|Art by Kevin Brockbank.|
In the past I have written about the pit bull folks that seem to pop up at the edge of American terrier work. These folks blow in, leave a stink, and typically blow out again a few years later.
To be fair, these folks seem to be a purely American phenomenon; I have not see their analog in Europe or Canada.
Who are these folks?
All are young men.
All appear to be wanna be dog dealers and wanna be tough guys.
Almost all seem to gravitate to the Patterdale Terrier -- the terrier equivalent of the straight pipe Harley Davidson. No, it's not a better bike (or a worse one), but it's a cultural flag that these folks imagine they might look good wearing.
I have to say I have never been impressed by the wanna be terrier tough guys, and I am frequently alarmed and saddened, by their presentation.
Here's the general taxonomy of their pitch -- a cultural caution for anyone new to terrier work who is casting about for their first dog. If you see any part of this combination, think twice before proceeding.
- Massive collars,
Working terriers are small dogs, but wanna be tough guys who wander over from the world of pit bulls think they need to suggest that their small dogs are packed with power. And why not? As far as they know and imagine, terrier work is just dog fighting underground, and never mind if that is completely untrue. And so wide, heavy duty collars are trotted out at the point-of canine sale. This is the pantomime puffery of the pit world, and it has nothing to do with working terriers. When I see a 14-pound terrier sporting a collar for a pit bull, a pigeon begins to take shape in its hole.
- Big chains and "yard" talk.
Lazy people in the pit bull world put massive chains on their dogs to suggest they are dangerous and powerful animals, and as a way of "conditioning" their dogs without ever getting off the couch. Spend hours, days, weeks and months training a dog and introducing him to quarry in forest, field, and fen? That's not how the pit dog dealers do business, so why is that needed for a working terrier? What's nose, experience, and voice have to do with it? Just put the dog on a heavy chain or toss him into a kennel for weeks, or even months at a time.
- Dirt-floored kennels
Nothing says scumbag dog dealer like water bowls filled with green water, dirt floored kennels, and cyclone fencing surrounding pickle-barrel dog houses and rotting plywood shelters. The wanna be dog dealer always has too many dogs for any of them to get the 2-3 years of solid field experience needed to be worthy of consideration for breeding. But the pit bull man is not really interested in hunting is he? No, this is macho man dog dealing, not field craft learned by man and dog in freezing cold, burning heat, and swarming bugs. Money and time spent on kennel construction and design has no obvious pay back. Why build for the ages when you may move on to something new in just a year or two?
- Macho names and trumpeted pedigrees.
The pit bull man brags that "Blasting Cap" is bred out of "champion" dog Nitro over "champion" bitch Psycho Killer, and never mind if those are names are completely meaningless; they sure sound tough. Surely they mean something? And if that kind of canine sales presentation works to sell pit fighting dogs to the young and the gullible, surely it will work for selling working terriers too? Right. Just don't ask to see those dogs out in the field under five feet of dirt!
- Slat Mills
If you're in a deep-snow state like Maine or Minnesota, there might be a place for a small slat or rug mill to exercise a working terrier when the snow is four feet deep and it's 10 below zero. Other than that, however, the presence of slat mills or rug mills suggests too many dogs and a probable background in pit fighting where such devices are used to condition much larger dogs. A working terrier can be conditioned with a tennis ball or a walk in the woods. After all, these are not dogs chasing rabbits for several miles over open country, nor are they "keeping up with the horses" as some fantasists imagine (as if any small dog could keep up with a horse). American terrier work is done on foot (or perhaps with a quad bike), and the human carrying the tools will be worn out from walking and digging long before the dog has seen adrenaline fall out of its system. But do the new-to-the-show tough guy Patterdale puppy peddlers know that? Not apparently.
A positive note: While some (not all) American Patterdale terrier peddlers make awful presentations based on ignorance and incompetence, the exact opposite seems to be true in northern Europe where the Swedes, Fins, Norwegians and Germans manage to work their dogs week in and week out without displaying venal cruelty or engaging in macho posturing. From what I can tell, these folks know how to handle quarry at the end of the dig, understand that a bloody dog is more often the red flag of inexperience than the red badge of courage, and that good breeding is about breeding worker to worker rather than macho name to macho name. Kennels are built for the ages, quarry is displayed with respect, and I have yet to see dog dealer puffery. Full applause. Some folks actually do it right!