Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Thin Portfolio of the Working Border Terrier

Pictures from Walter Gardner's book About the Border Terrier

The two pictures, above, show what Border Terriers looked like around 1916-1920. I think if these dogs were in the field today most people would not call them Border Terriers -- they would be presented as Fell Terriers.

Though some claim an ancient history for the Border Terrier, no breed of terrier is very old and the Border Terrier is no exception, first appearing around 1860, and being so undifferentiated from other rough-coated terriers that they were not admitted to the UK Kennel Club until 1920 -- after first being rejected in 1914.

The true history of the Border Terrier is exceedingly short and simple despite all the efforts to muddy the water with talk of Walter Scott, Bedlingtons, gypsies, and dark dogs seen in the muddy corners of obscure oil paintings. Such stuff is pure bunk.

The Border Terrier was a kennel type of rough-coated terrier of the Fell type bred by the Robson family. John Robson founded the Border Hunt in Northumberland in 1857 along with John Dodd of Catcleugh who hunted his hounds near the Carter Fell. It was the grandson's of these two gentlemen -- Jacob Robson and John Dodd -- who tried to get the Border Hunt's little terrier-type popularized by the Kennel Club.

The first Kennel Club Border Terrier ever registered was "The Moss Trooper," a dog sired by Jacob Robson's Chip in 1912 and registered in the Kennel Club's "Any Other Variety" listing in 1913. The Border Terrier was rejected for formal Kennel Club recognition in 1914, but won its slot in 1920, with the first standard being written by Jacob Robson and John Dodd. Jasper Dodd was made first President of the Club.

For a terrier "bred to follow the horses" the Border Terrier does not appear to have been overly-popular among the mounted hunts. The Border Terrier Club of Great Britain lists only 190 working certificates for all borders from 1920 to 2004 -- a period of 84 years. Considering that there were over 250 mounted hunts operating in the UK during most of this period (there are about 185 mounted hunts today), this is an astoundingly small number of certificates for a period that can be thought of as being over 15,000 hunt-years long. Even if one concedes that borders were worked outside of the mounted hunts, and not all borders got certificates that were recorded by the Border Terrier Club of Great Britain, the base number is so slow that adding a generous multiplier does not change the broad thrust of the conclusion, which is that Border Terriers never really had a "hay day" for work.

The relative lack of popularity of the Border Terrier as a working terrier is borne out by a careful review of Jocelyn Lucas' book Hunt and Working Terriers (1931). In Appendix I Lucas provides a table listing 119 UK hunts operating in the 1929-1930 season, along with the types of earths found (sandy, rocky, etc.) and the type of terrier used.

Only 16 hunts said they used Borders or Border crosses, while about 80 hunts said they preferred Jack Russells, white terriers or some type of fox terrier. Lakelands and Sealyhams, or crosses thereof, were mentioned by some, with quite a few noting "no preference"(hunts are double-counted if they mention two kinds of terriers or crosses of two types).

The Border Terrier does not appear to be faring any better today, with even fewer workers found in the field than in Lucas' times. In fact, there is not a single Border Terrier breed book that shows a border terrier with its fox -- an astounding thing considering the age of the breed and the ubiquitous nature of the camera from the 1890s forward.

A STAGED PHOTO: William Carruthers poses in a photographers studio with a stuffed otter. The dogs shown are "Allen Piper", "Jean" and "Tally Ho," and the picture was taken sometime after 1923

There is some disagreement as to why the border terrier is not more popular in the working terrier community. Some mention the fact that the dogs are often slow to mature. Others note that the dogs are very expensive, while others note that borders are getting too big. Still others note that the dog is now so rarely worked that it is nearly impossible to get a pup out of two real workers.

To say that the border is not popular in the field does not mean that it has fallen out of favor in the show ring or in the pet trade, however! Border terriers are among the top 10 breeds in the UK Kennel Club, and nearly 1,000 border terriers were registered with the American Kennel Club last year -- up about 100 dogs from the previous year.


Anonymous said...

very true,those old pics are what borders should look like, the show crowed have changed the appearance and character of the breed, and all for what, money and rossettes,thankfully there are afew and i mean afew that are only interested in working there borders, i would rather come home with mud and cuts after digging to my border than a rossett any day of the week.

Anthony Milton said...

Border Terriers are meant to go to ground to hold the fox at bay, and bark to guide the huntsmen where to dig.They are not meant to kill the fox. One of my Border Terriers went to work with the Duke of Beaufort's Hunt. The first time she enteredwhen the huntmen had dug down to find the fox, all they found was a dead one. They were not amused. Subsequently she went to Ireland where she was used to help farmers with a fox problem, when it wasn'tpossible to call out the hunt. She then had a very large number of kills to her name.When working with a hunt one wouldn't expect many photos of a Border Terrier with a dead fox. When working alone that is a different story. Some year ago the Scottish Border Terrier Club held a photographic exhibition. In the working section there were a large number of Border Terriers with their kill.

PBurns said...

