464 SELECTING A SPORTING TERRIER
SELECTING A SPORTING TERRIER
“The breed of terrier is not important, and a man can please his fancy – I have used Fox – Wire – Sealyhams, Borders, Lakelands and Jack Russells, and they are all good if bred right – it’s the STRAIN that counts.”
Charles Castle FZS, in his Scientific Dog Management and Breeding (Kaye, 1951), wrote: "Bruce-Lowe traced the pedigree of every racehorse back to the original dam...he was able to classify these families by their characteristics, such as 'sire-producing families', 'running families', etc...these families run true to the present day, passing on family characteristics and certain families 'nick in' to each other to produce winners..." There, was a serious enlightened breeder. As vet and exhibitor RH Smythe wrote in his informative The Breeding and Rearing of Dogs (Popular Dogs, 1969): "It is true that some kennels contrive to turn out a champion each year, but they are usually those that contain a number of bitches often similarly bred, and their owners have been fortunate enough to discover a sire that 'nicks'..." This system has a run-out date as repeat close-breeding can penalise in time.
I once had a stockman who was astonishingly good at this 'nicking'; he didn't study bloodlines, he wasn't bedazzled by show ring success, he seemed to have a gift at matching sire with dam. I have heard of Irish Greyhound breeders with a similar 'eye'. But my stockman was an older man with decades of experience with livestock; he had learned not from paper but proof in the flesh. He did in fact know a great deal about bloodlines and had shown exhibits for years at agricultural shows. Breeding livestock is very much a science, but he made it into an art. There are show dog breeders with similar insight. It is the blend of phenotypical and genotypical features which produce the offspring; top quality can skip a generation. The concept that a Crufts winner mated to an indifferent bitch can somehow produce top quality pups is seriously flawed. It is based on wishful thinking not science. The lazy thinking which leads to a good quality bitch being mated to the nearest available sire in that breed is just puppy-producing.
In emergent breeds, stabilising the gene pool and establishing type is crucial. The creator of the Plummer Terrier, sporting writer/breeder Brian Plummer at first advocated a back-cross to the 'pitbull type' but later on, as his breed developed, he changed his mind. In a telephone conversation with me, towards the end of his shortened life, he stated very clearly that he no longer favoured that approach. He was wise enough to retain an open mind; kennel or breed blindness can do much harm. Strict conformists can let a breed deteriorate; unskilled non-conformists can wreck a breed. I do hope Brian's impressive breed is in safe hands. When I judged them a few years ago, I saw sufficiently sound typy stock to make a reversion even to founder-blood to my mind quite needless.
In another emergent breed, the quite admirable Sporting Lucas Terrier, a planned outcross to a Norfolk has restored the red-tan coat colour to the breed. As a breeding advisor to the breed, I am sometimes asked about other possible outcrosses, to farm or working Sealyhams, for example. Without seeing the dogs themselves, not knowing their background, whilst acknowledging the need to expand a small gene pool, this gives me difficulties. I first judged a Lucas Terrier show over a decade ago and was concerned at the number of 'brown Sealyhams' in the ring. Type in a breed is everything but favouring an undesired physical signature is not breeding for the breed, just using available stock. At country shows however I do see throwbacks to the real Sealyham, the type originally used in the hunting field, not over-boned, over-coated or otherwise 'overdone'.
When judging the annual show of the Sporting Lucas Terrier Club (SLTC) at Bramham Moor nearly a decade ago, I commented on the mainly white-jacketed entry, mourning the absence of the fuller range of coat colours sought in the breed and set out in the breed standard, as ratified by the UKC in America. The committee then undertook the recommended outcross to a top quality Norfolk Terrier to reintroduce the tan and the black and tan jacketed varieties. When judging the SLTC’s 2009 show at Rugby, I was delighted to see some highly promising young pups in black and tan jackets (now known as the ‘Hancock’ line). The selection of breeding material will forever be the key element in dog breeding and, in this case, the chosen Norfolk Terrier sire used as an outcross has produced a splendid result.
But in selecting breeding material an eye must be kept on the terrier function, the terrier spirit and the spiritual outlet needed by such sporting dogs. Soon, in any number of pedigree terrier breeds, there were be a generation, if there isn't one already, which doesn't know what their breed once looked like. So much for respecting a breed and its functional origin. In The Principles of Dog-Breeding (Toogood, 1930) RE Nicholas wrote: "The breeder who returns from each show with a new rather than an improved ideal seldom accomplishes anything worthwhile, for vacillation in standards (i.e. breed standards, DH) is the direct road to confusion of types and to absolute failure. The rolling stone gathers nothing but hard knocks." Every breed needs breed-architects ahead of breed optimists.
When you breed selectively for one feature only, you imperil many other points: ignore working anatomy and go for handsomeness, you overlook a design for function; forget working ability and you risk losing it. In an article in Field Sports of June 1952, working terrier expert RR Stopford wrote: “In the choice of a puppy, one’s personal ideas will carry more weight than the show-bench standard, but it is essential that size, shape, and strain are dominant factors in the selection. The dangers of acquiring a youngster, no matter how likeable it may be, from parents of a non-working strain are (a) that it may grow too big, and (b) that it will lack the intelligence or the keenness for the purpose for which it is intended.” We can all get carried away by a charming pup, but breeding working terriers has to be a single-minded informed disciplined choice.
