531 Selecting a terrier

by   David Hancock

 The selection of mates will forever be the principal factor in successful livestock breeding. So often, in the working dog world, it's done on a work-rating: how good at working are the prospective parents? In the show dog world, however often this is denied, rosette-winning is the biggest single factor, with even unworthy Crufts winners being freely used as breeding stock. This is an entirely irrational act; it is based on a view that, firstly, Crufts judges are trustworthy in their judgements, secondly that the winning dog is physically and mentally sound, and thirdly, that the chosen mate will actually 'nick' with the other mate. By that I mean, produce the quality offspring the blood behind each mate should create. As master-breeder Jocelyn Lucas wrote in his Pedigree Dog Breeding (Simpkin, 1925): "A stud dog is not good just because he is good looking. He must be bred right and not be 'chance got', or his good points will not force themselves on his progeny."

 Charles Castle FZS, in his Scientific Dog Management and Breeding (Kaye, 1951), wrote: "Bruce-Lowe traced the pedigree of every racehorse back to the original dam...he was able to classify these families by their characteristics, such as 'sire-producing families', 'running families', etc...these families run true to the present day, passing on family characteristics and certain families  'nick in' to each other to produce winners..." There, was a serious enlightened breeder. As vet and exhibitor RH Smythe wrote in his informative The Breeding and Rearing of Dogs (Popular Dogs, 1969): "It is true that some kennels contrive to turn out a champion each year, but they are usually those that contain a number of bitches often similarly bred, and their owners have been fortunate enough to discover a sire that 'nicks'..." This system has a run-out date as repeat close-breeding can penalise in time.  

 I once had a stockman who was astonishingly good at this 'nicking'; he didn't study bloodlines, he wasn't bedazzled by show ring success, he seemed to have a gift at matching sire with dam. I have heard of Irish Greyhound breeders with a similar 'eye'. But my stockman was an older man with decades of experience with livestock; he had learned not from paper but proof in the flesh. He did in fact know a great deal about bloodlines and had shown exhibits for years at agricultural shows. Breeding livestock is very much a science, but he made it into an art. There are show dog breeders with similar insight.  It is the blend of phenotypical and genotypical features which produce the offspring; top quality can skip a generation. The concept that a Crufts winner mated to an indifferent bitch can somehow produce top quality pups is seriously flawed. It is based on wishful thinking not science. The lazy thinking which leads to a good quality bitch being mated to the nearest available sire in that breed is just puppy-producing. 

 In emergent breeds, stabilising the gene pool and establishing type is crucial. The creator of the Plummer Terrier, sporting writer/breeder Brian Plummer at first advocated a back-cross to the 'pitbull type' but later on, as his breed developed, he changed his mind. In a telephone conversation with me, towards the end of his shortened life, he stated very clearly that he no longer favoured that approach. He was wise enough to retain an open mind; kennel or breed blindness can do much harm. Strict conformists can let a breed deteriorate; unskilled non-conformists can wreck a breed. I do hope Brian's impressive breed is in safe hands. When I judged them a few years ago, I saw sufficiently sound typy stock to make a reversion even to founder-blood to my mind quite needless.

 In another emergent breed, the quite admirable Sporting Lucas Terrier, a planned outcross to a Norfolk has restored the red-tan coat colour to the breed. As a breeding advisor to the breed, I am sometimes asked about other possible outcrosses, to farm or working Sealyhams, for example. Without seeing the dogs themselves, not knowing their background, whilst acknowledging the need to expand a small gene pool, this gives me difficulties. I judged a Lucas Terrier show a decade ago and was concerned at the number of 'brown Sealyhams' in the ring. Type in a breed is everything but favouring an undesired physical signature is not breeding for the breed, just using available stock. At country shows however I do see throwbacks to the real Sealyham, the type originally used in the hunting field, not over-boned, over-coated or otherwise 'overdone'.

 Soon there were be a generation, if there isn't one already, which doesn't know what their breed once looked like. So much for respecting a breed and its functional origin. In The Principles of Dog-Breeding (Toogood, 1930) RE Nicholas wrote: "The breeder who returns from each show with a new rather than an improved ideal seldom accomplishes anything worthwhile, for vacillation in standards (i.e. breed standards, DH) is the direct road to confusion of types and to absolute failure. The rolling stone gathers nothing but hard knocks." Every breed needs breed-architects ahead of breed optimists.

 When you breed, selectively for coat, as has happened in the Skye, Sealyham, Scottish and Cesky Terriers and now the Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier, you can end up with all coat and no dog. When you breed, selectively, for head-shape, you lose genuine type, as in the Bull Terrier and the Bulldog, no matter how widely accepted the new look is. When you breed, selectively, for 'stance', the longer muzzle and the short back, as in the Fox Terrier, you end up with upright shoulders, an 'ant-eater' head and reduced flexibility in the spine, not exactly earth-dog requirements. Working terriers need suppleness, pliancy - all the flexiblity they can get, especially from their spines. They won't get this from flawed concepts about their anatomy. In the closed gene pool of the pedigree Fox Terrier these needless penalties are built-in.

 When a Sporting Lucas Terrier is outcrossed to a Norfolk Terrier to restore a missing coat colour, unless the breeding stock is wisely selected, you can bring in undesirable traits as well. If you outcross to a working Sealyham, for perfectly sound reasons on paper, unless the mates are wisely chosen, you can similarly bring in undesired features too. The resultant progeny may genetically be 50% Sporting Lucas and 50% working Sealyham, but not necessarily phenotypically so, that is, in appearance. Genetics isn't a mathematical exercise; it is a battle between dominant and recessive genes. I have seen a lurcher, claimed to be 25% Whippet, 25% Bedlington Terrier, 25% collie and 25% Greyhound, looking exactly like a purebred Bedlington Terrier. In this mating, the Bedlington blood, despite being only ¼ of the blend, triumphed.

 All named terrier breeds developed in a planned restricted gene pool; every emergent terrier breed has to face the dilemma of a small gene pool maintaining type or an enlarged one introducing alterations to type. Some SLTs are too open-coated, some are too low to the ground, some lack bone and obvious jaw strength. Finding the stock which remedies these faults takes breeding skill, patience and singlemindedness. The breed is however closely-knit, with many breeders knowing each other's stock. Now is the time perhaps for the introduction of an appraisal scheme in which breeding stock, sound enough mentally and physically to justify breeding from, is graded and minor faults acknowledged then bred out under an agreed and accepted breeding plan for the breed. Our irrational, and at times irresponsible, dislike of breeding controls, may prevent this happening, but it will never be enough just to mate dog A to dog B and hope!