Thursday, June 26, 2008
Terriers for Sale: Pets, Rosettes and Workers All
Legendary terriermen? Certainly! Were they selling legendary dogs? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
If a dog is excellent at age two and half, you have to wonder why it is being sold. As for puppies, they are more of a optimistic hope than a proven reality.
Both adverts could be offering very good things ... and they could also have been offering something that ended up being a little less than was required or wanted, depending on the throw of the dice and the nature of the homes they were placed in.
What is not in dispute is that both of these ads were placed by legendary terriermen about 45 years ago.
Bert Gripton and Frank Buck were the real deal. They lived to hunt their dogs and bred dogs as a supplement to their hunting activities. That said, both men were known to breed quite a few dogs and sell them off too -- mostly to people who did far less digging than the dogs deserved -- and almost certainly less than these legendary men themselves did.
In fact, dog breeding seems to be a common thread among the "famous" terriermen of the past. If you have heard of almost any terrierman now dead -- John Russell, Arthur Heinemann, Frank Buck, Cyril Breay, Bert Gripton, etc. -- you can be sure they were moving a lot of dogs, and not just a lot of dirt.
To say this is to take away nothing from Gripton or Buck, Breay or Heinemann (and several other good and worthy gentlemen still living and left unnamed). They deserve their excellent reputations. It is simply to say that just as we sing a paean to "foxes yet unseen," so too should we give a nod and pour a dram for the hundreds of unknown working terrier enthusiasts, game keepers and huntsmen who have done at least as much to preserve and protect working terriers over the years. They may be unknown, but they are the core of the cable that is the working terrier tradition.
Today, we commonly see people advertising puppies as being "sired by WHATEVER" and bought directly from So-and-So HIMSELF.
Fair enough, but have you seen the legendary WHATEVER in the field? Has HIMSELF actually dug on a dog any time in the last 20 or 30 years? Or is this just name-dropping and pedigree paper-chasing -- the very same thing we see with show ring breeders?
The situation becomes comical when people order dogs from people they have never met in countries they have never visited. Perhaps they traded a few emails with a Great Man. Perhaps they have even toured the kennel. Excellent.
One has to wonder about those forty terriers barking in the back of the Great Man's place, however. Even if a person digs every week, it's hard to find enough work for four or five terriers. Forty? Impossible. Yes, yes, dogs can be loaned out for work to the hunts, but that's not going on too much, is it? A hunt terrierman wants a dog that is reliable (and small), not a parade of green reeds that do not know their job. And no one in the U.S. is loaning out dogs at all; if the breeder is not working them his or her self, you can be sure they are not being worked at all.
Yet young and foolish dog buyers continue to drive the business of puppy sales, don't they? There has never been a shortage of puppy peddlers. That is true in the world of working dogs as well as the world of pets-and-rosettes.
The working boards are full of people that have never dug on a dog themselves, but who have a kennel full of puppies for sale. "Bred from THIS line out of WHATEVER" they proclaim, as if this line of nonsense tells you anything.
Just ask for pictures of the dam and sire working. "Oh I never thought to take a camera into the field ... I don't share pictures because the Animal Rights people might get a-hold of them."
Any variation on this nonsense, and it's best to keep moving. People that work their dogs in the modern world have pictures of their dogs working and (in America at least) they can take you out on any given weekend and show you their dogs doing their stuff in the ground. We are a hunting society, and there is nothing unethical about terrier work as we practice it.
As for all this focus on "lines" of working terriers, it is taken to a level of absurdity by the puppy peddlers. Anyone who knows anything about working terriers knows no true working dog is a "pure" anything, and genes are quickly diluted. "Descended from So-and-So" tells you almost nothing, especially if you never saw the dog work yourself. A first generation dog is only half that gene pool, and a second generation dog is a quarter or less. In the end you are buying a pig in a poke.
Yes, a cross between between Mike Tyson and Robin Givens might get you super-model looks with a boxer's hooks, but it is just as likely to give you an ugly, stupid, scrawny and foul-tempered kid who has small hands, a thin frame, and an irritating lisp. Cross Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe and you are just as likely to get Einstein's looks and Marilyn's brains as the other way around!
Breeding, of course, is important. Working dogs are more likely to descend from two working dogs than not, and the best practice remains, as always, to get dogs that have solid working sires and dams.
Just remember, however, that there are two sides to every breeding, and much of what is being crossed from one generation to another is entirely unknown even when someone has had a "line" of terriers for two or three generations. Not every cross is a success.
In any case, a working terrier is not all about genetics is it? How many good dogs have been ruined by young fools that over-matched a dog too young? How many people have heard people proclaim a dog "worthless" when it was only 14 months old? How many people leave their dogs caged and pacing in a kennel for 12 months out of the year and then expect the dog to work like a practiced veteran the three or four times a year it is let out to see forest or field?
If only these examples were rare! Sadly, they are not.
What made the dogs of people like Frank Buck and Bert Gripton exceptional was not just breeding -- it was that these dogs saw a lot of experience in the field and were raised by people who understood how dogs thought. These MEN were as legendary as the dogs. Sadly, their experience and knowledge does not convey with the pedigree.
The ads these genuine digging men men wrote for their dogs should be read. They speak volumes in a few words: "parents small," ; "trial if necessary," ; "parents can be seen at work six days a week."
Compare these small printed advertisements to the folks who now post elaborate graphics-filled web sites offering puppies for sale. Some web sites are all about ribbons and rosettes, while others show pictures of dogs chained out in dirt yards with photos shot through rusting wire mesh.
Different ends of the social spectrum, to be sure, but what both types of web sites have in common is that neither one mentions actual terrier work.
For puppy peddlers, taking dogs out into the field to work, weekend after weekend, is too close to real work. Dogs in the field might get injured and veterinary care and tools cut into profit margins. Field work time is in direct competition with show ring trial dates.
Besides digging on the dogs a couple of times a month is suspiciously like labor. For puppy peddlers, the bottom line is the bottom line, and it is all about cash and ego, not true terrier work.
Compare the size of the genuine earth dogs offered by people like Gripton, with the hulking dogs offered up for barn and brush pile work here in the U.S.
These over-large dogs are not true terriers. Terrier means "earth dog" in French. A terrier is a dog that is capable of going to earth and to which you dig to when you are hunting.
These over-large barn-and-brush pile dogs might be called "grangier" (a possible french world for "barn dogs") or even "arbrier" (a possible french name for "tree dogs") or "bidonier" (a possible french name for "trash-pile dogs") or "batimentiere" (a possible french word for "building crawl-space" dogs), but they are not true terriers if they cannot go to ground in dirt . . . . and do so in most of the settes they encounter in their area.
Bert Gripton used to advertise that his dogs could be seen at work six days a week. Not many can say that now (and, truth be told, not many could say it back then either).
Working six days a week? Think about what that means. Regular work, day in and day out, week after week, is hardly possible with a very hard dog that goes in and gets punch-drunk with bites and rips every time it goes to ground.
Yes, the folks who dig three days a year will tell you they value a hard dog. What they will not tell you, of course, is how little time they actually spend digging.
The more you dig on the dogs, the more you come to value brains, voice, balance, and a touch of discretion in a dog, and the quicker you are to sort things out at the end of a dig. A dog that is laid up for three weeks with a ripped lip is a bad outcome if you really serious about getting out and amassing field time. Not everyone is, of course.
Bert Gripton knew the value of a small dog!