806 TERRIERISING THE BEAGLE
TERRIERISING THE BEAGLE
Many moons ago, (well, in the late 1950s!), whilst living in South Devon, but working mostly on Dartmoor, I used to come across a local sportsman famous for his bobbery pack of mainly, what he called jokingly, his 'Merry Terries.' His dogs were nearly all first cross Beagle-Fox Terrier stock - leggy, hyperactive, tan and white super-charged little 'hounds', but hounds quite willing to go underground. His favourite sire was a KC-registered Smooth Fox Terrier, just over a foot at the shoulder and around 16lbs., almost entirely white but with tan markings on the head and just above the tail. He used two breeding bitches, both discarded Dummer pack Beagles, both lemon and white and about the same size as his preferred sire. His 'pack' was longer-eared than he truly wanted, but their smooth-haired coats were surprisingly weatherproof. Years later, whilst visiting North Devon, I came across a terrier-man there whose stock had originated in the 'Merry Terries'. Good news travels fast! Fox Terriers however don't travel much these days.
Before the Great War, the Fox Terrier, in its two coats, could muster over 3,000 registrations; nowadays the wire-hairs total less than 800 a year, the smooths less than 200. Outside the show ring there are probably a greater number of Jack Russells being born than there were Fox Terrier registrations before the Great War. The Reverend John Russell was a Fox Terrier man, he favoured a terrier with length of leg, a narrow chest, a well-boned skull and a thick hard dense close-lying coat. He modelled his terriers on Rubie’s and Tom French’s Dartmoor Terrier
Inspired by Roger Free's Beagle and Terrier of 1946, hunting with a small pack of assorted dogs, has long appealed to me. He wrote in times when individual freedom had greater respect but a future need for vermin-control could see his style of operating in the field on the way back and to a greater degree. Free kept and hunted a small mixed pack of 14" Beagles and Terriers for hunting rabbits for the gun. 'Dalesman' described Free's pack as one "which any huntsman might be proud, because they have all those attributes which go towards excellence. Some of these are bred in the hounds - courage, stamina, nose and tongue - but the rest must be taught and instilled with patience and knowledge of hounds and their work." But what a challenging self-set task for any ambitious sportsman. Free, not surprisingly, considered that more pleasure was to be derived from hunting your own hounds than from being a follower of a pack hunted by another.
Free argued that whereas gundogs are taught by man, scenthounds frequently learn to hunt without the assistance of man and are therefore more self-reliant. He wasn't decrying the merits of gundogs but stressing the need for a different approach to the training of hounds. He advocated choosing a dog that was not afraid to look you in the eye. He looked for boldness, perseverance, eagerness and biddability. He emphasised the latter and was aware of the menace of self-hunting hounds, oblivious to all recall. He normally used four or five couples of Beagles with two or three terriers, finding the latter better in really difficult cover. This meant handling a dozen dogs single-handed, a testing task. Some sportsmen find controlling one gundog quite beyond them! Generally speaking, terriers and scenthounds demand far more skill in their training than gundogs, partly because of their different instincts and partly because they are often expected to operate in the field as a pack Gundogs have been bred for centuries to respond to human direction in the field; terriers and scenthounds have striven for several centuries to defy all human instructions!
Show Flaws and Pack Faults
The differing needs of those who hunt Beagles and those who only show them can lead to the production of two different hounds. Breed type is sometimes over-played by the show fraternity; the requirements of the pack, and purely function can produce plain-headed, lightweight hounds with more ‘hounds general’ than pedigree Beagle in their appearance. This dilemma is hardly new. Writing in the Beagle Club’s Yearbook for 1901, Walter Crofton gave the view: “The fact is, Peterborough, supported by Masters keeping Beagles for hare-hunting and catering only for such, has for some years encouraged the breeding and showing of well-made speedy little hounds and altogether neglected some of the beautiful and typical head points of the Beagle, and with these have gone a few of his working characteristics. On the other hand, the country gentleman and farmer (sometimes for generations) has kept in the family a little ‘cry’ of Beagles for shooting over, has bred to maintain the style of work he admires, and the typical Beagle expression and head, which he loves, but he has often been careless about body parts…” It must be the aim to breed for function without losing the breed. It’s quite possible to ‘lose the breed’ in the packs but more likely in the show ring. The 'Merry Terries' never made it to breed status or the show rings.