Friday, April 24, 2015

Terrier Work, Part 5 -- Classy People and Their Classy Dogs

Beginning in the 1860s, two phenomenon began to take hold in the UK, both of which were to have long-term ramifications for working terriers. 

The first was the rise of dog shows.
In 1800, there were only 15 designated breeds of dogs, but by 1865 that number had grown to more than 50 and was due to expand a great deal more.

The growth in breeds was partly due to the desire, during the Victorian era, to sort out the natural world. The kind of taxonomic classification that young Darwin had been doing with beetles and birds, others were now doing with fish, mammals, and every manner of domestic stock, including dogs.

In addition, the animal husbandry theories of Robert Bakewell and others had taken hold. Record keeping and the careful selection of sires produced variety and improvement at startling speeds.

With the development of new breeds of sheep, cattle, and chickens came livestock shows to display these wondrous new animals and market their services. A particularly spectacular tup (male sheep) might rent for 1,000 guineas a season, a bull 25 guineas per covered cow.

It was not all about meat, however. Stock shows became great social occasions, and were frequently sponsored by the aristocracy which, quite conveniently, also had the money to buy the best breeding stock for their own programs.

A problem developed, however. While Bakewell’s goal had been to breed better sheep and cattle for greater production and profit, stock show prizes were often awarded on the basis of size alone, regardless of the animal’s value as a meat or milk producer.

Show breeders defended this practice, noting that size alone could be judged honestly and easily in the ring. Feed-to-weight ratios could not be proven, nor could the quality of the meat, the amount of milk produced, or the number of eggs laid.

The size of an animal does not speak to the end product of steaks, milk and eggs, of course — a defect that became readily apparent when production was tracked on the farm. After a brief flurry of interest in the show ring, utility-minded farmers returned to longitudinal "pounds-and-pence" evaluation of animals.

For dogs, the deficiencies of show ring evaluation were not so obvious. Most dogs produced little more than excrement and amusement. For nonworking dogs, the social and economic value of ribbons remained unencumbered by any requirement that the dog produce a product of value or perform a specialized task.

Dogs were occasionally displayed and sold at farm shows in the 1830s and 40s, but the first dedicated dog show was held in Newcastle in 1859, the year Darwin’s Origins of Species was published.

In 1863 the first really big dog show — with more than 1,000 entries — was held in Chelsea, and that same year the first international dog show was held in London.

As noted earlier, this was a period of rapid "speciation" within the world of dogs. The rapid creation — or assertion — of new dog breeds created some confusion, especially when breeds were not yet distinct, or several breeds were lumped into one, or when true breeds were known by several different names.

In 1851, for example, the Yorkshire Terrier was also known as "the Broken-haired Scotch Terrier." It was not until 1870 that the Yorkshire Terrier was firmly designated as both a breed and a breed name. Before then litter mates were often shown in different breed categories — a situation that also occurred with the first prize-winning Jack Russell, which had previously been show as a prize-winning "white Lakeland."

In the manic days of early dog shows, such confusions were common. Some were intentional.

The "Old English Black and Tan Terrier," for example, was simply a ploy by English breeders attempting to appropriate Welsh Terriers (a show ring version of the Fell Terrier). The dog was "correctly" labeled after the Kennel Club intervened, but by then the "Black and Tan" had already been featured in a catalogue compiled by Vero Shaw.

A similar story can be told for the "English White Terrier," also featured by Shaw, which was nothing more that a smooth, white, foxing terrier crossbred with a lap dog.

The dog show world of the late Victorian era quickly outgrew and overwhelmed the much smaller, less flamboyant, world of the working terrier. Dog shows becoming social scenes, with middle class matrons insinuating themselves into Society by purchasing "purebred" puppies. As one Victorian periodical noted, "nobody now who is anybody can afford to be followed about by a mongrel dog."

It is hard to imagine what Reverend John Russell thought of all this.

When the first dog show was held in 1859, Russell was 64 years old. He was 78 when the Kennel Club was formed in 1873 — an old man who, due to poverty and age, had given up his beloved hounds for the last time two years earlier.

Though quite old, the Reverend was famous for his knowledge of hounds and terriers, and his ability, in former years, to ride 12 hours at a stretch. This was the Grand Old Man of Fox Hunting, and everyone knew he had been at it since the beginning.

With terriers front and center in the show ring world, it was a natural for the newly-forming Kennel Club to ask Russell if he would be a founding member. He agreed, no doubt flattered by a position of status, but also because it offered an opportunity to keep up with the dogs.

Russell was a judge at the Crystal Palace dog show in 1874 — one of the first large Kennel Club shows. He admired the look of the dogs, but alarm bells were apparently clanging in his head, for he somewhat humorously described his own dogs as "true terriers ... but differing from the present show dogs as the wild eglantine differs from a garden rose."

Russell never did allow his own terriers to be registered, noting that the qualities selected for in the show ring were of little use in the field.

No matter. The show ring was not interested in working dogs except as a theory untested by experience. The raison d’etre of dog shows was not dogs but people — people who, it turned out, were ready, willing and able to spend significant sums of money chasing ribbons.

By 1883 a magazine entitled The Fox Terrier Chronicle was being produced which covered the terrier elite the way other periodicals covered High Society. By 1886, Charles Cruft — a dog food salesman who never owned a dog himself — had taken over the Allied Terrier Show as a money-making vehicle.

The rapid differentiation between show dogs and working dogs, which the Reverend John Russell had already observed, became more pronounced as time went by. Increasing numbers of people bought terriers, bred terriers, wrote standards, or changed them. Points were given for the set of a dog’s tail, colorful markings on coats, the color of the eye, and even a dog’s "expression." By 1893 Rawdon Lee Briggs was writing in his book, "Modern Dogs," that:

"I have known a man act as a judge of fox terriers who had never bred one in his life, had never seen a fox in front of hounds, had never seen a terrier go to ground ... had not even seen a terrier chase a rabbit."

After almost half a century of formal shows, the author of a manual for dog owners noted that "the sportsman will as a rule have nothing to do with the fancier’s production."

The split between working terriers and show dog was virtually complete.

To order >> American Working Terriers 

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