Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Horses for Courses, But Fox Are the Same All Over

Red Fox Taxidermy manikin with 12.75" chest. Source.

Armas writes from Finland about a post I put up some years back about the history of Jagd Terriers.

To refresh, the Jagd Terrier was a dog created as part of the völkisch thought paradigm which suggested Germany needed its own working terrier which would, of course be an uber hund which could do it all -- retrieve shot birds, go to ground on fox, bolt boar from thickets, and perhaps brew a mean cup of espresso as well.

The dog that was created is certainly game enough, but it turns out that a dog that is big enough to return shot birds is too big to easily go to ground in most tight settes, while a dog that is small enough to go to ground may not have the weight or size needed to bust Russian Boar out of a thicket.  Yes, there is a reason dogs are specialized!

Amras, however, says his Jagd Terrier is doing fine for him in Finland.  He writes:

I wonder do you have smaller foxes there? Because here in Finland Jagds represent 25-35% share of the dogs used for underground hunting. I have a 16-inch tall male Jagd, weight about 11 kilos (24.25 pounds), and it manages on its job fairly well. But we do have a little different species here too. 75% of our catch are raccoon dogs, 15% badgers and the last 10% foxes. My opinion is that dachshund are really the ones that are really too big for underground work; their chest size has grown in recent decades mainly because of the impact of dog shows. You might want to visit German and the Central Europe first, before you announce the German Hunt Terrier isn't that much in use there, because it really is.

Armas is asking a good question, and the answer is interesting enough that I break it out here in its own post.    I wrote back last evening:

We have, more-or-less, the same-sized red fox all over the world.  See the links under the terrier-spanning post I put up on the blog this morning for more general information on fox size.

So what's the difference?  The difference is in the animal that actually digs the holes in which your fox are denning!

In Finland, you do not have European rabbits outside of a small population of recent escapees around Helsinki, so the holes in which your fox are going to ground are, for the most part, dug by badger, as your native hares den above ground.

In England, most fox dens are lightly excavated rabbit burrows, as badger dens are generally given a pass due to a rather unforgiving law.  In the Eastern U.S., where our rabbits den above ground (in scrapes) as your hares do, fox generally use old groundhog dens which, like U.K. rabbits dens, are very lightly excavated if expanded at all.

Fox are not very good diggers and rarely excavate a long or deep den on their own, preferring to tuck into an existing den of some kind (badger, rabbit or groundhog), or else den under a natural structure (a tree that has blown over, a farm trash pile, an out building, a rock crevice).

Raccoons and raccoon-dogs (Tanuki) do not dig their own holes, and neither do our "third" quarry species here in the United States, the opossum.

Our Grey fox (not related to the red fox) will generally den in trees (this is a species of fox that can climb) or rock cracks, but will also be found, on rare occassion, in groundhog dens.

With dachshunds, chest size is largely determined by breeding. The very badly bred standard dachshunds of the U.K. and the U.S. have large chests, as you note, but working dachshunds (also known as "Teckels") have a very clear emphasis on chest size. See >> Teckels that are "Gebraushund" for more information about these true working dogs.

The bottom line:  there is a very real reason that working terriers are spanned at the chest, and why most working terriers around the world hover a shade over 12 inches in height, and with chests of 14-15 inches in span (the same chest size as that of working dachshunds).

A dog that stands 16 inches tall at the shoulder is going to have a span of 18 to 19 inches, which is larger than any normal fox anywhere in the world.  That dog may work in Finland, where most fox are found to ground in old badger settes, but it will have a limited utility in those parts of the world where red fox, raccoon, or Tanuki (raccoon-dog) are using holes made by rabbit and groundhog.

As for how Jagd Terriers are doing in Germany and Central Europe, I think the rise of artificial earths, and cartoons showing Jagd Terriers barely squeezing through these artificial settes, says quite a lot.  A dog at the very lowest end of the Jagd Terrier standard (13" tall and with a small chest) is a good prospect for fox work, but at the taller end, I would simple say that there is a reason why terriermen harp about chest size the world over.

A dog, no matter how much it may have "the fire called desire" cannot hope to excavate a 20-foot pipe or follow a fox down a tight tube that is half-blocked by root or rock, unless it has a chest size comparable to the quarry it is chasing.

Once the larger dog does get there, it will find itself jammed in tight, with little room to move to avoid the slashing teeth of the fox.

And what is the point? A larger dog brings little that is useful to the table, and quite a lot that is a burden.

A fox cannot dig away from the dog, and even with animals that dig, size is not the answer as larger size slows passage through the sette and increases the chance that the badger or groundhog will have dug away. A smaller dog can get through a sette faster and "box" at the end more easily (and less damage) and with more oxygen as well. There is a reason small dogs are valued more than larger ones in the world of working terriers!



This is how a taxidermy manikin becomes a mount.
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