Thursday, February 05, 2009

An Instructive History of the Destructive Show Ring

The Westminster Kennel Club show starts next week, and so it seems fitting to review the history of that show, which is the biggest and most famous in the U.S.

The Dog Show by William Stifel (2003, Westminster Kennel Club) is a very well-done coffee table book celebratrating the 125th anniversary of the Westminster Kennel Club.

It also -- rather unintentionally -- tells the story of how rapidly the white foxing terrier, which we now know as the Jack Russell Terrier, was destroyed by the vagaries of Kennel Club matrons. A quick summation:

  • The first "Best in Show" winner at Westminster was awarded in 1907 to a smooth Fox Terrier that looked very much like today's Jack Russell.

  • Fox Terriers won again in 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1926, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1934, 1937 and 1942.

  • A Sealyham (another working breed ruined by the show ring) won in 1924, 1927 and 1936.

  • Airedales made Best in Show in 1912, 1919, 1920, 1933, and 1936.

  • A Bull Terrier went Best In Show in 1918.

  • A Welsh Terrier went Best in Show in 1944.
As you can see, almost all the early winners were terriers, and most of them were Fox Terriers.

It was during this period of time that the face of the Fox Terrier was elongated and the chest enlarged by show ring breeders.

Prior to World War II, if you were really intent on wining the top award at a dog show, you got into Fox Terriers.

Probably no breed could have survived such intent attention without being wrecked by fad.

The Fox Terrier certainly did not.

Today, Fox Terriers are not found working in the field because, with few exceptions, their chests are too big to get to ground in a tight earth.

In 1990 the U.K. Kennel Club admitted on to its roles a dog they called the "Parson Jack Russell Terrier," a name just invented for the occassion.

The dog was, in fact, nothing more than a Jack Russell Terrier -- the unimproved Fox Terrier that had existed prior to the Kennel Club's creation.

In 1999 The Kennel Club changed the name of the dog to the "Parson Russell Terrier," (another name invented whole-cloth by Kennel Club theorists) to distinguish the Kennel Club dog from working Jack Russell Terriers still found in the field.

Today, Parson Russell Terriers, in both the U.K and the U.S. are rarely found at work in the field.

Why? Simple because once again their chests have grown too large.


Anonymous said...

The only way to see if an earth dog has what it takes to really do its job is to work it, not writing an arbitrary standard of perfection on which all dogs should be judged.

Take the current fad in my breed of breeding what I think are entirely too over-developed hindquarters. The standard requires broad and well-muscled hindquarters, which dogs need to move properly, and in the case of my breed, to swim fluidly and have "good water entry" (meaning they leap way out into the body of water when retrieving from the water).

However, the best moving retrievers and the dogs with the best water entry do not not have overdone hindquarters. They have "good hams" (as they say in coonhounds) but they aren't so dumpy in the back end that they can't get leverage to jump.

If you've ever seen a dock dog competition, none of the top dogs has these "molosser" hindquarters. None.

But that looks good in the ring, so why don't we just breed for it.

When did the fox terrier get its wedge-shaped head? They also have a very stilted gait when they walk, which I think is extremely bad energy economy in a dog.

Caveat said...

Hey Patrick, what do they call those little Jack Russells with the short legs? I've heard them called Jack Daniels by some people. They are what I used to think of as JRTs until the long-legged ones started showing up.

They are rare now in the UK but they used to hang out with the hunt clubs. My friend brought one back from a hunt club in England - great little dog.

PBurns said...

They are generally called "puddin'" jack russells, and they are dwarves. They are not hunting dogs.

Their popularity may be traced back to an early big-time dog dealer by the name of Annie Rawl Harris. She was Kennelmaid to Squire Nicholas Snow of Oare, and a relative of Will Rawl who was John Russell's kennel man.

One theory is that she took in the rejected dogs from Russell and bred them for the pet trade. I am not sure if that is true or not; it gets a bit lost. In any case, dwarves pop up in every breed, and these puddin dogs can be comical if you ignore the health issues associated with achondroplastia. From a purely work point of view, their chests are too big to be much use underground (though some try very hard, it should be said). They are fine dogs for ratting, etc. but the true working terrier has never been achondroplastic. For a little more info, see >>


Anonymous said...

My uncle had a puddin that looked like a Sealyham, except for his coat. He even had markings like one. He was also big--18 pounds. 10 inches at the shoulder.

He was a pet creation out of a JRTCA strain black and white bitch and another puddin. His mother was a fierce earth dog. She had to be retired from suburban life to be a West Virginia farm terrier.

Her son never received her gameness, but his litter mate did. That litter mate is a barmy little dog. 12 years old and ready to go after anything. He's being mellowed though by a broken coated puppy that has been added to the household.