by   David Hancock

One admirable feature of terrier-men is that they are never afraid of change, whether in producing new breeds or discussing the best build for a working dog, as its roles alter with time. In the 20th century in Britain, a number of 'new' or resurrected terrier breeds emerged, in strong contrast to the fixed views and lack of innovation in the gundog world. We may have lost the Fox Terrier, the Sealyham and the Skye by type, and, sadly, lost the old English White Terrier as a breed. But breeds or breed-types like the Plummer, Lucas, Sporting Lucas and two Russell varieties have been created and stabilised. I can think of no new native breeds emerging or old breeds being re-created in the gundog world in the last century or so. We may have recognised the long-established Irish Red and White Setter but where is a re-created Llanidloes Setter, Norfolk Retriever or Black Setter? We lost the old English Water Spaniel too. Foreign gundog breeds flood in, but who will save our native gundog breeds under threat? The terrier breed 'span' has increased not shrunk.

It could be argued of course that the old 'county' breeds, in both terriers and gundogs, like the Cheshire and Devon Terriers and Norfolk and Devon Cocker Spaniels have been subsumed into registered breeds. I have heard it argued that the old Heinemann Terrier type is represented today in the Parson Russell Terrier. On the Continent of Europe, terrier breeds like the Cesky and the German Hunt Terrier have been created from British stock but gundog breeds like the Korthals Griffon and the Pudelpointer were each developed by gifted breeders seeking a better gundog, quite unlike ours.  Our hound breeders too have not been too adventurous, despite the English Basset being a triumph of realism and a commendable desire for a working anatomy. The working terrier 'spectrum' however shines in a wide range of colours and types, from the Fell and Patterdale in the north to the Plummers and Sporting Lucases in the south. As the exaggerated show dogs in the spoiled terrier breeds of Sealyham, Skye, Scottie and Dandie Dinmont have led to the slow but remorseless decline of such stock, the sound and virile non-show breeds of terrier have grown and grown.

The emergence of a Working Sealyham is so encouraging - if only a Working Yorkshire Terrier could follow suit! I have seen some excellent white Lakelands in the past decade, a coat colour that would be laughed out of the KC show rings, despite these white ones shaming the anatomy and movement of the show types. The latter in almost every KC-recognised sporting terrier breed no longer exemplifies the correct build for a working terrier, with upright shoulders restricting forward reach and rearward extension unacceptably. KC-show terrier exhibits are often described by ignorant Crufts commentators as 'simply flowing over the ground' but only because they can't stride! The working terrier origin is widely quoted in KC sporting terrier Breed Standards but then betrayed by the placements in the ring by conformist or simply obedient judges. The tiny short strides inflicted on, say, show Fox Terriers is indirect cruelty yet forever rewarded in the show ring. The coat texture on the Wire-haired Fox Terrier offers no protection against the elements but is coiffeured into almost cubist designs by misguided groomers. Working type means the capability of operating as a working earth-dog; breed type is not just the exaggeration of breed points!

A working build is so important in any sporting breed; the wording in the Breed Standard should instil intent not inspire cliques or mislead those who have never seen a terrier at work. There are still a few exhibitors of sporting terrier breeds in KC show rings who work their dogs but those I have spoken to are well aware of the 'winning type' they are often up against. I have seen Border and Lakeland Terriers in KC rings that I could take home with me but never entries in a Sealyham, Dandie Dinmont, Skye or Scottie ring. Sadly too I have seen the Glen of Imaal breed become heavier-coated and more over-boned than any sporting terrier can afford to be. I am told that in Ireland there are still some harder-coated, less heavily-boned specimens amongst the working set but the show exhibits I have seen do not possess a working build.

Type in sporting terrier breeds should only mean working type and that need not mean an uneven mix of assorted terriers linked only by a passing resemblance to that breed. For me, a sporting terrier has to be built for work, glamour is entirely secondary. But, distressingly, I so often come across a 'ruling elite' in each KC sporting terrier breed who only see their type as being acceptable in their chosen breed and that's a sure sign of impending doom for that breed. Sporting terriers were designed and developed for work and that doesn't mean they have to be ugly!