TERRIERS AT WORK...BUILT FOR WORK -- OR JUST FOR SHOWS? by David Hancock
The Anatomy of Today's Working Terrier
The use of the expression 'gamest of them' applied to Sealyhams resurrects an old worry of mine. Having read of the method used by the celebrated Captain John Tucker-Edwardes to 'prove gameness' in the terriers he used when fashioning the Sealyham as a distinct breed, it has always appeared to me the perfect recipe for producing brainless canine psychopaths. I cannot understand his fame as a terrierman if the stories about his 'selection tests' are true. Terriers which when not at work are expected to kill captive polecats are not likely to appeal to those terriermen who also keep ferrets!
I am reminded of the story of the half-wit who returned a young terrier to its breeder as a 'waste of space' because it declined to slaughter a neighbour's tomcat which he had put into a barrel with his newly-acquired pup to 'see what it was made of'. The pup, which had been raised with farm cats in his barn birthplace, went on to prove himself as the bravest of dogs. I have never heard a proper terrierman admire a dog that was too hard. Famous old-timer OT Price once stated: "Don't let your terrier get too hard. Remember that a terrier's job is to bay the fox not fight it." And, according to Dan Russell, "the hard dog is as big a nuisance as the coward. He spends half his working life in hospital."
Major Ollivant wrote that "...the terrier's pluck must not be the bravery of the Bull Terrier that goes in regardless of consequences, but the brave, fearless kind of pluck that knows its own danger, and yet has the grit to stay there." The relevance of degrees of aggression to build lies in the fact that if you use bullterrier blood to strengthen the head, you risk the production of a holy terror that could be a blessed nuisance! When I hear of working terriermen utilising show dog blood to achieve a physical point, I recall the words of Geoffrey Sparrow on this subject: "...but then she had a working pedigree back to the nineties on both sides. The real blood must be there or the pups are sure to throw to soft lines."
The Rev John Russell's own description of his ideal terrier as manifested in his renowned 'Trump' is worth quoting: "Her colour was white, with just a patch of dark tan over each ear and a similar dot not larger than a penny piece over the root of her tail. The coat, which was thick, close and a trifle wavy, was well calculated to protect the body from the wet and cold. The legs were straight, short and thick, and the feet perfect, while the size was equal to that of a full-grown vixen fox, that is to say, her weight was about twelve pounds. Her whole appearance gave indications of courage, endurance and hardihood."
It is interesting to compare the great man's words with those of the standard first proposed by the then Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club. This early official club blueprint stated: "Coat - rough, a trifle wiry or smooth. Dense with belly and undersides not bare...Forelegs -- strong and straight with joints in correct alignment. Elbows hanging perpendicular to the body, working free of the sides." (I'm not sure I want a dog answering to that description!) There was no indication of what the dog's general appearance should be like; I think I'll stay with the vicar! Any pedigree Parson Jack Russell dog which is less than 13" at the shoulder does not meet the requirements of the official KC breed standard. This means that the best working Jack Russell in the whole country could not win in the KC show ring entirely on grounds of size. Is that the best way to judge sporting terriers?
I'm not surprised to read the judge's critique at a recent National Terrier Championship show which states: "I'd hoped to find more of the West Country original Parson types but sadly, there were few who looked like them. We seem to be moving towards a modern day PJRT which wasn't at all what was intended when the club was revived some ten years ago." Another judge at a different show gave this report: "I was disappointed with the quality of my entry, too many had heavy cheeks, absolutely foreign to the Standard." Now there's a valuable yardstick for passing judgement on a breed designed to work! "Tell me, terrierman, what's the problem?" says the MFH. "Sorry, Sir John, but they've all got heavy cheeks -- I think we'll have to cancel." We can all guess at the MFH's response!
At Crufts this year, the Lakeland Terrier judge used these words in his show report: "On the whole the standard of Lakelands at this show were (sic) not of a very high standard, some nice ones, some not so nice, and some absolute rubbish." I do hope those working Lakeland terriermen who resort to show dog blood occasionally choose wisely! The myth of the association between pedigree and quality is surely finally acknowledged by sportsmen of all styles. At the Scottish KC Championship show a year ago, the judge recorded: "When recognition of the PJRT took place I was under the impression that we were going to preserve the look of this old type of working terrier, it now seems that some breeders with no knowledge of, or regard for, the traditional type are determined, with the help of judges with no breed type experience, to change completely the character and look of the breed." That, in comparatively few words, sums up very aptly what happens to terrier breeds in the KC show rings. God protect the Patterdale, the Lucas, the Plummer and any others heading towards KC recognition. Performance is soon second to prettiness.
When judging the build of a working terrier, let's be guided by the wise words of our Major Ollivant: "A terrier that has to work underground must have his heart in the right place; then if his body permits him to do so, he will get there like the good sportsman he is." The only reason why we have working terriers to breed from nowadays is that countrymen who were real terriermen kept their heads over many years and ignored the financial allure of the KC show rings. I salute them.
Judging the working build
"I never see a real Fox-Terrier nowadays". - the Rev. John Russell c. 1875.
"That the foxterrier of today is a great improvement, in so far as looks go, on his predecessors of forty or fifty years ago is beyond question, though whether he is better suited physically or morally for work underground is a matter of opinion". - Pierce O'Conor, "Sporting Terriers", 1926.
