by   David Hancock

“The Terriers are among the finest of all our dogs. They are strong, alert, inquisitive and courageous, friendly and playful but withal excellent workers. They are endowed with a degree of hardiness seldom encountered in dogs of other kinds, and they have a surprising ability to withstand disease. Asleep or awake, they are alert to unusual sounds and commendably suspicious of strangers. Their inherent curiosity bespeaks their intelligence, and their naturally happy temperament denotes their very joy in living.”
From The Book of all Terriers by John T Marvin, Howell Book House, 1971.       

 Those words from a man who knew a great deal about terriers sum up this type of dog quite admirably. Dog lovers who pay £500 for a pedigree terrier pup and expect it to hide its sporting instincts and behave like a Toy breed are not engaging their brains. Terriers have an instinct to dig, to explore drains, to hunt small furry creatures and to display a combative nature. If you want a happier terrier, you need to be conscious of their innate yearnings, their inherited longings. Bored frustrated terriers can end up digging where you just don’t want them to, expending pent-up energy by chasing your neighbour’s cat and barking, just to relieve tension. Let them hunt a hedgerow, explore a shrubbery, race around the park – be active! You’ll have a happier terrier as a direct result – and almost certainly, a happier life. Terriers are essentially sporting dogs; they deserve our empathy. But are today's terrier fanciers going for the prettiest pup or the gamest one? No terrier owner wants a dog too hot to handle but far too many terrier pups are just 'pretty useless'.

No sporting dog can triumph in the field without the physique needed for the sport concerned; as country sports are curtailed the challenge is to retain the working model not the prettiest one. The best dog show judges retain a concept of a breed's purpose in the ring; their critiques sometimes make disturbing reading. One recent critique from a Lakeland Terrier show made the comment that it should be the fox that runs away from the Lakeland, not the other way round! The Glen of Imaal Terrier judge at Crufts in 2003 found..."quite a few weak jaws and that would never do in my view for what they were originally bred for." At Crufts in 2001, the Bedlington Terrier judge reported "some lacked the bone and substance required in a working terrier." One Border Terrier judge stated: “Shoulders still need attention with many severely lacking layback, and, of more concern some foreleg assemblies are placed too far forward, so forechests are vanishing. This produces flashiness but it is wrong.” A year earlier, the Fox Terrier judge reported: “The quality of exhibits in males was disappointing.”   It is extremely worrying that our top dog show should reveal such flaws in sporting terriers. Flawed pedigree terriers still cost a great deal to buy and even more to treat. Prettiness comes with a vet's bill!

Britain has given the world a score of distinguished sporting terrier breeds, many of them preferred to the overseas native breeds on sheer merit, we must now work to ensure that all the dedicated work of our forefathers is not thrown away.  I have long campaigned for terriers that are fit for their time-honoured function; if we do not respect their origins we will destroy many long-established much-admired terrier breeds, not just by neglect or indifference but from being arrogant enough to attempt their redesign on false criteria. Terriers do not need ground-hugging coats, heads like boot-boxes or a front assembly which denies them forward reach. Their locomotion should not be so impaired that they end up moving like canine millipedes. They should not ‘carry a leg’, as so many Jack Russells do, because of knee problems. The Bull Terrier does not deserve to be the only breed of dog with a rugger-ball for a head. This was very much a 20th century imposition, never a breed feature before that. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier does not deserve to be proscribed in countries abroad because of confusion between its famed tenacity and the misuse of this by man. The Dandie Dinmont’s topknot should not be more valued than a functional anatomy.

The Fox Terrier deserves to be put back to work. The terrier breeds are very much  Britain’s contribution to the canine world and we have much to do to restore most of them to their true form, ahead of their prettiest form. Here’s to a better life for our revered breeds of terrier; they deserve to be sound - way ahead of showy prettiness.

 “A Terrier forms the most lively companion one could possibly possess. He is all life, dash, pluck and hunt; and will make more fun for himself and you out of a short country walk than a dog of any other breed would in a week.”
From Training Dogs by ‘Bach’, The Stock-Keeper, 1896.