|A repost from this blog, circa 2004.|
Eddie Chapman writes in The Real Jack Russell Terrier (1993) that:
The hunter terrier man [on reaching a nice rambling earth with twenty entrances that run 10 feet deep], when hounds have marked there, will be told either to bolt the Fox or kill it, and in either case he must get the job done as quickly as possible, for his services may be required again, even in minutes sometimes. . . .
With everyone away from the earth, the terrier man picks a really small chested eleven inch dog that he knows can, and will, get right up to the Fox very quickly, and with luck, bolt it out in a matter of minutes. ... [T]he hunt terrier man would not have achieved the quick bolt of the hunt has he used a much bigger terrier, as it would not have been able to negotiate the tight holes so quickly, so forcing the Fox to bolt so fast.
The next situation confronted by the hunt terrier man is a Fox that has been marked in a six inch, one hundred yard field drain, that is running hard with water.
Common sense will tell you immediately that no terrier much over 12 inches will even be able to get into a six inch pipe, and with it running hard with water, an eleven inch one won't fair much better. So the smallest terrier possible will be needed to have any hope at all of pushing Mr. Fox back out again."
The picture, at top right, is Mountain (12 inches tall) going through a six-inch hard PVC pipe. She was a bit younger then, and could do twenty or thirty feet like this, but I do not think she would have much cared for a hundred yard drain with water flowing in it!
Eddie Chapman's point, however, is that small dogs are what you really want in the field and for a simple reason: a fox is not a coyote.
People who have never dug to a fox and spanned it with a tape measure assume a 14" tall dog has the same chest size as a 14" tall fox.
It does not.
A fox is built more like a cat than a dog, and a 14" tall fox will have a chest of 12 or 13 inches, while a dog of the same height will have a chest of 16, 17, 18 inches, or more.
It says something that red fox taxidermy mannequins start at 11 inch chests and go to 14" chests.
Eddie Chapman knows the value of a small dog, as does anyone who digs on fox, groundhog, raccoon or possum here in the United States.
Some years back, I did a survey of 355 American working terriers and the average size was just over 12 inches tall.
Of the workers surveyed, 200 were bitches and 155 dogs were male dogs -- a skew to female due to the fact that getting a really small male working terrier is very hard to do.
Of all the working dogs counted, only 37 males were 12 inches tall or smaller.
A look at the 2007 Stud Book of the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America finds a continuation of this pattern -- nice looking stud dogs, but only one male under 12" in height, and only two that are 12" tall -- all the other stud dogs listed are taller (some as tall as 15" at the shoulder!)
Chest size of course, is the most important physical attribute of a working terrier, and it is chest size at age 2 or 3 years of age that is really important, not just chest size at 7 months.
The reason for this is simple; chests tend to bow out a bit and get less springy as a dog gets older. A dog that has an acceptable chest at 10 months, may add an inch or two to its circumference in old age. You want a terrier that will go the distance, which is to say you want a small dog if you are interested in digging more than a few times a year for years into the future.
What about folks who say a larger dog will "get there" if it has the will?
Yes, "the fire called desire" is no small thing, and yes a dog is expected to move some earth if needed, but no dog can excavate stone, no dog can excavate root, and no dog can excavate 15 feet of hard packed soil. Anyone who has dug dogs in difficult country knows this.
And let us remind ourselves where all this excavated soil goes to ... behind the dog, and into the pipe where it works to cut off the air supply the dog needs to breathe.
Caveat emptor! No one has ever wanted a bigger dog, but most have wanted a smaller one!
What about the larger dog that is said to have a "disappearing" chest?
There are such things. I have been surprised by good looking taller dogs (12.5 inches is a tall dog in my book) with small chests that still looked smart and fit. But a note of caution; there are sensible limits here.
A large dog (13" or over in height) and a small chest (14") rarely go well together. Such a dog will be reedy-looking and have the feel of an Italian Greyhound about it.
A dog should have a little bone on which it can hang its muscles! A day in the field is not always a walk in the park.