Sunday, April 26, 2015

Terrier Work, Part 7 -- Early Organized Terrier Work

As the 19th Century closed, more terrier breeds were added to the Kennel Club roster

The Bedlington Terrier, the Fox Terrier and the Dandie Dinmont had been recognized by the Kennel Club since 1873. The Yorkshire Terrier was designated a breed by the Kennel Club in 1886 (formerly it was a type of Scotch Terrier), as was the Welsh Terrier.

The West Highland White Terrier was recognized by the Kennel Club in 1907, the Sealyham Terrier in 1910, the Cairn Terrier in 1912. In 1920 the Border Terrier was accepted at Kennel Club shows, the same year as the Kerry Blue. The Lakeland was embraced in 1931, the Norwich in 1932. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier joined the growing rank of Kennel Club terriers in 1935, the Bull Terrier in 1939.

In 1902, Arthur Heinemann, a young journalist born in America and of Jewish extraction, found the Devon and Summerset Badger Club. Heinemann claimed his dogs were directly descended from John Russell’s kennel, but there is considerable reason to doubt the assertion.

Heinemann was born in 1871, the year Russell gave up his hounds for the last time, and he was just 12 when Russell died. At the time of his death, Russell had just four ancient terriers left — "Rags", "Sly", "Fuss" and "Tinker".

No matter. The dogs Heinemann did acquire seem to have served him well. He worked his terriers almost exclusively to badger, bred those that worked well, and sold many terriers in the U.K. as well as overseas. In time, the badger digging club he founded would become the Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain.

In 1931 Sir Jocelyn Lucas published Hunt and Working Terriers. Lucas’ book provided a global snapshot of terrier work, from England to the U.S., and from India to South Africa. The main focus was on terriers used by the mounted hunts. More than 100 hunts in the U.K. were surveyed about the types of dog they preferred, and the kinds of earths they encountered. Useful advice on the construction of artificial earths was given, as well as a review of basic tools and techniques.

Lucas was a bit of a showman, and often hunted his own pack of Sealyham Terriers with a full retinue of onlookers in tow — many in their finest "just to be seen" sporting clothes. Advertisements and articles claimed his Sealyhams were "the only working Sealyham Terrier pack in Britain" — an honest brag, but also a caution. If Sealyhams were such great working dogs, where were the others?

Like Heinemann, Lucas was a dog breeder, but unlike Heinemann he participated in Kennel Club shows where he tried to promote the Sealyham as both a worker and a show dog.

It was a noble effort, but it was a doomed endeavor, and in the end, Lucas and his kennel partner, Mrs. Enid Plummer, found it almost impossible to carry on their own kennel in the face of show-ring demands for ever-larger Sealyham Terriers with elongated faces and softer coats.

Today the small compact Sealyham Terrier of Lucas’s day is essentially extinct — as are whatever working antecedents might once have existed for other Kennel Club terrier breeds. The names may live on, but something is surely missing, for none are commonly found in the hunt field today.

The principle problem Lucas encountered with the Sealyham was chest size — a problem that stalked the Fox Terrier and the Border Terrier as well. Lucas tried to get around it by crossing a small working Sealyham with a Norfolk Terrier. He called the result a "Lucas Terrier" but the new breed never caught on.

The central question remained: Why did working terrier breeds get too big in the chest after being enlisted on to Kennel Club roles?

The answer is to be found in an inherent defect of the show ring, and a basic understanding of canine anatomy.

As noted earlier, when cattle, sheep and chickens were judged in the show ring, there was no way to determine the veracity of production claims as they related to the quality or quantity of beef, milk or eggs produced.

Unable to judge the veracity of production claims, livestock judges tended to award ribbons and trophies based on size and appearance alone.

A variation of the problem occurred when terriers were evaluated in the ring.

The essential elements of a working terrier are small chest size, strong prey-drive, a loud voice, a sensitive nose, and a clever kind of problem-solving intelligence. Aside from size, none of these attributes can be judged at ringside.

In a judging field of 20 or 30 dogs, a selection filter of size alone does not provide the gradients required to articulate a reason for choosing a single dog or bitch as a winner. The breed club solution has been to generate pages of cosmetic criteria which effectively devalue the only important attribute of working terriers that can be judged in the ring — a small chest.

Head size and shape were deemed to be very important and assigned the greatest number of points. It was the head shape, after all, that gave each breed its distinctive look. It was the head that faced the quarry in the hole. Surely the shape of the head was important?

In fact, when it comes to working terriers, head shape is only important to the extent it leaves space for brains, produces a jaw strong enough to grip, and allows for unobstructed breathing. Most crossbred mongrel terriers have heads shaped well enough to do the job.

Unfortunately, Kennel Club shows require a very fine point be put on every attribute. With the advent of the Kennel Club, a continuous morphological spectrum was disallowed. Now every breed had to be distinct. A Fox Terrier could not look too much like a Lakeland, which could not look too much like a Welsh Terrier, which could not look too much like a Border.

In the world of working terriers, a bigger head is not necessarily better. Larger heads tend to be attached to larger chests — the latter being necessary to support the former. Instead of putting primacy on head size and shape, breeders should have focused on chest size.

Unfortunately, Kennel Club breed standards have rarely (if ever) been drafted by people who actually worked their dogs. As author Harriet Ritvo writes in her excellent book, The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age [Harvard University Press, 1989]:

"Specialist clubs were supposed to defend their breeds against the vicissitudes of fashion, but they had few other guides in their attempts to establish standards for breeds and judges."


The results were predictable: Fox Terriers with chests like keel boats and Yorkshire terriers reduced, in time, to the size of teacup poodles.

With some breeds, such as Border Terriers, the morphological changes were less dramatic but still inexorable. Fourteen inch chests on 12- and 13-pound dogs gave way to 16- and 17-inch chests on 20-pound dogs. As better nutrition maximized genetic potential for size, an 18- or even 19-inch chest was forgiven provided the dog otherwise looked well enough. A Kennel Club terrier, after all, was not likely to have to crawl down a tight pipe to actually face a fox, was it?

In fact, most Kennel Club judges had never even seen a fox den. Even fewer had dug on one, or run their hands along the slim warm chest of a living vixen.

A fox is not what it appears to be. Though a fox may stand 14 inches tall, it is mostly bone and fur. It is built more like a cat than a well-muscled dog. The average adult vixen weighs just 12 or 13 pounds.

This comes as news to most show ring fanciers who assume reductum ad absurdum, that a fox is a type of dog, and therefore a 14-inch tall fox will have a chest size similar to that of a 14-inch tall terrier.

But a fox is not Canis familiaris, but Vulpes vulpes. A dog is not a fox.

A 14-inch tall terrier will have a chest circumference that is two to five inches bigger than that of a fox. As a consequence, the average 14-inch tall dog will not be able to follow a fox to ground in a truly tight earth.

Again, this has never been too much of a concern for show ring terrier enthusiasts. The quarry they are pursuing are ribbons in a ring, not a fox in the ground. That said, it does explain one reason why show ring varieties of working terrier breeds are rarely found in the hunt field today.

To order American Working Terriers


1 comment:

jeffrey thurston said...

Thanks, this section more or less explains why so many terriers now are a bit too large- I still don't understand why even JRTs are affected by this since they are not in the Kennel Club tradition. The JRTCA will register pretty large dogs and apparently they do fine in trials (which I understand aren't really close to real hunting). Anyway- I have two JRTs here in Oakland, one is a big 14" tall 17" chested fella but he is a great hunter in a general sense- very prey driven. My little guy is even better- although too big in the chest (16" chest- 11.5 inches tall) he is a great digger and very prey driven with a loud constant voice- when I watch him at a vole hole I know what JRTs are all about- he'd stay for hours if he could- relentless. I agree about large heads mostly but I do admire the LARGE teeth that both my dogs have. Thanks for these well written informative historical posts- I will the book ASAP.