by   David Hancock

There have, down the centuries, been very mixed views on the wisdom of how best to use terriers with hounds both in the hunting field and in the stable. This has influenced the build of the hunt terrier and influenced its kenneling. Hugh Dalziel writing in his British Dogs of 1888, gave this view: “It was at one time common to have Terriers of two sizes with a pack of Foxhounds; the larger ones to run with the pack, the smaller kept at places convenient to the earths, to be ready to bolt the fox from holes too small to admit of the larger Terriers entering. The greatly increased speed of our modern hounds has banished the Terrier from the covert as companion and co-worker with the hounds. So far back, however, as the end of last century, the small-sized Terrier was looked upon as the finer race, and most valued.” The Fox Terrier certainly has long varied in size, with the Parson Russell and the Jack Russell of today representing the smaller versions. 

‘Stonehenge’ writing in his The Dog in Health and Disease of 1867, stated: “Formerly it was the custom to add a couple of terriers to every pack of foxhounds, so as to be ready to aid in bolting the fox when he runs into a drain, or goes to ground in any easily accessible earth; the stoutness of the terrier enabling him, by steadily following on the track, to reach the scene of operations before it would be possible to obtain any other assistance. This aid, however, in consequence of the increased speed of our hounds, is now dispensed with, and the old fox-terrier is out of date, or is only kept for the purpose of destroying ground vermin…” There is a clear statement on how hunting preferences can affect type in terriers.

In the early part of the twentieth century, Major Harding Cox was a substantial figure in the canine world, both in the show and the hunting world. In 1928, he wrote a fairly forthright book on dogs, entitled Dogs and I and had much to say on terriers. He ridiculed the whole concept of breeding leggy terriers capable of running with the hounds, writing that “The theory anent (i.e. concerning, DH) Fox-terriers running with Fox-hounds is a fatuous one.” He considered that such misguided thinking resulted in long-legged, badly-constructed terriers no longer capable of being earth-dogs. It is significant to note the physical type of today’s terrier breeds that have survived the quest for terriers which can ‘follow the hunt’, such as Fox and Border Terriers.

On Fox Terriers, Harding Cox wrote: “All of a sudden there arose certain wiseacres in the ranks of Fox-terrier breeders who laid down a law, which went near to ruining the breed for good and all. They declared that the type which hitherto had been accepted must be scrapped, and that breeders must at once set about producing dogs which would be fast enough and possess sufficient stamina to run with hounds! Goodness only knows how they expected a Terrier of even 22lb. to run with Fox-hounds and live with them when driving at score on a holding scent! The whole thing was of course impossible, and the theory utterly ridiculous; but there it was! The benches were soon disgraced by long, leggy Terriers…for a long time, the insistence upon exceedingly narrow fronts made shallow chests, weak ribs and ‘wedged’ quarters inevitable!”  He would not be amused by show-bench Fox Terriers today.

In the Breed Standard of the Border Terrier, under the characteristics description, there is the phrase ‘capable of following a horse’, which is often interpreted as a requirement for the breed to run with the hounds. But the breed was often employed with foot-hounds not the mounted field. The physical needs of an earth-dog and a running dog are in conflict. I wonder if originally a phrase like ‘able to follow the hunt’, i.e. to support the hounds once the quarry had been located as being underground, was used for terriers working with foot-hounds. The country over which the hunting took place, and where Border Terriers were used, was not always suitable for mounted huntsmen. In similar country, the Scots and the Cumbrians never sought a leggy terrier, able to run with the moving hunt. In his book on terriers of 1896, Rawdon Lee writes: “Some of the terriers follow hounds regularly, and are continually brought into use, not only amongst the rocks and in rough ground of that kind, but in equally or in more dangerous places – wet drains or moss holes, or ‘waterfalls’, as they are called in Northumberland.” Not much scope for mounted huntsmen here!

An interesting point was made by a breed correspondent ‘GL’ in the Border Terrier breed notes in Our Dogs half a century ago: “They wanted a dog which could follow a horse. Here I think is something which is inclined to be misunderstood by many people. One must bear in mind that the horse in the Border counties would not be the same type as that used for hunting the flatter areas, but would be more often than not the cobs of the farmers, more noted for their stamina and their surefootedness than their speed…the term of follow a horse is not intended to mean that a dog has to keep up with a hunter at full gallop…it means that the dog must have enough leg to enable him to cover the rough and hilly areas of the Border counties, and must be able to keep up with the horse under these circumstances.”  Yet so many breed fanciers today overstate the requirement for their terriers to be able to ‘run with the pack’, a different concept entirely.  

