Spectator: Lucy Baring on being a dog owner

Some friends of ours recently acquired a dog, which they’d found on the internet. Alarm bells rang when the ‘breeder’ told them to meet him in a layby near the Dartford Tunnel, but, by then, they were in too deep. They took the dog to the vet the next day for a check-up, where it was gently pointed out that their puppy was nearly fully grown and at least six months old. ‘Don’t feel too foolish,’ consoled the vet-he’d had to tell a young man the previous week that his puppy, bought under the counter in the pub, was actually a guinea pig. However, despite this inauspicious beginning, a love affair has ensued and Lenny is an adored addition to their household. I’m green with envy.

Ruby came into our lives via Olive’s teacher, who spotted the advert in her local paper. Know-ing we were in mourning for our beloved English pointer, she mentioned it to me and I soon found myself viewing a litter at a deso-late, windswept farm. The young family there had nine puppies on their hands-their 10-month-old retriever had been hijacked by a stray collie. I think I felt sorry for them, because, despite serious misgivings, I drove home with a puppy in the box beside me.

That was six long years ago, since when Ruby has proved to be both mad and dim. She chases shadows and light beams and licks one spot of the kitchen floor for hours. She barks at the children if they’re having fun (dancing, swimming, practising karate or talking on their phones). She becomes hysterical at high-vis jackets, so the binmen have refused to empty the dustbins and once sent the dog warden round. We’re definitely going to prison when the new law comes in to protect postmen. On the upside, Ruby’s all talk and no action and we don’t need a doorbell. I attempted obedience classes, but the trainer was so frightening and scornful of my attempts at being Pack Leader that, after three weeks, I pretended Ruby had gone to live with my brother.

* Subscribe to Country Life and save; Get the Ipad edition

Three years later, Fletcher arrived. A miniature wire-haired dachshund, he’s intelligent, condescending and low on humour, but very pleased to see you in the morning. He adores people he adores and loathes everyone else, which includes the burglar-alarm engineer and my nephew, whose ankles have been nipped. Fletcher is the ringmaster, Ruby his willing accomplice; together, they’re a lethal combination.

Recommended videos for you

Over the past few months, their travesties have reached crisis point. The dachshund has forgotten he’s house-trained and, if the dogs get out together, they disappear, immediately. They can be gone for hours, criss-crossing main roads, so we let them out in shifts and yell at guests to shut the door before we’ve said hello. We’ve tried electric collars on Ruby, but as she lies in any water she can find, these are pointless.

A few weeks ago, I met a man looking for a bloodhound that had disappeared the day before from the drag-hunt meet. He looked close to tears and had been driving round for three hours. The older dogs usually head for home, he explained, but as this one was less than a year old and home was many miles away, he doubted she’d make it. We exchanged telephone numbers and I walked on, ruminating on how I would feel if Ruby disappeared.

This morning, I had the chance to find out. Away from home, in the local wood, the dogs go free and always stay close-but, today, they disappeared over the horizon. After two hours of whistling, there was still no sign of them. This was it. I’d lost them and, in the full flush of feeling idiotic, furious and panic-stricken, sadness didn’t come into it.

They reappeared eventually, exhausted and unrepentant. What did I expect? A written apology? These two have taught me that I’m not good with dogs, but I do understand Fletcher and the relationship has its rewards. Ruby is a frustrating mystery. But there’s no dog divorce, so we remain, like the house will be this summer, entirely locked in.

 * Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter