by   David Hancock


In the next couple of decades, we are going to have to be extremely protective of our sporting breeds of dog, terriers especially, or we will lose a national treasure-trove. 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 culverts, to hunt smaller warm-blooded creatures and to show off  their determined nature. If you want a contented terrier, you need to be aware of their instinctive 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 the neighbours' cats and barking - just to relieve tension. Let them hunt a hedgerow, search a shrubbery, race around the park – be active! Preserve their spirit! You’ll have a happier terrier as a direct result – and almost certainly, a happier life yourself. Terriers are essentially sporting dogs; they deserve our empathy. Writing in The Stock-Keeper in 1896, 'Bach', writing on training dogs, put it rather well: “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.” As waiters are now prone to say: 'Enjoy!'

For a nation that has given the world a score of distinguished sporting terrier breeds, many of them preferred overseas to their 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 historic function. If we do not respect their simple needs, we will destroy the essence of many long-established much-admired terrier breeds, not just by neglect or indifference but from being arrogant enough to recast them just for human needs. Terriers don't ask for much and provide unique companionship. As Edward Jesse wrote in his Anecdotes of Dogs of 1858:“Perhaps there is no breed of dogs which attach themselves so strongly to man as the terrier. They are his companions in his walks, and their activity and high spirit enable them to keep up with a horse through a long day’s journey. Their fidelity to their master is unbounded, and their affection for him unconquerable.”

Terriers were designed by their function. They do not need ground-hugging coats, heads like boot-boxes or a front assembly that denies them forward reach. Their movement 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 luxating knee-caps. The Bull Terrier does not have to be the only breed of dog with a rugger-ball for a head. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier does not deserve to be proscribed in countries abroad because its famed persistence. The Dandie Dinmont’s topknot should not be more valued than a functional anatomy. The Fox Terrier doesn't need an ant-eater's head. This terrier breed deserves to be put back to work, sporting work. All terriers are our sporting companions. As 'Pathfinder' and Dalziel put it in their Breaking and Training Dogs of 1906: “Many a man will tell you that his pipe has solaced many a lonely hour and pulled him through many a rough time. I have known a Terrier act as an anodyne where a boisterously cheerful companion would have been a bore. To bachelors, to sufferers from the ‘blues’, if they do not smoke, then I recommend a Terrier – both go well together…as a rule they educate themselves in companionable habits…” What wisdom! And what relief from apps, gizmos, celluloid and celebrities!

A spirited terrier can provide great joy, their own joy in just giving making them very special companions - but we need to respect their needs too and not just use them for our own needs. We should ask 'What can I do for my terrier?' not merely 'What does my terrier do for me?' Their desire to give us a simple service is far nobler than our selfish wishes towards them. As John Marvin spelt it out in his valuable The Book of All Terriers of 1971: "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.” The contribution of the terrier to our sporting lives is timeless; I have used quotes spanning a century and a half to support this. But a terrier without terrier-spirit is only half-alive - and so are we in not breeding for it!