by   David Hancock

The Anatomy of Today's Working Terrier

 "First of all make certain that you have the sort of terrier whose build will enable him to do his job effectively and with ease to himself." That quaintly worded but still telling advice was offered over seventy years ago by the field sports enthusiast and working terrier devotee, Major GB Ollivant. But what build does enable the earthdog to do his job not only well but more easily? Mr. OT Price, that much-loved old terrier-man, who sustained his own type of terrier from 1896 to the 1950s, opted for a dog "Twelve inches in height, about three and a half in breadth and weighing about twelve pounds." "I like a narrow eel-like terrier" he used to counsel. Certainly his favourite dogs 'Tartar' and 'Worry' and his little bitch 'Twinkle', famed over many counties, were on these lines.

Around 1880, the best terrier judge of that time, Edward Sandell, measured around 40 of the top hunt terriers, revealing some interesting dimensions. The averages were as follows: height 14½ inches, weight 17 to 20lbs, neck circumference 12¾ inches, span of thorax 20½ inches, span of loins 18½ inches, hock 4½ inches from ground and shoulder (leading edge) to root of stern 13½ inches. A measurement from point of shoulder to point of buttock would have given a length of around 14½ inches, the average height of these dogs. The most successful dog at that time was Carlisle Tack, (grand-daughter of the Rev. John Russell's bitch Fuss), all white, 17lbs, and described by Rawdon Lee as 'built on racing lines almost, without any lumber about him, and with powerful jaws.' 

Geoffrey Sparrow, in his classic 'The Terrier's Vocation', goes for a dog "...weighing from twelve to sixteen pounds, with a strong jaw -- not snipey like the show breeds -- a good back, neck and shoulders, and fairly long legs. The length doesn't matter. They can be folded up while bad shoulders cannot." He would not have liked the Fox Terriers in contemporary Kennel Club show rings, with their upright shoulders, lack of forechest and short bodies. If they could actually get underground, they are unlikely to re-emerge!

Terrier-men tend to be forthright characters ever ready to give a view on the ingredients of a perfect working terrier. In Field Sports magazine of June 1952, veteran terrier-man RR Stopford was writing: “General conformation is a subject of much argument, but to commence with, I always look for a dog with a strong, thick tail, carried slightly below the horizontal, since it is my contention that a tail turning up, no matter how sharply, is a sign of weakness in the spine. Viewed sideways on, the body should be square-shaped (excluding the head and tail) with a short thick neck and good depth of rib. So long as this squareness is apparent, the legs will be in proportion. It matters not as to cat or hare feet. Provided there is no undue breadth to the chest, there is no particular advantage in short-legged variety, since it is a fallacy that the shorter the leg, the easier to ground. A fox stands higher at the shoulder than any dog of equal weight and can turn round comfortably in an eight-inch pipe. The answer lies in the simple fact that the correctly proportioned dog pushes forward his forelegs and relaxes the shoulders when he is going to ground, using the hind legs as the sole means of propulsion, while the short-legged dog has developed a broad chest and cannot adapt himself to the alternative procedure.”

What should 'a working construction' 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 Fox Terriers feature almost without exception upright shoulders and slab-sidedness but deep chests; neither of these physical attributes help an earth-dog. 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. Longer-legged terriers like the Fox dig by throwing the earth back under them; they therefore need straight front legs, but retaining spring in the pastern. Short-legged terriers dig by throwing the earth out to each side of them; they therefore need an outward-turning foot. Both need a ‘digging-design’.

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.

But I'll go back to Major Ollivant for a challengeable description of the physique of his terriers: "The conformation I have always found the best for a Working or Hunt Terrier is that which approaches the nearest in build to the short-backed short-legged hunter...like the short-legged hunter he must have long, well laid back, sloping shoulders, a short back and big long galloping quarters. This conformation will make him stand over a lot of ground, in spite of the fact that his back is short and not long." As he didn't specify proportions, it is arguable what he really meant by the word 'short' in connection with backs. Most wild creatures which live underground have been shaped by nature to have relatively long backs. Far too many pedigree terrier breeds are now too short-backed for an earth-dog but some too have exaggerated hindquarters, with the hindfeet having to be positioned way beyond the croup when standing naturally. This is not useful to the dog.

