.

    • Deb permalink*
      March 15, 2010 7:54 PM

      I told you. Did I tell you? Insane AND quirky.

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