by   David Hancock

I have never heard a proper terrier-man admire a dog that was too hard. The renowned old terrier-man OT Price once stated: "Don't let your terrier get too hard. Remember that a terrier's job is to bay the fox not fight it." And, according to Dan Russell, "the hard dog is as big a nuisance as the coward. He spends half his working life in hospital." Another famed old timer, Major Ollivant once wrote that "...the terrier's pluck must not be the bravery of the Bull Terrier that goes in regardless of consequences, but the brave, fearless kind of pluck that knows its own danger, and yet has the grit to stay there." The relevance of degrees of aggression to build lies in the fact that if you use Bull Terrier blood to strengthen the head, you risk the production of a holy terror that could be a blessed nuisance! When I hear of working terrier-men utilising show dog blood to achieve a physical point, I recall the words of the respected Geoffrey Sparrow on this subject: "...but then she had a working pedigree back to the nineties on both sides. The real blood must be there or the pups are sure to throw to soft lines." Breeding for 'hardness' in terriers has its perils, especially for today's mainly town-based populace. In the best infantry soldiers, their hardness comes out only in combat, never at closing time!

 I suspect that there is an unspoken rule amongst real terrier-men that someone seeking an excessively 'hard' terrier is not one of them. There is not only a wholly desirable gap between a brave dog and a canine psychopath, but a compassionate desire to avoid any precious terrier receiving needless injury. The wish not to push an inexperienced immature terrier into its combat arena too soon has parallels in the absolutely crucial need for very young dogs to be comprehensively socialized. It is as important to prepare a pup for the outside world as it is to prepare it for its specialized role. In a frightening world a tender pup needs help. Every dog needs to be 'entered' adequately as a learning pup if it is to develop into the well-balanced adult most owners desire.

The expression not always understood by the general public is that of 'entering' a hound or terrier. It means the introduction of the dog to its future prey, for example a live rat. This introduction is vital in the successful working future of the dogs concerned. A young puppy badly bitten by a big rat doesn't forget quickly. Frankly any so-called sportsman who tells you that his four-month old terrier pup is a great rat killer, doesn't know his calling. All the old terrier-men I encountered in my youth would advise firmly against entering a pup too young. No doubt some young pups have been entered young and turned out exceedingly well. The truth is that you never get to hear of the pups put off for life by a bad first experience.

Many years ago a breeder of working terriers told me his experience with a 'sportsman' he had sold a young promising dog to. The man had returned the young dog to its breeder 'because it wasn't hard enough'. He then described how he had put his new purchase in a barrel with a tom cat and it made no attempt to kill the cat or even fight it. The breeder patiently explained that the young dog had been brought up with cats, as part of its socialization, and that he never wanted any dog bred by him either to chase cats or harm them. He took the young terrier back from its disappointed purchaser. A year later this young dog killed a mink single-handed, saving the stock of a wildfowl rescue centre.
The memorable words of Sydenham Edwards, in his ‘Cynographia Britannica’ of 1800 tell you more about the terrier tribe than some books with several hundred pages on them. He has succinctly captured their role, their nature, their value and their soul:

“The Terrier is querulous, fretful and irascible, high-spirited and alert when brought into action; if he has not unsubdued perseverance like the bulldog, he has rapidity of attack, managed with art, and sustained with spirit; it is not what he will bear, but what he will inflict …as his courage is great, so is his extensive genius: he will trace with the Foxhound, hunt with the Beagle, find for the Greyhound, or beat with the Spaniel.” It's worth stressing one phrase in this quote: "...he has not unsubdued perseverance like the bulldog..." and then ally those few words with ..."it is not what he will bear, but what he will inflict..." Persistence in dogs developed from their role; in the gripping breeds like the Bulldog it manifested itself in die-hard reckless courage. In terriers a very different attitude is required, because the prey is different and the desired end-product very different too. We may want our terriers to be savage with rats but never with other dogs and always entirely trustworthy with humans; hardness is admirable, 'unstoppable' aggression is dangerous in any dog. Discerning the difference is the key for any sportsman and those boasting of their terrier's aggression tell you more about themselves than about their dogs!