I believe that it is entirely fair to state that of all the types of dog ruined by the effects of the Kennel Club-approved show rings the terrier group has suffered the most. This is sad for a number of reasons: firstly, the Kennel Club was founded by sportsmen, with the Rev. John Russell an early member and foxterrier judge; secondly, the breeders of those terrier breeds recognised by the KC boast of the sporting ancestry of their dogs -- and then dishonour it, and, thirdly, some quite admirable breeds of terrier have been degraded, even insulted, in this way. Discounting the Airedale, never an earth-dog more a hunting griffon, and farm dogs like the Kerry Blue and Wheaten Terriers, which were allrounders rather than specialist terriers, all show terriers should only be called full champions if they have passed an underground test.
In the United States, they are conducting such tests, ranging from 'Introduction to Quarry' and 'Junior Earthdog' to 'Senior Earthdog' and 'Master Earthdog'. To date I know of no master earthdog tests being held but just under ten dogs hold the senior earthdog title. In the introduction test, the terrier (or working Dachshund) has two minutes to enter a ten foot tunnel, negotiate a 90 degree turn and 'work' the quarry for 30 seconds. The American enthusiasts say that "you put a dog down the hole but you get a terrier out of it". In the master earthdog test, acting in a brace, a dog has to follow a 100 foot scent trail to a hole, which is intentionally a false one, investigate the false den without giving tongue, then navigate 30 feet of tunnel, three 90 degree turns, a false exit, a constriction point and an obstacle.
Seventy years ago, Pierce O'Conor was advocating something similar. He described the French apparatus for trying terriers: a wooden conduit 7½" wide, sunk in the earth, with passing chambers, just over 50 feet long. Terrier-testing underground is so much more a basis for judging than any 'beauty show'. It tests, however artificially, the working instinct and character of the dog. But even beauty shows should end up rewarding a working physique rather than one cosmetically appealing.
But what should 'working appeal' be based on? The original working Fox Terriers were barrel-chested and featured a fairly straight stifle and hock; the longer tibia and well-bent hock of the show ring terrier of today is not much use underground. But an even bigger difference lies in the shoulder angulation and depth of chest. Show foxterriers feature without exception upright shoulders and slab-sided but deep chests; neither of these physical attributes help an earthdog. Nor does the short back of the pedigree Fox Terrier, which reduces flexibility and overall suppleness. It does however produce a more compact-looking showy type of dog.
The craze for long heads in show terriers, exemplified most clearly in the smooth Fox Terrier, is rooted in the misguided belief that length gives power. You also hear the expression: "plenty of heart room", which is strange when the heart doesn't actually change size when the dog is exerting itself. Plenty of lung room is desirable, especially in terriers which run with the hounds. But it is rib-space which gives a dog lung room, not depth of chest. I have heard terrier show judges fault a very muscular terrier, used to hard exercise, for being 'loaded at the shoulders' when the fortunate dog had developed muscle which projected on the outside of its shoulders. Any individual accepting a judging appointment should question their own capability and 'eye for a dog' before proceeding.
Symmetry is important in most working animals; in a Fox Terrier measuring two feet from the top of its head to the ground, its front should cover not more than eight inches in width, a proportion of at least 1 in 3. In his informative book "The PopularFox Terrier" of 1950, Rosslyn Bruce, who drew on the knowledge of the Rev AJ Skinner, a breeder of working and show terriers, makes great play of correct proportions. His best all-purpose terrier came out showing the measurements indicated in Fig 1. He believed that height at the withers should equal the length of the dog, i.e. 1 - 2 should equal 3 - 5 in Fig 2
He also argued that the depth of chest (3 - 4) should equal leg length (4 - 5). He sensibly argued against 'square' Fox Terriers (see Fig 3), stating this encouraged upright shoulders, too short a back and faulty necks. He favoured the build illustrated in Fig 4, considering this provided good reach of neck, flexibility of body and correct shoulder placement.
As dog-show exhibitors without working experience gained the ascendancy, these arguments were forgotten. In time, a judge like MacDonald Daly, despite owning coursing greyhounds, was advocating Fox Terriers with the physical desiderata set out in Fig 5. The long muzzle, short back and upright shoulders are easily spotted and sadly are now the norm, held as the perfect earthdog blueprint, the ideal anatomy for a sporting terrier!
Working terrier enthusiasts will never show great interest in precise measurements, exact proportions or wordy descriptions of anatomical features. But balance, symmetry, correct proportions and physical soundness really do affect function and therefore performance in a hunting animal. Terrier show judges may prefer to judge entirely by eye and experience, but is this enough? A seminar of working terrier judges to bring on the younger judges would surely be of value. It would be interesting to hear, should that happen, what terrier show judges' decisions are being based on.
Pedigree livestock are still judged to a scale of points; pedigree dogs no longer are. Subjective judgements can bring fine differences of opinion to the fore. But for a working terrier to win a prize with upright shoulders, splay feet, a wry mouth and no lung room, as I witnessed last summer, is more than depressing. If countrymen can't judge a dog these days, what hope for townee judges at Kennel Club shows?