ONE of the drawbacks of having a fierce dog is that no-one will take responsibility for it when we go on holiday.

Previous pooches have gone to stay with friends or relatives while Mrs Hextol and I have been besporting ourselves in foreign parts, but the present dog is not good with strangers.

Family members and friends – including tiny tots – can roll her over and tickle her belly, but should a stranger invade her domain, she becomes the devil incarnate.

We have a complex system of baby gates and security chains to keep her at bay should anyone come to the door, and the sound of the doorbell ringing sends her hurtling round the house in a paroxysm of frenzied barking.

She is a fine guard dog, as one young man who came to deliver some advertising pamphlets found to his cost when he failed to take heed of the beware of the dog notices and entered the garden when the door was open.

He hurdled the four foot hedge into next door’s garden with the dog’s teeth inches from his backside, and could only watch helplessly as she systematically shredded his leaflets and the little leather satchel they came in.

We would have offered to pay for the damage but he was still running down the road.

And herein lies the problem of farming her out to friends and family while we go away, for while she would be fine with them, we could not guarantee the wellbeing of visitors to their homes.

So she goes off to kennels, and appears to enjoy life there, walking in with wagging tail and without a backward glance.

And when we come to pick her up, she always gives us the most boisterous of welcomes knocking over tables and chairs as she celebrates her release.

And the first thing she wants to do is shake off the shackles of confinement by plunging into the nearest river for a refreshing swim.

She has always loved water since being startled by a leaping salmon in the North Tyne when she was just a puppy, and hurling herself into the water in an attempt to catch it.

I have various places I take her where there are no sheep, no anglers and the water is deep enough for total immersion, but I was rather caught out the other day after collecting her at the height of the recent Saharan plume heatwave.

I found that the gate I had been using for 40 years to get to the river was sporting a vast padlock of the kind used to secure the vaults of Fort Knox.

It was no problem for me to climb it, but it was too high for the dog to jump, and she objected to my attempts to lift her over.

However, she could hear rushing water, and some brief scuffling in the undergrowth resulted in her appearance on the far side of the gate, grinning all over her hairy face.

I scaled the gate as quickly as I could, but she raced ahead, and with a mighty splash, plunged into the fast flowing peaty waters of the River Rede.

When I caught up with her, she was hauling ecstatically at a tree branch the size of my thigh, emitting little yips of excitement,

She had slithered in down a steep bank, and when I called her out, she made it plain that the slope was way too steep for her to even consider attempting to climb back out again, and promptly returned to shredding her tree branch,.

Threats and dire imprecations fell on deaf ears, so I determined the only way to get her out was by hauling her out by the collar.

In order to reach her, I had to lean on a bankside tree, at least a foot thick, and looking as sturdy as Anne Widdecombe’s wardrobe.

As soon as I touched the dog’s collar, however, the tree snapped off in a flurry of rotten wood and lichen leaving me teetering on the bank with one leg soaked to the crotch,

I may have seen a confused owl sitting forlornly on the tree as it sailed away towards the Tyne, wondering what this blundering fool had done to its nest, but that may have been a hallucination.

As my flailing feet found purchase and I somehow managed to get up the bank, she bounded effortlessly out of the water as she could have done at any time in the proceedings.