632 Lost Terriers

by   David Hancock

 Terriers are very much the contribution of the British Isles to the world's dog breeds. Our list of terrier breeds as recognised by the Kennel Club could have looked so very different had fate intervened differently. In place of famous breed names like the Sealyham, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Border, Norfolk and Lakeland Terrier, we could so easily have ended up with the Trumpington, Cowley, Bewcastle, Elterwater, Suffolk, Will Norris and Squire Poole Terrier. In the early nineteenth century, many localities, even some valleys, had their own favoured type of terrier, some of which became swept up in a distinct form we now call a breed. To this day, terriermen still go for their concept, as the Fell, Patterdale or Welsh Wheatens demonstrate, when working ability is demanded. 

 Not much has been written about the terriers, even those that did achieve KC breed status, mainly because terrier work was not a job for the educated monied classes who could have written books about them. As a consequence, it is probably easier to research just one setter breed than all of our known or lost terrier breeds, such is the disparity of written material. In his 'The Terriers' of 1896, a volume in his Modern Dogs series, Rawdon Lee does make reference to the little known types of terrier found then, such as the Otter Terrier. One of his illustrations depicts 'Other Working Terriers'. The working terrier fraternity of Rawdon Lee's time could have provided evidence of from ten to twenty additional "breeds".

 Sadly, a comparable depiction today would be more likely to feature Schnauzers, Pinschers, Dachshunds and the German Hunt Terrier, such was the domination of breeds originating in Germany in Britain in the 1990s. But commendably, the new millennium has seen the working terrier breeders, who never follow fad or fashion, at work again. Just as a working Clumber Spaniel, half the weight of the show dog and with sounder hips and eyes, is being promoted, so too are recast working Sealyhams and Bedlingtons, a resurrected Lucas Terrier and the now well-established Plummer Terrier.

 The latter, named after its creator: schoolmaster turned writer, the late Brian Plummer, author of at least a dozen books, mainly on lurchers and terriers, has really gained ground. Between 11½ and 13½ inches at the shoulder, smooth coated, with a head displaying signs of both Bull Terrier and Fox Terrier ancestry and a striking fiery tan colour with white finching, these dogs were developed in a hard school and now breed consistently true to type. Both the Plummer and the Lucas Terrier enthusiasts observe a written and approved breed standard and have sensible breeding plans. Most of the Plummers have been sired by working terriers owned by professional terriermen working for foxhound packs. They have exceptional noses and it would be difficult to find better ratters. One is being used to track deer, rather as the Germans use their 'teckels'. They can display what French huntsmen would term 'excessivement meurtrier' or be, more euphemistically, determined vermin-killers. They are certainly not dogs for elderly spinsters in Bognor Regis!

 The Lucas Terrier was described by its creator Sir Jocelyn Lucas, famous for his Ilmer kennel of Sealyhams, as "death on rats and rabbits", and this too is no ornamental breed. Seeking a smaller working Sealyham, Sir Jocelyn outcrossed to a red Norwich Terrier, and, finding the crossbred puppies so attractive he set to in an attempt to stabilise this type. The Lucas Terrier enthusiasts of today (divided into the Lucas and the Sporting Lucas) are completing his unfinished work. They are producing hard-jacketed foot-high strong-headed terriers, either white bodied with darker markings or coloured in body, all shades of brown, black and tan and grizzle and tan. They are fearless without being fighters,and, thankfully for terriers bred from game stock, not -- in the words of their breed standard -- 'overly noisy.' I've had the privilege of judging both Lucas and Sporting Lucases, wrote the approved breed standard for the latter and act as a breed advisor when asked. Recent outcrosses to the Norfolk and working Sealyham will soon enlarge a too-small gene pool. 

 Thankfully, the Kennel Club is now at last taking some interest in our vulnerable native terrier breeds but allowed our much-missed English White Terrier to disappear, perhaps hastened by the banning of ear-cropping. We have seen too the development of our precious Bull Terrier into a piggy-eyed sheep's-headed dog, dating from just after World War I, when the London fanciers defeated the Brummies and changed the breed's head. But all is not lost, Lyndon Ingles of Tredegar is now producing the real Bull Terrier, wholly lacking the monstrous skull of the show specimens, and impressing every genuine terrier man.

 Emergent terrier breeds are too precious to be put at risk; the step from show ring debut to being the most popular breeds for puppy-farmers, as Westies and Yorkies now are, is a worryingly short one. I see some Parson  Russell Terriers at KC shows which could still work. But I also see some that are shelly, slab-sided, too short in the back and with poor feet and snipey muzzles. The movement of so many terriers at KC shows is desperately worrying, with upright shoulders, short upper arms and limited rear extension almost de rigueur.

  Ironically, it was Sir Jocelyn Lucas's disillusionment with the show Sealyham which inspired his outcross to the Norfolk. Finding them too big, too cloddy, over-furnished and with disappointing temperament and whelping difficulties, he sought a smaller-headed harsh-coated but not excessively coated input and went for the then scarcely-known (outside their native county) Norfolk Terrier. His working lines had been based on a dozen 'mini-Sealyhams' from the Master of the Pembrokeshire Foxhounds, subsequently blended with the renowned Gladdish Hulke's stoat-hunting working terrier pack, which Sir Jocelyn bought. The Lucas Terrier struggled on until the early 1990s but then lost type and virility and Brian Plummer's advice was sought, leading to the use of Sealyham blood.

 The breed has since been relaunched on the same formula as Sir Jocelyn used: small Sealyhams mated with two carefully chosen Norfolks, plus the blood of a surviving Lucas dog. The breeding programme has now been operating for four years and the type desired just about fixed. Brian Plummer was at one time the guiding hand behind both these quite exciting new entries to the working terrier breed lists.

His knowledge of genetics, his extensive experience with working terriers and his intellectual energy has given us a chance to regain our international reputation as working terrier breeders. His dogged persistence in producing his own breed after many setbacks and mishaps is a lesson to all would-be dog breeders.

 If you look at the early photographs of the prototypal dogs in just about every KC-recognised terrier breed (with the notable exception of the Border Terrier and perhaps the Cairn) and then compare them with contemporary dogs, you will soon see how far they have wandered from their own original type. With a closed gene pool in every KC-registered breed, how can this divergence be remedied? With so many worrying inherited diseases manifesting themselves in our pedigree terrier breeds, what breeding programmes are being scientifically planned to breed them out -- such as outcrosses to other more virile breeds? We need the enlightened approach of individuals like Brian Plummer if informed initiatives are to be taken.

 Our breeds of dog came to us as the result of the single-mindedness, commitment, dogged determination and skill of individuals, not clubs or committees. I take my hat off to the admirable individuals who are striving to produce the Lucas and  Plummer Terriers; unlike many of us their efforts will still be appreciated long after their time is up. With the KC registration lists increasingly dominated by foreign breeds, it is so encouraging to see British dogs being championed, to see British terriers being promoted and to see working capabilities being respected. Every terrier breed, to justify the name, must be bred with the ability and the anatomy to work, even if they are not required to do so. 

 There is growing up in this country at the moment at least one generation which has never experienced the joy of working a hedgerow with a pair of happy terriers, never witnessed the excitement of ratting in a barn or, as Brian Plummer's terrier pack used to, in a maggot factory! No teenager with his own terrier is ever going to complain of being bored. Anyone brave enough to own a Plummer Terrier is going to have to love a challenge! Anyone wishing to own a highly-individual Sporting Lucas Terrier will be wanting to join a quite admirable group of true terrier lovers on a thoroughly worthwhile quest.