by   David Hancock

For those who enjoy reading fiction the Kennel Club's account of the breeds of terriers' origins, breed history and title-earning makes fascinating material. The words have been supplied by earnest, enthusiastic and loyal devotees of each recognised terrier breed from the show fraternity. A diligent terrier-researcher like Brian Plummer went along with it, by and large, but I am surprised that an even more diligent researcher like Sean Frain hasn't dismantled both the flimsy breed histories and the breed titles themselves in the native terrier breeds of Great Britain and Ireland. Our terrier breeds are known the world over by their now-accepted breed title, whereas the Patterdale, Fell, Plummer, Lucas and Sporting Lucas Terrier breeds are only recognised by their club members or paradoxically in the United States. In the show ring, wherever pedigree dogs are shown, the fixed breed titles of the registered terrier breeds are cast in tablets of stone, however fanciful their origin and perpetuation.

It could be argued that the Welsh Terrier is the old English Black and Tan Terrier and more related to England than any distinct Welsh origin. On the continent, the Fox Terrier, the Parson Russell and the Jack Russell would have become the Fox Terrier (standard), the Fox Terrier (middle/mittel) and the Fox Terrier (petit/miniature) respectively. I don't think that the Reverend John Russell, himself a Fox Terrier judge and who never sought breed-recognition for his type, would admire the modern travesty over the working terriers he promoted. The Norfolk and Norwich Terrier breeds came from the same stock (and at first even from the same dams) and are really East Anglian Terriers. I have heard it argued that the West Highland White Terrier is just a solid-white Cairn and that the Scottish Terrier was once just a black or wheaten Cairn too. By that it wasn't meant that these breeds are indistinguishable now but that they once were. The terrier function demands earth-dog conformation not breed points designed to create separate breeds, although pure breeding to a closed gene-pool relies on breed distinction. And that is not wise genetics!

It does need of course dedicated and devoted fanciers to get a breed of any type registered as a breed with a kennel club. Local names for types of terriers have brought us titles such as the Roseneath, Trumpington, Rothbury, Capheaton, Cowley and Jones Terriers, without the title finally resting there - although some of the stock became subsumed into recognised breeds. An argument could be made for the Cheshire and Devon Terriers to have persisted as varieties of the Fox Terrier; terrier-types could vary only slightly between adjacent valleys in northern England, as the Reedwater and Elterwater types exemplified. The Airedale lived on outside its birthplace but many would argue that it was never an earth-dog and therefore should not be called a terrier at all. The French would have called it a hunting griffon. The Dachshund was once an earth-dog but never regarded or judged as a terrier, perhaps wrongly.

I always think of terriers in four sub-groups: the basset/dachshund type as exemplified in the Dandie Dinmont, the Skye and indeed some so-called Jack Russells; the Beagle or small scenthound type as in the Fox Terrier, Manchester, or the Pinscher breeds; the ‘griffon’ or coarse-haired type as in the Border, Lakeland, the terriers of Scotland less the Dandie and Skye, Irish, Sealyham, Airedale, the Schnauzer varieties, Kerry Blue, Wheaten and perhaps the Smoushond of Holland; and then the hybrids, the Bedlington, the English White (that was) and the Bull Terriers. It could be argued that terriers would be judged better if sub-grouped into such types. New titles, such as Plummers and Lucas, would fit into such a system.


Yet if the Plummer and Lucas Terrier devotees seek official recognition for their dogs, however unwise that may be, they will receive little but scorn, including some from individuals breeding the dogs described above. These two emerging 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.

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. Sadly, no pedigree terrier breed will ever benefit from such vision.