For God's sake, Dylan, sit still!

9th April 2004 at 01:00
Watching his pet terrier flunk its obedience tests opened Bob Fletcher's eyes to the iniquities of the exam system

A few weeks ago, I returned to school and failed miserably. I managed to scrape a diploma, but it proved to be the most humbling experience. My success depended on the performance of a small Jack Russell puppy called Dylan.

We'd decided to take him to Pat's Dogs in order to bring some order to our lives; Pat seems to train most of the dogs around here. The unruly hounds scamper through the door of the local Scout hut on a Sunday morning, and emerge after six weekly sessions as obedient, well-trained almost civilised creatures. We get to know them all: Franky the basset hound, Sputnik the Yorky, Creeper the bull terrier and Ted the sheepdog. We pat and stroke them and coo like you do about babies, and swap stories and compare how long it took to house train theirs.

Of course, talking isn't allowed when Pat is talking. But she proves a mine of information, telling us about the pitfalls of feeding other people's dogs and of letting your dog walk through the door before you. And the dangers, too, of not belting up your dog when travelling in the car, of letting them off the lead too early, of allowing them to get too close to ferocious beasts in the park. She tells us how to stop them barking at cats.

Pat is training we owners really, and it's all good stuff because in the end we all act a bit more responsibly. The Alsatian, which was muzzled at the beginning, becomes soft and gentle. Snoop the "Staff" lies obediently at his young master's feet and rolls over on command in the most submissive of gestures. All of them have undergone the subtlest of transformations, all except one: the black one. The one with beige eyebrows and white legs, who appears to have his ears lined and with trimmings around his haunches.

The one who smells quite delicious. The one who never quite got the purpose of the exercise because he found the whole thing just far too interesting in the wrong sort of way. The one who found it impossible to concentrate because it was all too stimulating and who collapsed in the afternoon in an armchair because he was exhausted from all the excitement. Dylan.

In a flash I can see the iniquity of the exam system for our children. The pressure is on. Picture my embarrassment when Dylan is asked to stay but is distracted by Claude, the long-haired dachshund. Off he goes to say hello and I'm left scrabbling for his collar. By then, with Pat looking on, Dylan has also gone to see Snuffles the spaniel and after that Elijah the boxer.

Pat shakes her head sadly and in a resigned manner murmurs that Jack Russell terriers are a challenge. I return to my place in the circle, red with embarrassment. Everyone has told me that unless you boss a terrier, they'll boss you. They're right. I've forgiven him, of course. I can't get angry with him even when he's chewed the cable to the printer and bitten a chunk out of the mouthpiece of my son's saxophone. He's part of the family.

He's a large personality in a small body. His zest for life is infectious.

And when he sleeps, it's the sleep of the just. He remains quirky with his food, yet in many respects he provides a wonderful counterpoint to the rigours of the day.

I am left agreeing with Robert Louis Stevenson when he said: "You think dogs will not be in heaven I tell you they will be there long before us."

Bob Fletcher is head of Hobbayne primary school, west London

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