When you breed, selectively for coat, as has happened in the Skye, Sealyham, Scottish and Cesky Terriers and now the Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier, you can end up with all coat and no dog. When you breed, selectively, for head-shape, you lose genuine type, as in the Bull Terrier and the Bulldog, no matter how widely accepted the new look is. When you breed, selectively, for 'stance', the longer muzzle and the short back, as in the Fox Terrier, you end up with upright shoulders, an 'ant-eater' head and reduced flexibility in the spine, not exactly earth-dog requirements. Working terriers need suppleness, pliancy - all the flexibility they can get, especially from their spines. They won't get this from flawed concepts about their anatomy. In the closed gene pool of the pedigree Fox Terrier these needless penalties are built-in. Over half a century ago, as a vet's kennel boy, I went with him to Molly Harbut's Airedales, to Manson Baird's Deerhounds, Miss Lipscombe's Bull Terriers and other renowned kennels; it would be good to see such 'type' once more.
When a Sporting Lucas Terrier is outcrossed to a Norfolk Terrier to restore a missing coat colour, unless the breeding stock is wisely selected, you can bring in undesirable traits as well. If you outcross to a working Sealyham, for perfectly sound reasons on paper, unless the mates are wisely chosen, you can similarly bring in undesired features too. The resultant progeny may genetically be 50% Sporting Lucas and 50% working Sealyham, but not necessarily phenotypically so, that is, in appearance. Genetics isn't a mathematical exercise; it is a battle between dominant and recessive genes. I have seen a lurcher, claimed to be 25% Whippet, 25% Bedlington Terrier, 25% collie and 25% Greyhound, looking exactly like a purebred Bedlington Terrier. In this mating, the Bedlington blood, despite being only ¼ of the blend, triumphed.
All named terrier breeds developed in a planned restricted gene pool; every emergent terrier breed has to face the dilemma of a small gene pool maintaining type or an enlarged one introducing alterations to type. Some Sporting Lucas Terriers are too open-coated, some are too low to the ground, some lack bone and obvious jaw strength. Some Plummer Terriers are too finely boned, some are too thin-coated. Not surprisingly, both these emergent breeds lack consistency of form. Finding the stock which remedies these faults takes breeding skill, patience and single-mindedness. In due course, an outcross may be necessary but only if firstly the coefficient if inbreeding reaches worrying levels, secondly if inherited defects crop up and thirdly if virility is lost. Both breeds are however closely-knit, with many breeders knowing each other's stock. Now is the time perhaps for the introduction of an appraisal scheme in which breeding stock, sound enough mentally and physically to justify breeding from, is graded and minor faults acknowledged then bred out under an agreed and accepted breeding plan for every terrier breed. Our irrational, and at times irresponsible, dislike of breeding controls, may prevent this happening, but it will never be enough just to mate dog A to dog B and hope!
When I was working in Germany nearly half a century ago, I learned of the work, in the German Democratic Republic, from a book by Dr FK Dorn, entitled Hund und Umwelt or Dog and the World Around Him i.e. his Environment. Dorn devised a system of four categories: A=Type, B~Appearance, C=Conformation and D=Temperament. Within each category, Dorn devised a numerical scoring system, in which, for example, Al=shelly, A8=too heavy and clumsy; BO=lack of pigmentation, B5=excellent appearance, outline and symmetry; DO= nervous or timid, D3=cautious, not self-assured and D8= unafraid but not aggressive. Such details could then be written on a dog's pedigree for use when breeding plans were being formulated.
This became known as the Merseberg scoring system, after the GSD breed club there. Dorn was seeking to establish a clear picture of the hereditary qualities of the whole bloodline of a dog. But now, half a century later, our pedigrees merely list the ancestors for five generations, without any checks on their accuracy or the slightest whiff of real information about the dog. Is this progress? Is this in the best interests of good breeding? Prizes for phenotype and beauty are given sole weight and to hell with such basic information as health, intelligence and working ability. In livestock breeding, a stud has no value until the performance of its progeny has been established. But in the pedigree dog world, a stud is valued not on the performance of its offspring but on their successful stance in the ring. Does that produce the best companion animals? Breeders of working terriers like to maintain breeding records. They rate performance ahead of purity, but all terriers are pets to some degree and temperament in terriers really does matter. The biggest single reason for dogs going into rescue or needing rehoming is behaviour issues relating to failings in temperament. Our terriers deserve to be bred with spirit, it’s the basis of their character. But there is a huge difference between a ceaselessly-snarling hyper-aggressive combat-seeking canine psychopath and a confident restrained even-tempered stable yet still active and courageous little warrior. A badly-bred terrier with deep-rooted behavioural problems lets down all terriers. Choosing the right stud dog really does matter. Socialising the young litter is vital too. Breeders are all important. They select the breeding material, they introduce the progeny to the world and they choose their future homes. All these factors contribute to the happy terrier.
“If breeders are frightened by their losses this year into putting their bitches to dogs totally unrelated to them, with the idea of getting stamina in their progeny, I am certain they will lose a year’s breeding. No doubt the great secret in close in-breeding is never to be tempted into using either a bitch or dog that isn’t perfectly sound and healthy. That in-breeding may be carried too far goes without saying, and it requires great care and judgement to know exactly when fresh blood is required, and even greater judgement to know how to introduce it without ruining the strain.”
“By far and away the single important factor that can make or mar a terrier is its breeding. You cannot breed a racehorse out of a donkey. So you can’t breed an ideal working terrier if it is not from the right stock. Ideally that stock should go back many generations. It will then have the brains to go with the physical conformation to make this the ideal terrier and the envy of every one.”