In his informative book on the Border Terrier, Walter Gardner queries: “How many of the world’s top athletes are short-legged or short-backed or both? How many animals which go to ground or can gallop and stay long distances have a short back?” It is a question to be answered by Border Terrier devotees. There are obvious conflicts between the anatomy of a scenthound, even a foothound, and that of an earth-dog. It would be a challenge for any breed-designer to set out the blueprint for a sporting dog that could do both effectively; galloping and digging demand different criteria. How can you construct a terrier for which the show bench requires a short back whilst the working role demands a longer one; when the latter expects an animal designed to work underground, with ease, and some fanciers want them to be able to run with the hounds!

In his Fox-Hunting from Shire to Shire, Routledge, 1912, Cuthbert Bradley, or ‘Whipster’ of The Field magazine, writes: “For many years the Belvoir had a noted fox-terrier, named Bluecoat, running with the pack; a dog with a wonderful character for work, who never tired in the longest day’s hunting. Bluecoat was about as game as they make them…A nearly all-white dog with a few blue ticks in a strong working coat, he was a good stamp of hunt-terrier, rather short in the neck, but good over the back, and through the loin. Known all over the Leicestershire and Lincolnshire district where the Belvoir hunt, he soon established a reputation for work and gameness, keeping up all day with the pack.” Clearly a terrier running with the hounds in this instance worked well; but Bluecoat was an outstanding animal, with legendary gameness. Appropriately, if sadly, he drowned swimming after a rat, but not before siring some excellent offspring. 

There is a quote in Rawdon Lee’s book on Fox Terriers in which a Capt Handy, a Cotswold sportsman, remarks: “Now in these fast days, sportsmen cannot wait for a fox to be got out, and the order is ‘find another one’; hence the use of fox terriers to run with hounds has been discontinued, and the breed has not been kept up at Badminton.”  In his Encyclopaedia of Rural Sports of 1870, Delabere Blaine was writing: “Terriers, we have already stated, were formerly very commonly used to accompany packs of foxhounds for the purpose of unearthing the fox…They were usually of a medium size; if too large, they were unfitted for penetrating the sinuosities of an earth, or creeping up a confined drain; if, on the contrary, they are too diminutive, they cannot keep pace with the hounds of the present day…in some few packs, however, both large and small terriers still accompany the dogs.” 

Fox Terriers were not always of uniform height, even in the show ring. From 1876 and for a decade after, there were separate classes for dogs over and under 18lbs, and for bitches over and under 16lbs. At a show in 1875, one of Rawdon Lee’s winning dogs weighed under 15lbs. There was more concern over construction than size itself. Rawdon Lee wrote: “there are judges who have recently gone to extremes in awarding honours to these so-called ‘narrow-fronted’ terriers. Such have been produced at a sacrifice of power and strength. Most of these very narrow-chested dogs move stiffly, are too flat in the ribs, they are deficient in breathing and heart room, and can never be able to do a week’s hard working the country, either with hounds or round about the badger earth or rabbit burrows.” The show ring Fox Terrier of today would have depressed him.

In the Fox Terrier critique of the Wolverhampton Dog Show, reported in The Kennel Gazette of December, 1893, it was reported that: “I am very glad to think that during the past year our Terriers, taken as a whole, have not increased in size. To my mind, the whole essence of a Terrier for work is in the fact that he should be small, active, strong, but lithesome (lissom, DH). Let us breed him as long and as flat in his shoulder blades as we like, as strong and as long in his quarters and second thighs as we like, but let him be a Terrier in size. He won’t be able to live with hounds if they run, I admit, nor would he if he were twice the size; but let the run be as long as it may, or a fast twenty minutes, our friend, if trained to hunt fox and not rabbits, with his heart in the right place, will be upon the scene within ten minutes or so of Reynard going to ground, and will then be able to do his work if required to do so, a great deal quicker and more easily than his lumbering big brother.”

The Fox Terrier of today is required by its breed standard to not to exceed 15 and a half inches at the withers, with an ideal weight of 18lbs, both for dogs and slightly less for bitches. The Border Terrier, on the other hand, is required to weigh from 13 to 15 and a half pounds, and, according to its KC-approved description to have “the stamina to keep up with a horse, in order that he will be there when he’s needed.” A Foxhound is around two feet at the withers and a man needs a horse to keep pace with one. Foot-hounds like Beagles are not expected to match a horse’s pace but be 13 to 16 inches at withers. Leg length affects an animal’s pace and the number of strides it takes affects its stamina. My own feel for this terrier-use is that hunts were accompanied by two sizes of terrier in some places, with some prepositioning of smaller terriers organised, but eventually the improvement in Foxhound breeding produced a hound too fast for any terrier to run with the hounds. In the country where the Border Terrier was used, the hunt was not able to conduct fast pursuits, so the terrier’s pace was not so significant.

