Sunday, November 28, 2004

The True History of the German Hunt Terrier

The development of the German Hunt Terrier (Jagdterrier or Jagd terrier) has to be put within a historical context that involves both a strong nationalistic sentiment and a desire to keep, create or recreate "pure German" breeds.

Between the two World Wars, game managers in Germany were focused on getting rid of "foreign" or introduced species, and bringing back now-extinct species that figured prominently in the mythology of the nation.

One of the pioneers of this peculiar quest was Lutz Heck, the curator of the Berlin Zoo, who went on to "back breed" primitive cattle and horses in order to "recreate" the extinct Auroch ( the kind of wild cattle seen in the cave paintings at Lascaux, France) and the Tarpan (a kind of primitive forest pony). Heck was also instrumental in the recreation of an extinct subspecies of zebra called the "Quagga".

Heck's interest in dogs was driven in part by his passion for hunting, and in part by a kind of strange and over-heated nationalism mixed with a desire to see what could be done with selective breeding. A social climber and decided brown-noser, Lutz Heck and his brother Heinz were men who courted power and counted among their friends both Adolph Hitler and Hermann Goring.

Even as pathological nationalism and a sick interest in genetic engineering were rising in Germany, terriers were also rising to the height of fashion in much of Europe and the United States. The Allied Terrier Show was taken over by Charles Crufts in 1886 and was the largest dog show in the world after World War I, while the first breed-specific dog publication anywhere was a magazine devoted to fox terriers. The Westminster Dog Show was begun in 1907, and the first winner was a fox terrier. A fox terrier won again in 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1915, 1916, and 1917.

A fascination with terriers, fervent nationalism, and a propensity towards genetic engineering were braided together when Lutz Heck presented four black and tan fell terriers -- similar to what we now would call a Patterdale terrier -- to Carl Eric Gruenewald and Walter Zangenbert. Gruenewald was a "cynologist" (a self-styled dog man with an interest in genetics) and Zangenbert was a dedicated hunter with an interest in fox terriers.

It did not take much prodding on Heck's part to convince Gruenewald and Zangenbert that what the world needed was a true German Hunt Terrier to compete (and of course trump) the British and American fox terriers in the field.

Gruenewald and Zangenbert added to their team Chief Forester R. Fiess and Dr. Herbert Lackner, men with land for a kennel, and the financial means to support it over a decade-long quest..

An early problem was that the black and tan terriers selected as the core breeding stock and deemed "ideal hunters" based on color alone were, in fact, not all that great at hunting. As Gruenewald later wrote:

"We were glad to own fox terriers with the hunting color, and we hoped to use these four puppies successfully in breeding to establish a hunting fox terrier breed (jagdfoxterrier-stamm). From the viewpoint of hunting these four dogs were not bad, although they left much to desire. First we tried inbreeding, pairing brothers with sisters. But the results were not good. No wonder -- after all, the parents weren't real hunting dogs. The picture changed, though, when we bred our four 'originals' with our well-trained old hunting fox terriers. The beautiful dark color continued to be dominate. Dogs with a lot of the white color and spotted dogs were selected and eliminated from further breeding."

The breeding program for the Jagdterrier was German in every sense of the word: massive in scale and vicious in its selection criteria. At one point the men had 700 dogs in their kennels, and not a single dog was allowed to be placed outside of the kennel. Dogs that did not look the part, or which were deemed to be not of the quality desired, were shot. Early dogs were both smooth and rough coat, but the breeding program moved to get rid of smooth coats and the coat of the final product can best be described as "slape coated" -- a short, hard and wiry coat that sheds water and dirt while providing warmth in winter.

After only 10 years time the dogs were breeding more-or-less true, with a patterdale-like appearance, albeit with more red on the undercarriage.

The breeding program for the Jagdterrier was a bit confused as to the actual purpose of the dog. A great emphasis was put on the dog being multitalented -- able to go after fox and kill it underground, tackle a russian boar, retrieve birds, and scent track shot game. A small problem was that doing these tasks required a dog with different physiological characteristics!

A dog able to kill a fox underground will tend to be hard-mouthed, which is exactly the opposite of what you want in a retriever. At the same time a dog large enough to carry a bird through grass or tackle a russian boar will tend to be too big in the chest to easily go to ground in a natural fox den.

Never mind. After all, the rationale for the German Hunt Terrier was not that there was an unfilled need in the terrier world -- it was that there were no German terriers to put up as being "superiour" to those offered by the rest of the world.

The German Hunting Terrier Club (Deutscher Jagdterrier-Club) was founded in 1926, and the dog was warmly embraced in part because it was a trendy new breed, and in part because it fit well with the rising nationalistic sentiment within Germany at the time. It did not hurt at all that Lutz Heck was a darling of the Nazi regime and counted Hermann Goring among his closest friends.

In 1938 a German by the name of Max Thiel, Sr. bought his first Jagdterrier. Thiel hunted with this dog for only a few years before the start of World War II. During the war Thiel lost his dogs, but after the war he settled in Bavaria and purchased two female dogs, Asta and Naja.

In 1951 Thiel came to the U.S, bringing with him Naja. He soon sent for Asta, who was bred and shipped pregnant. In 1954, Armin Schwarz Sr., imported a "champion" sire named Axel, and a few more litters were promulgated. In March 1956, nine Jadgt terrier owners met in St. Louis, Missouri, and formed the Jagdterrier Club of America, with the expressed goal of getting the dog recognized by the American Kennel Club. In fact, the club did not prosper and eventually died out.