Writing in Hounds Magazine in 1987, experienced terrierman Tony Kirby stated: “Arguments between terriermen as to the length of leg, close or long coupled between the front and back legs and general size are often held around the show rings. My personal preference is a terrier with a length of leg so that it stands about 13-14 inches at the shoulder – in other words not as tall as I believe some show terriers are becoming. Close or long coupled? I definitely prefer a terrier long in the back. What animal that lives below ground is short backed? I cannot think of one. Certainly the fox has a long back in relation to its overall size to enable it to twist round corners and make it more agile. The general size of a terrier depends on the type of earth to be tried but it should be a balanced size.” His views are worth heeding, being based on experience. 

In every animal walking on four legs the force derived from pressing the hind foot into the ground has to be transmitted to the pelvis at the acetabulum, and onwards to the spine by way of the sacrum. In over-angulated dogs the locomotive power is directed to an inappropriate part of the acetabulum. In addition, so as to retain the required degree of rigidity of the joint between the tibia and the femur, other muscles have to come into use. In the over-angulated hind limb, the tibia meets the bottom end of the femur at such an angle that direct drive cannot ensue. The femur can only transmit the drive to the acetabulum after the rectus femoris muscle has contracted, enabling the femur to assume a degree of joint rigidity when connecting with the tibia. This means that the femur rotates anticlockwise whereas nature intended it to move clockwise.

Excessive angulation in the hindquarters, with an elongated tibia, may, to some, give a more pleasing outline to the exhibit when 'stacked' in the ring. But, in the long term, it can only lead to anatomical and locomotive disaster. In his instructive The Dog: Structure and Movement, of 1970, vet, exhibitor and sportsman, RH Smythe wrote: “There is however a difference between a little angulation and the excessive angulation which is now becoming so fashionable. The side effects of excessive angulation are only now beginning to be understood and there is a distinct possibility that in time to come it may be necessary to take steps to breed out excessive angulation to prevent the development of a race of cripples.” I hope that breeders of Kerry Blue and Wheaten Terriers have read this valuable book. Such angulation destroys the ability of the dog's forelimbs and hindlimbs to cooperate in harmony in propelling the body. Yet I have heard it argued by breed specialists at seminars that it will increase the power of propulsion operating through the hindlimbs and on through the spine. If it did, the racing Greyhound fraternity would have pursued it with great vigour. I have heard a dog show judge praise an over-angulated dog because it 'stood over a lot of ground'! So does a 'stretched limousine' but it requires a purpose-built construction to permit the luxury. The way in which an animal carries its weight really does matter.

In say a Welsh Corgi or a Fox Terrier the centre of gravity lies farther back than the Bulldog, which means that in the latter far more weight falls on the fore-feet than upon the hind ones, with the muscles of the shoulder and the thorax being called upon to do more work in moving the body than those of the loins, quarters and second thigh. This means that the Bulldog’s weight mostly lies in front of the midline, whilst in the Fox Terrier, and the Corgi, the front and hind halves weigh about the same. In those terrier breeds where the tail carriage is considered significant, like the Fox Terrier, the sacrum must lie parallel with the ground or even very slightly elevated at the rear. When this elevation is not excessive, you expect to see a back which appears short and an erect tail. When the elevation is overdone, you find a ‘gay’ tail, with the tip well over the back. This is often a feature in Airedales. The seeking of a short back, made even worse by a short body, leads to problems.

In many terrier breeds a long neck usually goes with well-inclined shoulders because the cervical and dorsal bones are equally lengthy; but whilst the neck must be long and the scapula well inclined, in keeping with these elongated vertebrae, the dorsal bones, and especially the lumbar ones need to be unusually short, so that the body too is short. The difficulty for breeders is to get both these contradictory features present, in the same dog! 

Dan Russell, in his admirable 'Working Terriers', states: "Fourteen pounds should be the weight to seek for...Length of leg does not matter a great deal. A long-legged dog can get down a surprisingly small hole if he is narrow chested...The dog to refuse instantly is the one with loaded shoulders or turned-out elbows or a wide cobby chest." In the same vein, William Baker, one of the breeders who developed the Sealyham, has put on record: "In my opinion, no Terrier for underground work should be coarse in his shoulders, but my experience teaches me that nature decrees that a certain width of chest is always there in the gamest of them. The Sealyham of today is verging on a fancier's craze - straightness, length of head, great bone and cloddiness. If these are carried to excess, goodbye to him as a working Terrier." Prophetic words!

