Irish terriers are brave, loyal and fun – ideal companions in war and for playing fetch!

I WAS talking to Kogi at SPCA Penang last week when she told me about Mingoo, a six-month-old terrier with a passion for playing fetch. Mingoo was rescued from the streets, so she doesn’t come with a pedigree certificate but she’s got the looks of an Irish terrier.

If you’ve seen old pictures of the British aristocracy going about their hunting, shooting and fishing, you’ll have seen Irish terriers in these paintings, too.

These medium-sized dogs with their shaggy coats are active pets who love nothing more than going for walks and hanging out with their human family afterwards.

In the past, they used to help gentlemen farmers get rid of pests like rats, as well as help them supplement potato dishes (they originated from Ireland, don’t forget!) with small game like rabbit, hare and even the odd pheasant.

These dogs were also pretty good at keeping up with the Hunt. Thanks to their versatility, they are famously described as, “The poor man’s sentinel, the farmer’s friend and the gentleman’s favourite”.

In World War I, Irish terriers were used as messengers, darting through the trenches and over exposed ground where they came under fire in order to connect people at the front.

They were fast, brave and very loyal, so there are plenty of stories from that time, lauding them as “daredevil dogs”. If you’re ever in London, you’ll see this dog on The Animal War Memorial in Park Lane.

In fact, terriers as a breed are known for their loyalty and bravery. Terriers awarded the PDSA Gold Medal – the highest award for civilian animal bravery, include: Beauty, a Wire-Haired Terrier, who on Jan 12, 1945, at the end of World War II, was described as, “or being the pioneer dog in locating buried air-raid victims while serving with a PDSA Rescue Squad”; George, a Jack Russell Terrier who was awarded his medal posthumously in February 2009 after being killed while shielding a group of children from a pair of attacking Pit Bulls; and Oi, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier who won her medal in July 2010 for saving her owners’ lives by fighting off a gang of four machete-wielding assailants.

So terriers are agile, brave and loyal, but they’re also extremely social and intelligent. This is not the sort of dog you want to have about if your favourite occupation is hanging out in front of the television: Irish terriers love to be out and about.

They aren’t exactly hyperactive, but they need to play for at least an hour a day, and they like being around their humans as much as possible.

This makes them ideal dogs for families with young kids, as the pet and the small ones can play for hours, ending up in a mutually exhausted pile of limbs and paws by bedtime.

If you do get a terrier, one of the best games that they can play with the kids is fetch. Fetch is ridiculously simple fun and most dogs will get it straight away, bounding off after the thrown toy and bringing it back. It’s a great way to exercise a dog that’s also fun for everyone. And if you’re not big enough to run for miles, and your pet is, then fetch is ideal.

If you have a pet who doesn’t get the idea of fetch, you’ll need to institute a bit of training. Start by trying this:

> Pick a toy your pet likes, like a squeaky bone, or invest in a specially designed soft rubber toy like a Kong Flyer, Hyperflite or Jawz Disc.

> Throw the toy, and run with your pet to get it. When your dog picks it up, say “Good dog!”, pet it lavishly, gently take the toy from your pet’s mouth, and do it again. After a few runs, you stay in one place while your pet collects the toy. Now call, “Come!” and hopefully this is enough for your dog to get the idea of the game.

If your dog is not a natural game player, then the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals recommends this:

> For the Reluctant Returner: If your dog bounces off and won’t bring back the toy, use two toys. Throw one, and when your pet picks it up, call and reveal the other toy.

Pretend you’re going to throw it in the opposite direction. Your pet will probably drop the first toy and chase the second.

This is when you throw the second toy, then run to pick up the first. Repeat, and after a while, when your dog is tired, throw one toy, pick up the other but don’t show the toy in your hand. Just call your pet.

If you time it right, your pet should return, while holding the first toy.

This is when you say, “Drop”, while revealing the toy in your hand. Your pet should drop the toy that’s in his or her mouth, which is when you throw the toy in your hand. If you’re lucky, you now get to stand in one spot while your pet fetches and retrieves.

> For The Reluctant Runner: play a short game of “tug” with the toy. Then throw the toy a short distance away. If your pet stands there and looks, pretend that it’s great fun by picking it up and wriggling it about. When your pet shows interest, let him or her sniff it and then throw it again.

When he or she picks it up, play another game of tug. Eventually, your pet will catch on to the idea that getting the toy means a tug game and he or she will bring it back to you. Throw the toy a bit further each time.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and if you have a home for a pet, please visit your nearest shelter and adopt.

  Ellen Whyte is ruled by cats who refuse to play fetch. Target and Guido have a facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/KatzTales

Adopt me!

MINGOO is a lively six-month-old girl wh o knows how to play fetch. She’s very sweet and would make a terrific companion for adults and kids. Interested adopters, please contact the SPCA Pena ng (04-2816559/spcapenang@gmail.com).