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The Old Working Terrier

There can hardly have been a time since the period of the Norman
Conquest when the small earth dogs which we now call terriers were
not known in these islands and used by sporting men as assistants
in the chase, and by husbandmen for the killing of obnoxious vermin.
The two little dogs shown in the Bayeux tapestry running with the
hounds in advance of King Harold's hawking party were probably meant
for terriers. Dame Juliana Berners in the fifteenth century did not
neglect to include the Teroures in her catalogue of sporting dogs,
and a hundred years later Dr. Caius gave pointed recognition to their
value in unearthing the fox and drawing the badger.

Another sorte, there is, wrote the doctor's translator in 1576,
which hunteth the Fox and the Badger or Greye onely, whom we call
Terrars, because they (after the manner and custome of ferrets in
searching for Connyes) creep into the grounde, and by that meanes
make afrayde, nyppe and bite the Foxe and the Badger in such sorte
that eyther they teare them in pieces with theyr teeth, beying in
the bosome of the earth, or else hayle and pull them perforce out
of theyr lurking angles, darke dongeons, and close caues; or at the
least through cocened feare drive them out of theire hollow harbours,
in so much that they are compelled to prepare speedie flyte, and,
being desirous of the next (albeit not the safest) refuge, are
otherwise taken and intrapped with snayres and nettes layde over
holes to the same purpose. But these be the least in that kynde
called Sagax.

The colour, size, and shape of the original terriers are not indicated
by the early writers, and art supplies but vague and uncertain
evidence. Nicholas Cox, who wrote of sporting dogs in The Gentleman's
Recreation (1667), seems to suggest that the type of working terrier
was already fixed sufficiently to be divided into two kinds, the one
having shaggy coats and straight limbs, the other smooth coats and
short bent legs. Yet some years later another authority--Blome--in
the same publication was more guarded in his statements as to the
terrier type when he wrote: Everybody that is a fox hunter is of
opinion that he hath a good breed, and some will say that the terrier
is a peculiar species of itself. I will not say anything to the
affirmative or negative of the point.

Searching for evidence on the subject, one finds that perhaps the
earliest references to the colours of terriers were made by Daniel
in his Field Sports at the end of the eighteenth century, when he
described two sorts, the one rough, short-legged, and long-backed,
very strong, and most commonly of a black or yellowish colour, mixed
with white--evidently a hound-marked dog; and another smooth-coated
and beautifully formed, with a shorter body and more sprightly
appearance, generally of a reddish brown colour, or black with
tanned legs.

Gilpin's portrait of Colonel Thornton's celebrated Pitch, painted
in 1790, presents a terrier having a smooth white coat with a black
patch at the set-on of the undocked tail, and black markings on the
face and ears. The dog's head is badly drawn and small in proportion;
but the body and legs and colouring would hardly disgrace the
Totteridge Kennels of to-day. Fox-terriers of a noted strain were
depicted from life by Reinagle in The Sportsman's Cabinet, published
over a hundred years ago; and in the text accompanying the engraving
a minute account is given of the peculiarities and working capacities
of the terrier. We are told that there were two breeds: the one
wire-haired, larger, more powerful, and harder bitten; the other
smooth-haired and smaller, with more style. The wire-hairs were white
with spots, the smooths were black and tan, the tan apparently
predominating over the black. The same writer states that it was
customary to take out a brace of terriers with a pack of hounds, a
larger and a smaller one, the smaller dog being used in emergency
when the earth proved to be too narrow to admit his bigger companion.
It is well known that many of the old fox hunters have kept their
special breeds of terrier, and the Belvoir, the Grove, and Lord
Middleton's are among the packs to which particular terrier strains
have been attached.

That even a hundred years ago terriers were bred with care, and that
certain strains were held in especial value, is shown by the recorded
fact that a litter of seven puppies was sold for twenty-one guineas--a
good price even in these days--and that on one occasion so high a
sum as twenty guineas was paid for a full-grown dog. At that time
there was no definite and well-established breed recognised throughout
the islands by a specific name; the embracing title of Terrier
included all the varieties which have since been carefully
differentiated. But very many of the breeds existed in their
respective localities awaiting national recognition. Here and there
some squire or huntsman nurtured a particular strain and developed
a type which he kept pure, and at many a manor-house and farmstead
in Devonshire and Cumberland, on many a Highland estate and Irish
riverside where there were foxes to be hunted or otters to be killed,
terriers of definite strain were religiously cherished. Several of
these still survive, and are as respectable in descent and quite as
important historically as some of the favoured and fashionable
champions of our time. They do not perhaps possess the outward beauty
and distinction of type which would justify their being brought into
general notice, but as workers they retain all the fire and verve
that are required in dogs that are expected to encounter such vicious
vermin as the badger and the fox.