In the Lonsdale Library’s volume on Fox Hunting, Charles Mc Neill OBE, Master of the Grafton for seven seasons and of the North Cotswold for five, writes “As all terrier men know, a good way to get a real hard, wiry, weather-resistant coat is to cross a wire with a smooth…A nice little short-legged terrier is best, he is not too heavy to carry, but he must not be wide in front. A tall terrier with good shoulders and narrow front will get to ground better than a small cobby one, but a small dog, with narrow front and good shoulders, with a long lean head, is the ideal huntsman’ terrier.” Many show ring terriers are expected to have a cobby build, some arguing that it makes for a smarter-looking exhibit; cobbiness, often accompanied by a short body, is of no help to a terrier underground, where he needs the greatest flexibility of spine he can be given. In his Foxes, Foxhounds and Fox-Hunting, the great fell hunter Richard Clapham, wrote: “The make and shape of a terrier have everything to do with the dog being able to perform his work properly. His conformation may vary a good deal, particularly as regards length of leg and width of chest, so that type varies with the nature of the surroundings in which the work is done…What is wanted is an all round type, capable of doing good work under a variety of conditions. If we were asked to give a specification of such a terrier it would be as follows: Weight, 15lb. to 16lb.; coat, thick and wet-resisting; chest, narrow, but not so much so as to impede the free action of heart and lungs, legs sufficiently long to enable the dog to travel above ground with ease to himself; teeth level, and jaw powerful but not too long; ears, small and dropped close to the head, so that they are less likely to be torn by foxes.” Surely we all seek a working terrier which has a build which allows him to be ‘at ease with himself’.

In his informative book on the Border Terrier, Walter Gardner makes an interesting observation: ‘I have found that there is a close relationship between the height of a well-proportioned animal and the length of its head. This is not an original observation: the French hippotomists (horse-dissectors, DH) regarded the height of a well-proportioned horse to be two and a half times the length of the head, a relationship which seems relevant to Borders as well. This is not surprising if one considers that if you put a long head on a Border then you require to increase the animal’s height to balance the body. If the dog is very short, you require to reduce the head, again to balance the body.’ It’s a pity that Walter Gardner wasn’t in Sealyhams! Proportion is important when considering a terrier in the ring; symmetry is key to activity and the application of body strength in the field.

In an article in Shooting Times of December 1981, Dan Russell was writing: “I have been reading with great interest the standard laid down by the Jack Russell Club of Great Britain. By and large it is excellent, but there are two provisions about which I have reservations.  The first is that the standard says the tail should be set on rather high, carried gaily, and be in proportion to body length, usually about four inches, providing a good hand-hold. It is the ‘carried gaily’ bit that I don’t care for…I have seen very few real workers which carried their tails gaily. Your real dyed-in-the-wool worker usually carries his tail parallel with the ground or even tucked in behind his hindquarters.” He associated a gay tail with a yappy terrier. He went on to state that a real working terrier never shows well, being deeply bored by a ring appearance. Following the docking ban you do see some unsightly tails on show terriers; the set of tail is related to the pelvic slope, affecting, in turn, hind movement and the transmission of power.

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 PJR 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 that was less than 13" at the shoulder could not meet the requirements of the early official KC breed standard. This was subsequently altered to read ‘lower heights are acceptable’, provided that the exhibit is capable of being spanned behind the shoulders by average sized hands. This proviso could mean that a 13 inch terrier, with a short narrow ribcage might become acceptable, not sound attributes in a working terrier or any sporting dog.  

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, terrier-man, 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!

For me, the first point of real quality in a dog lies in clean sloping shoulders. Well-placed shoulders give a perfect base for a proud head carriage. They provide too the balance between the length of the neck and the length of the back, preventing those disagreeable dips in topline which mar the whole appearance of a dog. I have learnt, over the years, to start any judgement of the shoulders by considering the position of the elbow. If the elbow is too far forward, then the dog is pulling itself along, not pushing itself along, not capitalising on the drive from the hocks, thighs and loins. In his video on the packhounds, Capt Wallace states that the shoulders are controlled by the elbow. He is worth heeding.

