Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Decline in Terrier Coats

Christine W. writes:

Is a proper wire coat easy to lose with careless breeding? After looking at many pictures of old terriers from 50-100 years ago, it seems they've gotten much 'woollier' than they used to be. For instance, the old Wire Fox Terrier looked like it had a coat very similar to a JRT in it's earliest days, but now it seems much longer haired. Is it the result of breeding for 'beards' and other points other than a natural short, hard coat?

My reply:

Yes, you have it exactly.

A really hard coat that sheds water and briar is what you want on a terrier in cold country. A hard coat is somewhat brittle, and the hairs will naturally break off if they get too long. Dog show judges, who have no idea what is actually important in a working dog, generally judge on all the wrong things. Chest size alone is more important than everything else that can be judged in the ring, but one of the few important visible things you want in a working dog (other than chest size) is a decent coat. A long curly coat is a soft coat, and a soft coat cannot shed water, ice and dirt like a hard one. I much prefer a good smooth coat to a woolly coated dog.

The best coat on a working terrier, in my opinion, is what is called a "slape coat." Not sure of the origins of the word (apparently northern slang for 'slippery' and for slate roofed), but I have been using it for more than 25 years and everyone who works dogs in the UK knows what it means as well. It's a hard coat, and pretty short, and it lays down with hard guard hairs on the outside. You will see it on a good working Patterdale or Fell, and sometimes on a Jack Russell of the right sort. Border terriers often have terrific slape coats, but we are seeing those get ruined by the ring as well.

I put coat a distant second to chest size in importance when looking for a working terrier, but when you are out foxing and the temperature is 15 degrees and its 20 mile-per-hour winds, you want a coat that is hard, and which the wind and water and ice cannot blow through. A linty coat or a long and woolly coat will generally not do. A working terrier has no "furnishings" at all. In fact, if you ask a working terrierman about his furnishings, he will show you his couch!



Marie said...

Probably one of the main reasons wire fox terriers have such lousy coats is that they separated the two coat types into separate breeds. You need good smooth coated dogs to help improve and maintain just the type of coat you speak of.

Marie said...

When they separated the smooth coat fox terriers into a separate breed, they were on the way to unmanageable and useless wire coats on the hairy terriers.

You need to keep smooths around to keep the wire/rough coats manageable and help maintain coarseness. By eliminating smooth coats to breed to they also eliminated any way to help "fix" a bad wire coat.

Even in the JRT world, smooths are not as plentiful as the rough/brokens but they play an important part in maintaining a good working coat on this working breed.

I agree about the furnishings, I don't care for the exaggerated furnishing they have put on many terrier breeds, making them look almost freakish.

Seahorse said...

When we first got JRTs, over 30 years ago, smooths were the rule, with what we called broken-coats and roughs a distant second and third. I'm not always sure what people are referring to in their coat terminology anymore. It was also MUCH harder to find long-legged JRTs like ours were, though they were not extremely tall as some are now. My experience was our smooth-coated male always looked clean, and the girls, who had broken-to-rough coats depending on who was doing the talking, always looked messier after the day on the farm was over. The girls also picked up snowballs on their coats, which our boy never did. Having said all that, he suffered more in the cold than they did, but I can't say whether that was an individual thing with him or whether his coat simply didn't feel as warm. I'm not a huge fan of the most woolly of terriers, but I do like a cute bristle face among the smoothies.


J.Deans said...

Funny, I was just thinking about this yesterday as I got a book of old dog photos for Christmas (wish more of the pictures were dated), many of which contained smooth coated JRT types, and to be honest, it seems hard to come by a good smooth dog now-a-days. I see many more brokens and roughs than smooths.
My new boy, a medium broken coat, to me, has a little too much hair that is a little too long for my liking. Granted it's a good coat, not fluffy by far, it's coarse, tight enough, and doesn't do too much damage in the shedding department, but I have a preference for smooths and light brokens.
This boy's sire was a smooth, mother was a rough, and I am a firm believer that smooths need to be infused in order for the coats not to "get away" from breeders.
I'm definitely not a fan of the roughs, it's just too much hair, and seems to me that they would "pick up" much more "carry-ons" in the working field and hell, even on hikes like I do, than a smooth or light broken coat.
I don't see the advantage to more and more hair. And even though this boy is broken, it is a longer coat, and he has a tendency to pick up more travelers and burs than my smooth dogs. They do not pick up anything at all.
But at least the JRT breeders seem to get it right most of the time, add smooths to decrease coat, and worry about other things rather than fancy furnishings when evaluating a dog.
I very much dislike the coats of all the show terriers. Way too fluffy and high maintenance.

Pai said...

So in other words... the breed clubs that split the Smooth and Wire types into separate breeds were made up of people who were completely ignorant of how proper wire coats are bred and maintained. That's... really kind of pathetic.

Though I have to say, I'm not that surprised, that kind of mind-boggling ignorance seems to be rampant in a lot of breeds.

√Čadaoin said...

Funny that people should have written here that smooths are outnumbered in JRTs. Where I am the rough or broken coats in JRTs are outnumbered by smooths by about 30 to 1. You very very rarely see anything but your lemon-and-white smooth coated Jack.

jeffrey thurston said...

Walking my JRT boys the other day I saw a Wirehaired Fox Terrier. I talked to the owner for a minute and said- "Your dog started out looking like this a long time ago!" I pointed to my scruffy looking long-legged 14" JRT with his broken/rough coat. He looks exactly like the right hand dog in your illustration. Anyway- I patted the purebred 17" Wirehaired Fox Terrier and was surprised to find that his fur was soft and slightly curly- nothing like the hard coat of my dog. If my dog's hair were made of nylon the same diameter it would feel the same- hard and almost artificial- people are always surprised when they pet him. He has those coveted "furnishings" by chance but he is the definition of "scruffy"- he doesn't look at all elegant like the Fox Terrier. It was fun to compare how different the AKC breed has become from the original.

Shannon (de Waal) Hayden said...

Smooth coated JRTs certainly outnumber the roughs in my area by a large number. Most people around here are used to lemon or tri-color smooths and don't recognize my black and white rough JRT for what he is, they always ask if he's a mix (trust me, he's not!).