by   David Hancock

It has long depressed me that a great deal is made of breeds of terrier while less is made of an earth-dog's needs. It's human nature of course for members of the public to ask 'What breed is that?' on encountering a small terrier-like dog; but a sportsman should be asking 'What's it for?' Putting aside mis-named 'terrier' breeds such as the Airedale and the Tibetan, to be a true terrier, one of that ilk has to have the basic essentials for use in the earth-dog role, however minimised that role has been by modern living. It is easy to blame show-ring faddists for all the ills of the modern terrier breeds, but when you see working terriers at country shows that are too short in the leg, too short or too long in the back, too upright in the forequarters or thin- or fluffy-coated, it really is time to be worried - about the whole future of this remarkable group of dogs. How can any terrier function with a coat that neither protects against the elements nor helps the dog in fulfilling its role?

Judges at KC-conformation shows could be forgiven for just accepting the coat-texture of the terrier they are 'going over'. They are more likely to care about coat-colour than its texture. But the texture of a terrier's coat should always be given the highest priority. Yet if you consult the criteria for the coat-texture of a terrier in their KC Breed Standards, this is what you get: Fox Terrier (Smooth) - Coat: Straight, flat, smooth, hard, dense and abundant. Fox Terrier (Wire) - Coat: Dense, very wiry texture...Back and quarters harsher than sides. Glen of Imaal Terrier - Coat: Medium length, of harsh texture with soft undercoat. Irish Terrier - Coat: Harsh and wiry, having broken appearance, free of softness or silkiness... Kerry Blue Terrier - Coat: Soft and silky, plentiful and wavy. Norfolk and Norwich Terriers - Coat: Hard, wiry, straight, lying close to body... Welsh Terrier - Coat: Wiry, hard, very close and abundant. In not one of these Breed Standards for a 'Sporting Terrier' is there stated the fundamental requirement for a weatherproof coat!

In the Lonsdale Library’s volume on Fox Hunting, Charles Mc Neill OBE, Master of the Grafton for seven seasons and of the North Cotswold for five, writes “As all terrier men know, a good way to get a real hard, wiry, weather-resistant coat is to cross a wire with a smooth…" Can you imagine the outcry if such a piece of wisdom like that were to be suggested to the show breeders of today! But if you look at the coats of Fox Terriers of old, their coats were ideal for terrier work; now they are just too fluffy in the wire and too thin in the smooth. In his Modern Dogs (Terriers) of 1896, Rawdon Lee writes on the Fox Terrier: "...the two varieties ought to be identical, though one has a smooth, close coat, the other a hard close coat and somewhat rough." In his The Popular Fox Terrier of 1950, Rosslyn Bruce writes: "The two varieties, the Smooth-coated and Wire-haired, are fundamentally the same breed..." All these writers were experts on the breed and worthy of note. Each records in detail a common origin for what are now two distinct breeds. So many pedigree dog breeders are obsessed with breed purity when they should, if they truly care about their breed, be obsessed with sound functional dogs. This breed should go back to its origins and interbreed the best dogs, irrespective of coat characteristics.


The early Sealyhams were prized for the coconut matting texture of their coats; the current Breed Standard demands a coat that is long, hard and wiry. The dogs I see in the ring have long, soft and wavy coats. Captain Jocelyn Lucas, who worked the breed, states, in his Pedigree Dog Breeding of 1925, "A hard coat is not only a show point, but also a working one, as soft-coated dogs generally hate brambles." Today's Breed Standard of the Wire-haired Fox Terrier asks for a coat that is dense with a very wiry texture. Just before the Second World War, Rowland Johns wrote, on the wire-haired variety, in his Our Friend the Fox Terrier, that: "The harder and more wiry the texture of the coat is the better. On no account should the dog look or feel woolly...". In the show ring I see soft woolly coats on many winning dogs. In the show ring, honesty to origin apart, an open fluffy well-groomed coat has eye-appeal. In the field such a drawback has no brain-appeal! I had working collies for thirty years or so. I could take them out in all weathers, and when taking the wet off them, I always found that their skin was dry. Every working dog should be bred, and judged, to have a weatherproof coat, terriers especially.