It is only when the scapula and the humerus are of the right length and correctly placed that a dog can achieve the desired length of stride and freedom in his front action. Sighthounds can have their upper arms 20% longer than their scapulae. In terrier breeds they tend to be equal in length. Dogs with no forward extension are nearly always handicapped by upright shoulders and short steep upper arms. A dog of quality must have sloping shoulders and compatible upper arms to produce a good length of neck, a firm topline without dips, the right length of back and free movement on the forehand. Even when there is a discernible curve in the topline, as in the Borzoi and the Bedlington Terrier, well laid shoulders are required to produce the correct topline, with the arch in the spine starting in the correct place. The correct Borzoi and Bedlington 'arch' position is over the loins, to enable the dog to bring its hind-feet forwards, in front of the chest when galloping, without any restriction from the ribs.  

From time to time, a committee of the Kennel Club looks at the wording of breed standards, in an attempt to avoid harmful end-effects on dogs from unwise written anatomical designs. The words on feet should receive their urgent attention. I am against a dog's feet being described in its breed blueprint as large, small, a different size fore and aft (as in a number of terrier standards) or being unhelpfully worded, as in the Irish Terrier's, whose feet have to be 'tolerably round' and 'moderately small'. At least the breed standard of the West Highland White Terrier asks for feet which are proportionate in size; so should every breed standard. I once sat at the ringside of a working terrier show and watched the judge award prizes to exhibits which had appallingly splayed feet – flashy-looking terriers all owned by the same exhibitor, but unsound ones too.

Feet are a vital part of the dog's anatomy, more important than 'bite', colour of coat, length of coat, set of tail, length and carriage of ears and pigmentation. Dog show judges should murmur to themselves "No foot, no dog" before they begin their duties, advancing 'feet first' in every ring. Before writing 'movement disappointing' in the critique, a judge should ask 'did I examine the feet'? The feet may not exactly be the mirror of the soul but the soles of the feet can so often reveal the quality of the dog. For me the quality of  judge’s scrutiny starts at the feet of the exhibits. At least the dogs judged by them can actually walk off with a prize! I always look at the wear on the dog’s pads when judging; excessive wear on one part of the pads indicates incorrect construction. The soundness or otherwise of the foot can affect the balance of a dog. If the heel-pad is not sharing the body weight of the dog with the toe-pads, then the latter are bearing extra weight and this will in time weaken the toes. The dog's knee will absorb what the toes haven't the strength to do. This is why at the turn of the century, when Foxhounds were favoured with massively timbered forelegs and a fleshy, contracted, bunched-up foot, so many stood over at the knee, to reduce the jarring. Such hounds had their weight all on the forehand, which in turn led to their shoulders becoming more upright. There is a danger in the pursuit of round, over-compact, knuckled-over, bunched-toed feet. No foot, no dog!

At a recent Crufts, 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 terrier-men 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, writing over seventy years ago: "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 terrier-men kept their heads over many years and ignored the financial allure of the KC show rings. I salute them. 

  “Fanciers of recent years have tried to alter the original type of Terrier, by trying to engraft on a short, cobby body, a long, senseless-looking head, to get which they had to breed dogs almost, if not quite, twice the size of the original, and to alter the formation of the head. This straight-face craze began in Black-and-Tan Terriers, extended to Fox-terriers, is seen in Bedlington Terriers, is now contaminating the Collie, and is threatening our national Scottish Terrier.”
DJ Thomson Gray, the great expert on the Scottish breeds, writing in The Bazaar magazine in 1895.

“It would be true to say that no show champion of 20 years ago – certainly in the terriers, and in most other breeds as well – would stand a chance today. In the terriers, at least, their heads would be described as ‘coarse’; and none of the old champions, so highly regarded so short a while ago, would, of course, be ‘standing up on his toes on stiff and useless pasterns’.”
Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, The Domestic Dog, Nicholson & Watson, 1948.

 “The Terrier, unlike other dog breeds is basically a digger. For this reason most Terrier breeds have been modified to effect a compromise in bone structure which permits digging as an essential effort. To this end the Terrier’s shoulder bones have slightly different proportions than those found in a runner, for example, a Greyhound. This does not mean that the fundamentals have changed. So many persons think that a ‘Terrier’ front requires an upright shoulder and that Terriers should walk with stilted and stiff movement. This is incorrect but the idea may have been spawned by the frequently used term ‘straight Terrier front’. This does not mean an upright shoulder; it refers rather to a modification of the racing or running front where a shortening of the upper arm relative to the shoulder blade has been accomplished. This structural deviation offers better digging power through increased leverage. The lay-back remains unchanged.”
John T Marvin in his The Book of All Terriers, Howell Book House, 1971.