A recent study has suggested that pet dogs are losing touch with many of their basic natural instincts. In one test, for example, researchers at Oregon State University presented a 'puzzle box' containing food to a group of dogs and a group of wolves.
While all the wolves were capable of breaking inside, the dogs failed miserably and looked to nearby humans for help. But there are always exceptions to every study. And these guys haven't met my dogs.
Walter is my youngest dog, a bichon frise who is seven years of age. He's an impossibly cute bundle of curly white fluff topped off with a pom-pom tail, like a living, breathing cuddly toy. As far as intelligence goes, he's hardly the sharpest tool in the box. Walter can only understand a handful of words, generally ignores most of my commands and can't do a single trick. And yet his animal instincts are pretty damn phenomenal.
Here's an example. It was a few days before Christmas. I had finally finished wrapping all my presents and had just stashed them all under the tree. One such present was a gift box of port and stilton from Marks and Spencer for my friend Mark. The phone rang and it was Finn. He'd just finished at the gym and it had started to pour with rain so he wanted a lift. It took me probably less than ten minutes to jump in the car, drive the mile to fetch him and then come back.
But when I drove up the drive I was immediately suspicious that something was awry. Instead of staring out of the window looking for me, like they always do, neither of the dogs were there. They were conspicuously absent when I put the key in the door, too.
I was right to be suspicious. As it turned out Walter was just seconds away from his own private cheese and wine party.
Although there were about 20 gifts to choose from, Walter had targeted precisely the one package that contained his favourite treat of them all, cheese. This is itself was no mean feat. The stilton was inside one of those traditional thick earthenware jars, preserved under a half-inch thick, airtight seal of wax. On top of that was a lid which was also sealed with shrink-wrap cellophane. This jar was inside a tamper-proof presentation box which I had in turn wrapped in a sheet of foil wrapping paper, tied up with a ribbon, secured with Sellotape and placed inside a gift bag.
The fact that he was able to detect the scent of cheese under all those layers was one thing. To have gnawed and clawed and scratched and shredded his way through a veritable Fort Knox of packaging layers was another. But to have almost reached its epicurean epicentre in around 10 minutes flat was unbelievable.
Oh, for a hidden camera in the corner of the room, that I might have a rare insight into the secret world of the stealth gift sniffer!
Bailey (RIP) was another bichon who regularly used animal instinct to his advantage. One time after a kid's birthday party he found a stash of chicken drumsticks that had been accidentally left within reach when I took the gang of kids home. He proceeded to roam around the house burying them in the soil around our pot plants. The first one was well-covered over, but then he'd either run out of energy or interest or time until the last one was just tossed into our parlour palm and left there with a paper napkin still wrapped round the leg bone.
How we laughed when we saw it and then pieced together the chain of events. Meanwhile, Heidi, my miniature schnauzer also shows occasional traits of natural instinct with varying degrees of success. But the funniest example was the time I gave her the remains of an ice cream cone that she'd been pestering me for all the way home from Mauds. Instead of wolfing it down, she ran into the garden and buried it under a rose bush to hide it from the other dogs.
The poor wee woman went looking for it later and dug and dug and dug. Awww, I felt so sorry for her I gave her a scoop of Wall's out of the freezer. It's not as nice as Mauds, but she was like the cat that got the cream anyway.
So, what did anyone think of that powder blue outfit Melania wore to the Trump Inauguration? Personally I thought the coat dress was very stylish although the matchy-matchy shoes, bag and gloves spoilt a nice idea by going completely over the top. But it's clear what route (pronounced "rowt", of course) the brand new first lady is taking. Channelling Jackie K is not a bad idea, although it's not the first time it's been done. In fact, the fashion press usually/always say that about any woman in a position of power who shows a modicom of style. Princess Diana was often compared to her. Carla Bruni - when she was the First Lady of France with Nicolas Sarkozy - was forever said to be "doing a Jackie" when she was out on official engagements too. It just goes to show what a massive influence one woman has been on fashion for the most part of a century. This in fact is one of the main reasons I'm most looking forward to seeing the Oscar-tipped film Jackie this weekend. Although I've heard from a close friend (Margaret Mitchell I'm looking at you!) that the acting is wooden. Who cares? It's the costumes I'm going for and everything else is a bonus.
mostly be watching the birdies, although I must admit that's what I do every day anyway. But this weekend is RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch which everyone ought to join in with. Just visit the Birdwatch website (www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch) and spend one hour counting the birds you see at any time today, tomorrow or Monday. You can use the handy online bird counting tool on the website to identify and record the birds as you see them directly on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. They'd also love you to log some of the other wildlife you see in your garden - from squirrels to hedgehogs, frogs to butterflies.