Tony we have met, and I have to say that you you are entirely typical of "the fancy" in Border Terriers, and why the breed has gone straight into the ditch. You have never dug a fox in your life, even though you once claimed your dogs worked 100 fox in Ireland. No names, no pictures, and a suspiciously round number. Funny enough, I actually know quite a lot of people who dig in Ireland and Scotland, and they are not using Borders! Nameless faceless people without phones or cameras lost in the mist of time. Right. Heard it all before and written about it too -- see Fantasy Diggers on the www.terrierman.com web site. You might recognize yourself! See >> http://www.terrierman.com/fantasydiggers.htm

The Duke of Beaufort hunt just happened to want to toss an untried terrier from unknown breeding in at a dig at a critical time with the hunt milling around for a bolt? What happened, did the terrierman's own dogs all drop dead that day?

Here's a hint: No working terrier reads books written by show dog theorists, and no true working terrier breed "just barks" or "just kills." Not quite that simple, LOL.

Of course, the real problem with most Border Terriers is that the dogs are too big and tend to be owned by people who do not dig too much. Like you, they have NO IDEA what is needed in a working dog, and so these theorists are entirely incapable of preserving the Border Terrier (or any other breed) as a working breed of ANY kind.

Next time you are in this country, you can come along for a dig and you can see what a working terrier does. I do not speak from theory but from knowledge gained at the hole with a fox in the ground. That's where the story of the Border Terriers should start -- but sadly, where it too often ends.


Anthony Milton said...

The bitch in question spent several months with a gamekeeper in Gloucestershire and was trained, using drain pipes with a caged fox at the far end to enter.(For what it's worth I have a signed certificate from the Master to certify that she worked with the hunt).

PBurns said...

Tony, you need to dig if you are going to claim to raise working dogs. Digging is not drains and caged foxes, is it? No, not hardly!

Tell you what -- you want to see a picture of a working border? Go buy David Harcombe's new book (order directly from him at >> http://www.terrierman.com/work-them-hard-harcombe.htm ) and he's got a nice picture in there of one of his dogs working badger -- an action shot taken underground by a photographer who must have balls of steel! David and I have both had working border terriers but neither of us have any illusion as to what direction the dog has gone or where it is today.

If you have working borders (or any other kind of terrier), you do not have scraps of paper (signed by who and based on what?) -- you have shovels, locator collars, saws, nets, and (yes) loads of pictures. The digging world is not large and we know who is in it, and what they are doing. Working borders exist, but they are as rare as hen's teeth. There is a small effort to bring back the working border terrier, but most diggers do not think it can be done. For certain, it cannot be done unless people are willing to dig on their own dogs and dig for years. Dogs are not made on a dig or in a season.

At this point, why would anyone mess with a Border? That is the real problem. Getting a worker out of worker is almost impossible, and the expense is a joke, especially when solid working Patterdales and Russells and Fells are to be had. This is a dog killed by the show ring and theorists. To this day, there is not one border terrier breed book with a picture of a fox in it -- not even Ronnie Irving's (the current Chair of the KC) and both his father and grandfather were big in borders so you would think he would have something. Of course there is nothing. How sad is that?


border man said...

Well times have moved on and some comment is correct, By comparison Borders were expensive, Jacks you couldn't give away. The Border can't be knocked for keen activity hard work and a damn side more brains than other terriers put together. The problem hunts had was controlling a bunch of numb hounds eager for whatever came out first. Borders being brown foxes being brown see my point? Dead hounds cost money to replace and that was the result on more than one occasion. The fact remains that the Borders life has changed by interfering people who know nothing of country life. And now they want our dogs to boot...hypocrites them all.

Earthdog allround hunter said...

I´ve had 2 bt since 2000 in Sweden. No exibition Championships but in tracking, earthwork and agility. Have hunted practically with very good results fox, deer, moose and bear with my old boy. He won the Norwegian national Championship for earthdogs in 2004, was even better in 2006 but not trained for the Norwegian rules that year. Wants a real good bitchpup for practical work in agility, rescuing and hunting. Which breeders could provide me with that? I will retire soon fairly soon and would very much appreciate help in this.

Unknown said...

I have some very good strains of working border terriers in Wales, with oxcroft and dandyhow lines. Borders are better workers than any other terrier as they have more brains and flush foxes out rather Thant rush in there and kill them, this is better because it creates more sport for the hunt and cuts out the work of digging, borders aren't son snappy as Jack Russell and are not phycopaths like pater dales they are smarter but still very keen, the uk kennel club have actually changed the breed specification reducing the height that a border terrier has to be, they can also kill foxes if necisary and are some of the best badger dogs there are.

Unknown said...

I live in Harlem NYC and have two Borders. They are as game as they come. The youngest is a nine month old bitch that grabbed a good sized rat as quick as lightening from the garbage on our nightly walk tonight. Where as i can understand and appreciate the concern for the destruction of the breed by the show ring, it is my experience that they take to hunting like a fish to water. They are thankfully not as popular as other terriers here in the US and that has proven to be a benefit to the breed.