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The Smooth Terrier

Scary Books: Scottish Ghost Stories

Sir Walter Scott, who was a great friend to dogs, as well as a nice and critical judge of their qualities, used to tell this story:—When a young man, first attending, as an advocate, the Jedburgh assizes, a notorious burglar engaged Sir Walter to defend him on his trial for housebreaking in the neighborhood. The case was a hard one; the proof direct and conclusive; and no ingenuity of the defence could avoid the conviction of the culprit. The matter was settled beyond redemption; and before he
left for his imprisonment, or transportation, the thief requested Sir Walter to come into his cell. On meeting, the fellow frankly told his counsel that he felt very grateful to him for his efforts to clear him; that he had done the best he could; but the proof was too palpable against him. He would gladly reward Sir Walter for his services; but he had 378 no money, and could only give him a piece of advice, which might, perhaps, be serviceable hereafter. Sir Walter heard him, no doubt, with some regret at losing his fee; but concluding to hear what he had to say. You are a housekeeper, Mr. Scott. For security to your doors, use nothing but a common lock—if rusty and old, no matter; they are quite as hard to pick as any others. (Neither Chubbs' nor Hobbs' non-pickable locks were then invented.) Then provide yourself with a small rat terrier, and keep him in your house at night. There is no safety in a mastiff, or bull-dog, or in a large dog of any breed. They can always be appeased and quieted, and burglars understand them; but a terrier can neither be terrified nor silenced; nor do we attempt to break in where one is known to be kept. Sir Walter heeded the advice, and, in his housekeeping experience, afterward, confirmed the good qualities of the terrier, as related to him by the burglar. He also commemorated the conversation by the following not exceedingly poetical couplet:

A terrier dog and a rusty key,

Was Walter Scott's first Jedburgh fee.

The terrier has a perfect, thorough, unappeasable instinct for, and hatred to all kinds of vermin. He takes to rats and mice as naturally as a cat. He will scent out their haunts and burrows. He will lie for hours by their places of passage, and point them with the sagacity of a pointer at a bird. He is as quick as lightning, in pouncing upon them, when in sight, and rarely misses them when he springs. A single bite 379 settles the matter; and where there are several rats found together, a dog will frequently dispatch half a dozen of them, before they can get twenty feet from him. A dog of our own has killed that number, before they could get across the stable floor. In the grain field, with the harvesters, a terrier will catch hundreds of field-mice in a day; or, in the hay field, he is equally destructive. With a woodchuck, a raccoon, or anything of their size—even a skunk, which many dogs avoid—he engages, with the same readiness that he will a rat. The night is no bar to his vigils. He has the sight of an owl, in the dark. Minks, and weasels, are his aversion, as much as other vermin. He will follow the first into the water, till he exhausts him with diving, and overtakes him in swimming. He is a hunter, too. He will tree a squirrel, or a raccoon, as readily as the best of sporting dogs. He will catch, and hold a pig, or anything not too large or heavy for him. He will lie down on your garment, and watch it for hours; or by anything else left in his charge. He will play with the children, and share their sports as joyfully as a dumb creature can do; and nothing can be more affectionate, kind, and gentle among them. He is cleanly, honest, and seldom addicted to tricks of any kind.

We prefer the high-bred, smooth, English terrier, to any other variety. They are rather more gentle in temper, and very much handsomer in appearance, than the rough-haired kind; but perhaps no better in their useful qualities. We have kept them for years; we keep them now; and no reasonable inducement would 380 let us part with them. A year or two ago, having accidentally lost our farm terrier, and nothing remaining on the place but our shepherd dog, the buildings soon swarmed with rats. They were in, and about everything. During the winter, the men who tended the horses, and cattle, at their nightly rounds of inspection, before going to bed, would kill, with their clubs, three or four, in the barns and stables, every evening. But still the rats increased, and they became unendurable. They got into the grain-mows, where they burrowed, and brought forth with a fecundity second only to the frogs of Egypt. They gnawed into the granaries. They dug into the dairy. They entered the meat barrels. They carried off the eggs from the hen-nests. They stole away, and devoured, the young ducks, and chickens. They literally came into the kneading troughs of the kitchen. Oh! the rats were intolerable! Traps were no use. Arsenic was innocuous—they wouldn't touch it. Opportunity favored us, and we got two high-bred, smooth, English terriers—a dog, and a slut. Then commenced such a slaughter as we seldom see. The rats had got bold. The dogs caught them daily by dozens, as they came out from their haunts, fearless of evil, as before. As they grew more shy, their holes were watched, and every morning dead rats were found about the premises. The dogs, during the day, pointed out their holes. Planks were removed, nests were found, and the rats, young and old, killed, instanter. Hundreds on hundreds were slaughtered, in the first few weeks; and in a short time, the place was mostly rid of them, 381 until enough only are left to keep the dogs in play, and to show that in spite of all precaution, they will harbor wherever there is a thing to eat, and a possible place of covert for them to burrow.

To have the terrier in full perfection, it is important that the breed be pure. We are so prone to mix up everything we get, in this country, that it is sometimes difficult to get anything exactly as it should be; but a little care will provide us, in this particular. He should be properly trained, too, when young. That is, to mind what is said to him. His intelligence will be equal to all your wants in the dog-line; but he should not be fooled with. His instincts are sure. And, with a good education, the terrier will prove all you need in a farm, and a watch-dog. We speak from long experience, and observation.