Friday, April 11, 2014

Looking for Mr. (or Mrs.) Good Dog

The late Vicki Hearne's advice was to replace a deceased dog as soon as possible

Apparently, that's the way forward.
"Another dog.

Same breed.

As soon as possible."

Sounds right, but I can barely breathe under the weight of the idea.

Since I do not hang out on Internet chat boards and I do not attend dog shows, I am not sure what is out there on the ground or in the wind in the world of working terriers. I did not expect to be in need of a dog!

My only inflexible requirement is small. Either gender is fine, adult is better than fine (but I am not averse to a puppy if it is out of small workers). I prefer a smooth or lightly broken dog with some body color.

I am not looking for a free dog – I have money. I am looking for a small one that will work and that looks good and amuses me (I have come to believe that life is too short for an ugly dog).

The dog will have the run of my very fenced yard (there are no kennels here), tons of field time, and it will sleep in the house. Above all, it will have a lot of love and attention from someone who absolutely lives for the dogs. And did I mention it will hunt? A lot? 

First stop is a JRTCA show up the road in Fredericksburg, Virginia this weekend.  Ironically, I was just up there last weekend.

I was not expecting to start my search this early, but JRTCA shows are few and far between, so things must be taken at the flood, whether the vessel is ready for the voyage or not.

As I write this, and as I brace myself for this search, I am reminded of my search for the dog that eventually became Sailor.

I say eventually became Sailor, because great dogs are only partly born.

All are at least partly made.

Think about it.

How many terriers with great genetic codes have been born but have never been given the chance to work? Most of them, I would venture!

People talk endlessly about breeding, pedigrees and conformation, but statistics being what they are, the best that any of us can really hope for is to get a dog that is a bit better than average and which has not been damaged by early entering, and which does not have that peculiar gene for fear.

Is that good enough in the world of working terriers?

Yes, provided the dog is given enough experience.

Now, to be clear, you cannot make a knife out of butter.

That said, if given the right bit of scrap metal out of the shed -- an old leaf spring, a lawn mower blade, a flat file, a railroad spike -- you can make a good knife capable of slaying a dragon... provided you also know how to make a soup can forge and posses a ball peen hammer and a little bit of skill to boot.

And so it is with a terrier.  

Put decent working terrier genetic stock into the forge of experience, and if you do not screw it up (Go slow, go slow!) a very useful thing can be had in the end.

But there is one thing you cannot fix.

You cannot fix a dog that is too big.

No matter what anyone says, the fire called desire is not enough.

A dog cannot excavate past a large stone or a thick root, nor can it dig through 10 feet of a hard earth to get to the other end of the pipe.

As Peter Beckford noted in 1781 -- long before John Russell had mounted his first horse or found his first terrier:
Your country requires a good terrier. I should prefer the black or white terrier: some there are so like a fox, that awkward people frequently mistake one for the other.

If you like terriers to run with your pack, large ones, at times, are useful ; but in an earth they do little good, as they cannot always get up to a fox.

Nothing changes.
The fox of 1781 is not smaller than the fox of 2014, and the red fox that is found in the U.K. is the same animal as that found here in Maryland and Virginia. Can groundhogs be smaller around than fox? Without a doubt, especially this time of year when they have lost as much as 20 percent of their weight hibernating over the winter. But that speaks of the need for a smaller dog, not a larger one. Too large is always the problem.

A long time ago, back when rocks were soft, and I kept better track of people than I do now, I put together a table of 391 American working terriers and the quarry they had worked. As I note at the larger table:

  • Over 220 dogs in this table have worked three or more kinds of quarry. 
  • Over 90 dogs have worked red fox. Average size of dogs that have worked red fox when height of dog is known: 12.18 inches. 
  • 11 dogs have worked grey fox. Average size of dogs that have worked grey fox when height of dog is known: 11 inches. 
  • Over 175 dogs have worked raccoon. Average size of dogs that have worked raccoon when height of dog is known: 12.17 inches. 
  • Over 120 dogs have worked opossum. Average size of dogs that have worked opossum when height of dog is known: 12.22 inches. 
  • Over 250 dogs have worked groundhog. Average size of dogs that have worked groundhog when height of dog is known: 12.28 inches
The bottom line is that I want a dog that is as close to 11 inches as possible, with a chest as close to 13 inches as possible.  Will I find it?  There is no rush here. I will wait and search until I find a suitable candidate. With Mountain getting on in age, this next dog matters a lot, as Mountain's replacement, when that time comes, could come from this line. In the interim, I will hunt Mountain Girl alone, as she will love the attention and the chance to prove herself (again) at every hole.


Jenny Glen said...

I think it's different for everyone. Some people need to wait, I personally always want something to replace the last dog so that I move on and don't dwell on the hurt. Is Gideon's breeder not an option? She obviously bred the type of terrier you liked.

PBurns said...

Very small working dogs are fairly rare -- it's not like labs or setters where there are a lot of large, medium, and even small dogs that can do the job.

Some folks are happy with a 13" terrier, as they do not hunt as much, or else they are in a country or geography where holes are bigger or the ground is much softer. We have hard ground and tight holes here, and the more you hunt this land, the smaller you want your dog to be.

Gideon came from Briar Run in Missouri and it's got really great dogs and is a very good breeder of working terriers. Check them out at >> Full applause from me! But, as I said, a really small terrier is pretty rare and the best of them tend to be kept. When they do turn up and are available, they sometimes have so little bone and muscle that it's best to give them a pass -- more Italian Greyhound than Jack Russell, if you know what mean.

Gideon came to me age 2.8 years and though he had done a small bit in the field, he needed to get outside the kennel and run and work. He was not for sale, but came to me from Dawn who knew I would hunt the hell out of him, which I did. She thought she was giving me the dog for free, but I paid to THANK HER for doing right by the dog. Doing right by the dog. There's a lot of freight in those words, and Dawn carries it. Full applause. But does she or anyone else have a little 11" terrier sitting around needing a home? Not often, and so we hunt. Not a problem. I am a hunter at heart :)