Some of the breeds of terriers seen nowadays in every dog show were
equally obscure and unknown a few years back. Thirty-seven years ago
the now popular Irish Terrier was practically unknown in England,
and the Scottish Terrier was only beginning to be recognised as a
distinct breed. The Welsh Terrier is quite a new introduction that
a dozen or so years ago was seldom seen outside the Principality;
and so recently as 1881 the Airedale was merely a local dog known
in Yorkshire as the Waterside or the Bingley Terrier. Yet the breeds
just mentioned are all of unimpeachable ancestry, and the circumstance
that they were formerly bred within limited neighbourhoods is in
itself an argument in favour of their purity. We have seen the process
of a sudden leap into recognition enacted during the past few years
in connection with the white terrier of the Western Highlands--a dog
which was familiarly known in Argyllshire centuries ago, yet which
has only lately emerged from the heathery hillsides around Poltalloch
to become an attraction on the benches at the Crystal Palace and on
the lawns of the Botanical Gardens; and the example suggests the
possibility that in another decade or so the neglected Sealyham
Terrier, the ignored terrier of the Borders, and the almost forgotten
Jack Russell strain, may have claimed a due recompense for their long

There are lovers of the hard-bitten working earth dogs who still
keep these strains inviolate, and who greatly prefer them to the
better-known terriers whose natural activities have been too often
atrophied by a system of artificial breeding to show points. Few of
these old unregistered breeds would attract the eye of the fancier
accustomed to judge a dog parading before him in the show ring. To
know their value and to appreciate their sterling good qualities,
one needs to watch them at work on badger or when they hit upon the
line of an otter. It is then that they display the alertness and the
dare-devil courage which have won for the English terriers their name
and fame.

An excellent working terrier was the white, rough-haired strain kept
by the Rev. John Russell in Devonshire and distributed among
privileged sportsmen about Somersetshire and Gloucestershire. The
working attributes of these energetic terriers have long been
understood, and the smart, plucky little dogs have been constantly
coveted by breeders all over the country, but they have never won
the popularity they deserve.

Those who have kept both varieties prefer the Russell to the Sealyham
Terrier, which is nevertheless an excellent worker. It is on record
that one of these, a bitch of only 9 lb. weight, fought and killed,
single-handed, a full-grown dog-fox. The Sealyham derives its breed
name from the seat of the Edwardes family, near Haverfordwest, in
Pembrokeshire, where the strain has been carefully preserved for well
over a century. It is a long-bodied, short-legged terrier, with a
hard, wiry coat, frequently whole white, but also white with black
or brown markings or brown with black. They may be as heavy as 17
lb., but 12 lb. is the average weight. Some years ago the breed seemed
to be on the down grade, requiring fresh blood from a well-chosen
outcross. One hears very little concerning them nowadays, but it
is certain that when in their prime they possessed all the grit,
determination, and endurance that are looked for in a good working

A wire-haired black and tan terrier was once common in Suffolk and
Norfolk, where it was much used for rabbiting, but it may now be
extinct, or, if not extinct, probably identified with the Welsh
Terrier, which it closely resembled in size and colouring. There was
also in Shropshire a well-known breed of wire-hair terriers, black
and tan, on very short legs, and weighing about 10 lb. or 12 lb.,
with long punishing heads and extraordinary working powers. So, too,
in Lancashire and Cheshire one used to meet with sandy-coloured
terriers of no very well authenticated strain, but closely resembling
the present breed of Irish Terrier; and Squire Thornton, at his place
near Pickering, in Yorkshire, had a breed of wire-hairs tan in colour
with a black stripe down the back. Then there is the Cowley strain,
kept by the Cowleys of Callipers, near King's Langley. These are white
wire-haired dogs marked like the Fox-terrier, and exceedingly game.
Possibly the Elterwater Terrier is no longer to be found, but some
few of them still existed a dozen years or so ago in the Lake
District, where they were used in conjunction with the West Cumberland
Otterhounds. They were not easily distinguishable from the
better-known Border Terriers of which there are still many strains,
ranging from Northumberland, where Mr. T. Robson, of Bellingham, has
kept them for many years, to Galloway and Ayrshire and the Lothians,
where their coats become longer and less crisp.

There are many more local varieties of the working terrier as, for
example, the Roseneath, which is often confused with the Poltalloch,
or White West Highlander, to whom it is possibly related. And the
Pittenweem, with which the Poltalloch Terriers are now being crossed;
while Mrs. Alastair Campbell, of Ardrishaig, has a pack of Cairn
Terriers which seem to represent the original type of the improved
Scottie. Considering the great number of strains that have been
preserved by sporting families and maintained in more or less purity
to type, it is easy to understand how a new breed may become
fashionable, and still claim the honour of long descent. They may
not in all cases have the beauty of shape which is desired on the
show bench; but it is well to remember that while our show terriers
have been bred to the highest perfection we still possess in Great
Britain a separate order of earth dogs that for pluckily following
the fox and the badger into their lairs or bolting an otter from his
holt cannot be excelled all the world over.

Next: The White English Terrier

Previous: The Dachshund

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