The Jadgt terrier did not take off in the U.S. for several reasons, not the least of which was that very few people hunted fox to ground. In addition, American hunters had excellent hunting dogs of their own. U.S. pit bull crosses may be the finest pig dogs in the world, while American-bred bird dogs are far superior to any terrier. Experienced raccoon and squirrel hunters were not about to give up their Treeing Walkers or Mountain Feists for some new- fangled dog no one could even pronounce.

In recent years, with the rise of interest in terrier work in the U.S., new lines of Jagdterriers have been imported, but the market for this dog seems to already be saturated. Pig hunters still prefer their pit bull crosses, bird hunters their pointers and retrievers, squirrel hunters their feists, and raccoon hunters their hounds.

Most working terriers in the U.S. are the same breeds found working in the U.K. and even Germany -- Jack Russell terriers, patterdales, dachshunds, and a few small lakelands and borders.

A small number of very small Jadgt terriers have found working homes in the U.S., but the breed standard calls for a 13- to 16-inch tall dog that weighs 16 to 22 pounds. This means that all but the smallest females are too big to work raccoon, possum and fox in the groundhog dens in which they are typically found here in the U.S.

With small Jack Russells from known working lines relatively easy to get, and patterdale terriers now flooding the market, the Jagd terrier is likely to remain an uncommon choice in the U.S.


Anonymous said...

Great info. We just got our first Jagdterrier and I don't think there is a better hunting dog. Every Jag owner i have talked to has said this is the dream hunting breed. They make wonderful companions and working dogs. I think since you published this in 2004 the breed has become more popular than you predicted. They are everywhere Alabama, Texas, Missouri, the Dakotas, East coast, New York etc etc. There is a Jagterrier Club. The American Jagdterrier Club is dedicated to preseving this breed and the registration is much like the Jack Russell Club, requiring pictures before full registration at 1 year. There are competitions for hunting, bloodtrailing etc. More focus is put on the intelegence than on the look of the dog. It is sad this wasn't done with the German Shepard and so many other breeds that we have harmed with over popularity hip displasia and epilepsy etc etc. Popularity is often a bad thing for a dog breed.
Thanks for the info

Anonymous said...

I own a Jagdterrier as well. They are amazing dogs. I really think you should go hunting with individuals who use Jagdterriers, they are incredibly versital and I think you would change your opinion of them. Many are to big to go to ground, but as above ground hunters(barns/hogs/blood tracking)they have great track records. Many hog hunters are starting to use them as catch dogs instead of the pits and american bulldogs. They are cheaper to feed, intelligent hunters and have a lower mortality rate if the hog hits them( b/c they are small and light, they just go flying through the air and are right back on the hog). I really enjoy and agree with most of your articles.
However, I think you are completely wrong about the jagdterrier. I think you should go out and hunt with people who have real jags and I bet you will change your tune.

PBurns said...

I HAVE hunted with them, which is why I know they are too big to go to ground.

As for hog-busting dogs and the like, any over large terrier (or even small) terrier) can do that job. A new breed is not needed for that. Over large terriers of every kind are a dime a dozen.


Unknown said...

I have hunted many of terrier and I will tell you this. The jagd terrier is not as well suited for ground work as the other terriers because of there size. When hunting, the Jagds were better finding game then the others. They were always the first to the hole or game. Hence they have a better nose. That is why you do not see other small terriers hunting Bear, Mountain lions, Bobcat. Jagds work great locating and baying these animals. They get hurt less and recoup faster.

So if you want to go to ground I would say Patterdale JRT and crosses are better. For big game or treeing Jagd is better. I will predict in years to come the jagd will be used more on treeing coon and big game.

Terier in MK said...

Hello am em from Macedonia on this link can yu see may dogs.

Sudeepta said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
zippermilo said...

Jagd terriers are really too small to hunt boar here in Texas.I have two males 2yrs. old with lots of woods time. Dont get me wrong they really hunt hard and have the heart just not enough size to stop the really big ones that run. Its seems that the pigs have evolved into runners . They use to stand and fight to defend. I guess you could call it dog shy. They hear a dog and they are gone. Jagd dogs usually yep on track when its real hot.bye bye piggy.When they have plenty of help they cant be beat.

Armas Julma said...

I wonder do you have smaller foxes there? Because here in finland Jagds have about 25-35 % share of the breeds used for underground hunting, i have a 16 inch tall male jagd ,weight about 11kg 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 opion is that dachshund are really the ones that are really too big for underground work, they chest size has grown by decades mainly because the dogshow work. U might want to visit german and the central europe first, before u announce the german hunt terrier isnt that much in use in there. Because it really is.

PBurns said...

We all have the same-sized fox (see links under the terrier-spanning tattoo here >> for more information on fox size).

The difference is in what digs the holes in which the fox den.

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

In England, fox dens are generally slightly excavate rabbit burrows, while in the Eastern U.S. (where the rabbits den above ground as your hares so), fox generally use old grounhog dens which are also very slightly excavated.

Fox are not very good long--distance 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 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, opossums. Our Grey Fox (not related to the red fox) will generally den in trees (this is a fox that can clib) 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 UK and the US have large chests, but a working dachshund (also known as a "Teckel" have a very clear chest emphasis on chest size. See Teckels that are "Gebraushund" at >>

Dexter said...

In Finland Jagds are mainly used underground for badger, fox and raccoon dog. And they fit just fine..

PBurns said...

See reason for that in comments, above:

"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."