Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What Flint Can Tell Us About Working Terriers

Flint and Fury, about 1900

One of the reasons to stay clear of show ring theorists is that they do not know enough to know about working dogs to know what is true and what is not.

For example, in British Dogs: Their Points, Selection And Show Preparation, we find this line about the Border Terrier:

They stand about 14 in. high, are narrow in front, not more than 15 in. round the girth, and weigh about 15 lb.

Those numbers are not possible in a working dog. Even a very well-built, very thin and narrow-chested 14-inch tall working terrier will have a chest bigger than that and will weigh more than that too.

Yes, a fox will stand 14 inches tall with those measures, but a fox is not a terrier is it? A fox is built like a cat, not like a dog. This is simple and basic, but it comes as new information to those that have never spanned a fox, living or dead.

The picture, at top, is of Flint and Fury, two of the very first Border Terriers.

This is what the dog looked like before it was drawn into the Kennel Club and ruined. This is what the dog looked like when it still worked!

Flint, the dog on the right, was whelped in 1894 by Jacob Robson's Rock out of Tom Robson's Rat. Fury, the bitch on the left, was sired by Flint and whelped in 1898 out of bitch by the name of Vene.

An earlier Flint (a different dog, it should be said) was described in C.M. Ferguson's Border Sport and Sportsmen (1932):

The famous terrier Flint, weighing 12 pounds, could bolt foxes out of holes which had hitherto been considered impossible places. (My brother once saw him put three foxes out of the Little Done.) [Flint] is often mentioned in my brother's diary. He is without doubt the best terrier ever seen in the Borders....

This second Flint (the earlier one) was lost to ground, which was far more common in the era before locator collars than it is today.

John Dodd, who along with John Robson founded the Border Hunt in Northumberland in 1857, describes what happened:

Flint was lost one January during severe weather, along with a young dog by him. They went off rabbiting on their own account, and were never seen or heard of again; they must have got into some strong fox-earth and been unable to get out again. Friends and others searched the whole district for them. Fancying that barking was heard in one hole, willing helpers set to work digging, and after working a few hours and getting the hole fairly opened out, it was found that there was room for a man to creep in thirty or forty yards; but the hole was too narrow to proceed farther. The task was given up as hopeless, and whether the dogs were in the hole or not remains a mystery. On the following day, however, when out with hounds and again looking for them, a fox was found by the same hole very badly bitten, and nearly dead.

Back in the day, a terrier to brag about here was a dog that weighed 12 pounds and stood no more than 12 inches tall. Not many Border Terriers look like that today! Of course, as a direct consequence of that over-large size, there are not many Borders in the field today.

And why not? Simple: the Kennel Club theorists over-value the size of heads, and with too big a head comes too big a chest and a dog that can no longer get up to its quarry in a tight hole.

An inch or two extra in the chest may not seem like much, but in the field it makes a world of difference. A dog cannot excavate 20 feet of pipe, nor can it dig past root and rock. Sorry, but not all the world is made of soft earth!

On page 30 of Walter J. F. Gardner's excellent book About the Border Terrier he notes:

Borders in those earlier days were somewhat different from the current show version. The earlier Border, who was bred for work rather than exhibition, was certainly smaller than many borders we see winning today, who can reach 16-18" at the withers and weigh 20-24 pounds. Ivo Roister, for instance, Mr. T. Hamilton Adams' famous Border is recorded to have weighed 14.5 pounds and to stand 12.5 inches at the withers. Jacob Robson's Flint weighted 12 pounds.


Borders are getting too big and that's why, even though they are a Top Ten breed in the U.K., so very few are found in the field today.

The average show Border stands 14.3 inches tall, while the average true working terrier stands just 12.6 inches.

That 1.7 inch difference may not sound like much, but it is too often the difference between success and failure in the field. I myself would not want a dog as big as 12.6 inches tall, much preferring a dog that stands just 11-12 inches at the shoulder, with a chest of 13-14 inches at one year of age, knowing full well that by the time that same dog comes into its own as an experienced working dog at age 4 or 5, it will most likely have seen its ribs spring out another half inch to an inch.

As I noted in an earlier post entitled The Thin Portfolio of the Working Border Terrier:

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.

Is there hope for the Border? Maybe. But if a turnabout is going to occur, it will not come from the Kennel Club which has never made a working breed, but from the field, which is the true rootstock of every working dog. And in the field, it has been said, the judge never looks up the leash.



Retrieverman said...

The best way to save the Border is to allow it to be cross-bred with Patterdales, red fells, Plummers, and Jack Russells.

Those early dogs could pass for some Patterdales:

Retrieverman said...

Another Patterdale that looks like the old strain of Borders:

I remember reading somewhere on this blog that Patterdales and Borders are very close relatives.

dp said...

I went to a PRT show and seminar in Italy some years ago, organised by the UK club and attended internationally, including a well-known German woman, a breeder of long standing who has always worked their dogs. the logo of the club at the time was 14/14 which meant 14" height at withers and 14" chest circumference. The German woman said that was impossible. I own a bitch that is 32" (12 1/2")tall, weighs 6 kgs,(13.2lbs) and has a chest cicumference of 17". I also have a bigger bitch who can get down almost anything, as her chest is very compressible.

The photos of old working Borders were great! Have never seen them before. I don't think they have much drive anymore, compared to our Russells.

Gordon Roberts said...

I really enjoyed reading this article! I have just launched a book on Border Terrier care, here is the link