In Hounds Magazine in the late 1984/early 1985 issues there was an interesting exchange of views on this subject. ‘Babbler’ wrote an article in which he stated: “When I have asked why terriers don’t run with hounds any more I have received a number of rather unconvincing answers. Perhaps the most curious was: ‘It stops the hounds drawing properly’. Are the terriers so much better at drawing than hounds? Or are the modern Foxhounds really so lazy? – neither surely. Perhaps an answer more to the point is ‘There aren’t those sort of terriers around any more.’ To some extent this is true. There are not many around, for you need a long-legged terrier with plenty of stamina and probably weighing 16lbs and such a dog is all too often reckoned as not able to go to ground nowadays. ‘Too big?’ Well, they were not too big before the war.”

This brought several responses, one from ‘BB of Gwent reading: “I have always been of the belief that you can use a small terrier anywhere, but you can only use a big terrier in a big place. Even in the Fells, where outside of which, it is always believed that they use a large leggy type of terrier for their rocky rugged country, the small dog is preferred…having had three days hunting in the Fells this season, I find they like a terrier to be under thirteen inches at the shoulder.”  Paul Fermor wrote in from Ivybridge in Devon to state that: “At the Dartmoor Hunt, we frequently run a terrier with our hounds. A terrier fairly well up on the leg is needed in our country of over 100 square miles of bleak desolate moor, without any roads. The disadvantages are several, but the advantages outweigh them – generally! When running a terrier with the hounds, one has no choice whether to enter him in the earth or not. Hence there is a real danger of getting him stuck in an awkward place. That’s no fun 6 or 8 miles from the nearest road!…The advantages are obvious. No waiting for ages for the terrierman to catch up with us…one of our terriers hunted 5 days out of  8 calendar days last season.”  As always in the hunting field it’s the country that decides.    

‘Idstone’ writing in his The Dog of 1893, gave an authoritative quote: "My favourite author, Beckford, writing a little less than one hundred years ago, says that he ‘prefers the black or white Terrier’; but some, he says, ‘are so like a fox that awkward people frequently mistake one for the other. If you prefer Terriers to run with your pack, large ones at times are useful, but in an earth they do little good, as they cannot always get up to a fox.’ For my part, unless a Terrier is small enough to go to ground, I see little use in him; and the perfect Terrier should be able to make short cuts, and keep up with the Hounds, or be planted amongst the farmers at different points – of course, I mean fox-hunting farmers – so as to be handy when required…”  Sounds like terrier-support by relay!

In the magazine Hunting of July 1999, Martin Scott set out some interesting facts on hunt ‘journeys’, for example: The 1973 Christmas Eve hunt of the Cottesmore, when hounds covered 14 miles in one hour 55 minutes; the November 1983 hunt in which the Bicester bitches in Cottesmore country had a four and a half mile point, and twice that as they ran, in 70 minutes; the Galway Blazers hunt of 15 miles in under an hour and a half and a Heythrop hunt in 1971 which ran for nearly three and a half hours over 24 miles. In 1990, the North Cotswold there was a run of nine miles in 50 minutes. Any terrier attempting to accompany hounds at such a pace would need longer legs and bigger lungs than most terrier breed templates decree. Hounds are bred for pace; terriers are bred to dig.       

No doubt a gutsy terrier will do its utmost to keep up with galloping hounds if asked to, but why impair its earth-dog capability by expecting it to run with hounds too? It imposes needless handicaps on the dog as a terrier and in striving to be a hound as well, produces a composite anatomy unfitted for both roles. Both terriers and hounds can be designed for a specific hunting country and quarry but dual-purpose can so often result in ‘not fit for purpose’. Daniel tells us of a match run in 1874 for a huge stake, in which a quite small terrier ran a mile in two minutes and six miles in eighteen minutes. He doesn’t record whether the dog was any good underground! Perhaps Sir Jocelyn Lucas should have the last word on this, he wrote some eighty years ago: “Most foxhound packs have a terrier man mounted or on foot, but in some of the wilder countries terriers run with the hounds and, although outpaced, always seem to cast up when needed.” 

Charles McNeill, Master of the Grafton and then the North Cotswold, writing on The Hunt Terrier in The Lonsdale Library’s Volume VII, Fox-Hunting, 1930, gave the view: “For the terrier to be carried by a Hunt servant is in my opinion the most useful method, because he arrives quickly and full of fire and go, and fresh. Another method is of course for the terrier to be taken by the Hunt runner, who is seldom there, except on a ringing sort of day or a cub-hunting morning: and a third method is to allow a terrier or two to run with the pack. This I never allowed; it makes hounds flashy and wild and the terrier is blown and probably useless…it is nice to have a choice as to whether a terrier shall be put to ground or not; with a loose terrier you have no choice.” That sounds like a lot of sense from a highly-experienced source. But, understandably, how the terriers are used with the pack they support affects their size and their stamina; as always function decides form.