American Working Terriers
Chapter One from
by Patrick Burns
A Quick Sweep of European Terrier History
The development of the terrier, and the various debates about terriers that occur today, cannot be understood without an understanding of how terrier work is connected to the history of the British countryside, especially the Enclosure Movement.
Enter the Dog
"It is always best to start at the beginning."
In theory, if you are talking about dogs, this means you are supposed to talk about how dogs evolved from wolves.
I won’t belabor the point except to say that, while true, the statement is a bit overstated. A dog is not a wolf. A dog is a dog.
This is not to say that wolves and dogs are not evolutionarily related — this is an absolute fact. Dogs descended from wolves, probably through some form of long-lasting proto-wolf phase.
That said, the differences between dogs and wolves are not small, but enormous, governing the most elemental issues of existence, from reproduction to communication.
A wolf, for example, goes into estrus only once a year, generally in February or March. A dog normally goes into estrus twice a year, and this can occur in any season. A male dog lifts its leg to pee, while a female dog squats to pee.
In wolf packs, only the top male and top female raise their legs to pee — all subordinate animals squat to pee.
Dogs bark — it is their primary vocalization and maddeningly common, especially early in the morning when you are trying to sleep. Adult wolves bark so rarely it is almost never heard in the wild.
Wolves and coyotes howl, and do so very frequently — generally in the early evening just after waking up and before going off to hunt. Dogs almost never howl except under very special conditions and in response to sustained noises that rise and fall — like the wail of fire engines. You may have 15 dogs in your yard, but they will not howl every morning as a coyote or wolf will.
The fact that dogs, wolves and coyotes CAN interbreed does not mean they actually do except under the rarest of circumstances.
Dogs and wolves operate on completely different wavelengths, and only in the most extreme kinds of "prison romance" situations do these two animals leap the species barrier, generally only in captivity or in very rare instances when a vanguard of a species (a lone coyote or wolf in a very large area devoid of all other wolves and coyotes) finds it impossible to mate with its own kind.
In short, wolves and dogs have drifted so apart from each other that key signals related to sex, communication and hierarchy are no longer shared.
A dog is not a wolf.
Scientists are divided as to when the wolf split off from the proto-wolf, and when the proto-wolf became a dog.
What seems clear is that the lives of dogs and humans have been intertwined for many thousands of years. During most of this time humans exerted little or no control over breeding, and evolution appears to have worked its invisible hand to produce a fairly common, smallish, coyote-looking dog.
This "pie dog" or pariah dog can be seen prowling the edges of dumps the world over, looking not too different from the dingo or "Carolina Dog" favored by our Neolithic ancestors.
Genetic researchers tracking mitochondria DNA have shown that most of the dog breeds seen in Kennel Club show rings today are of very recent origin.
The supposedly "ancient" Ibiza hound and Pharaoh hound, for example, turn out to have been made up within the last 100 years or so — bred to look like the drawings and sculptures of sleek, slender-necked canines found on Pharaonic tombs at the time of Carter. The Norwegian elkhound, a breed supposedly dating back to Viking dogs, was created within the past few hundred years.
And so it is with nearly every breed of dog, with very rare exception.
The terrier, it should be said, is not one of those exceptions.
No terrier breed is more than a few hundred years old, and most were created within the last 150 years.
First Movements From France
The origins of the first terrier are shrouded in mystery, but probably originate with the Romans who brought rabbits to Great Britain around the year 1000. Excavations near Hadrian’s wall have uncovered two types of dogs, one resembling a greyhound, and the other with a long and low body similar to that of a dachshund.
The first detailed record of earth work, as we know it today, was recounted in 1560 by a Frenchman by the name of Count Jacques du Fouilloux. Fouilloux wrote a fairly detailed book entitled La Vernarie (The Art of Hunting), in which he describes hunting fox and badger with tools remarkably similar to those used by terriermen today.
Fouilloux describes the dogs as being "bassets," and indeed the illustrations do show dogs that look like small long-bodied hounds — possible antecedents to today’s dachshund which, in German, means "badger dog".
George Turberville, an Englishman, translated Fouilloux’s book and put it out as his own work, replacing "basset" with the word "terrier," even though Fouilloux’s pictures (also copied) bore not the slightest resemblance to the terriers we know today.
In fact, the terriers of Turberville’s time may have looked more like dachshunds than our modern dogs. There is no question that the oldest terrier breed in the U.K. — the Dandie Dinmont — clearly resembles a dachshund in appearance.
At this point mounted hunts for deer and fox did not yet exist in Britain. Instead Medieval Britons engaged in driven hunts inside deer parks edged by massive earthwork moats and mounds topped by wooden fences. Deer were driven by dogs into funnel-shaped wattle fences constructed within the parks, and deer (and the occasional fox or feral dog) were then shot by archers perched on tree platforms as they exited the funnel narrows.
Fourteenth Century England had over 3,000 deer parks occupying more than 650,000 acres of land, but these deer parks fell into disrepair during the late Medieval times as the feudal system collapsed under the mortality and economic disruption caused by the Black Plague.
Formal deer parks were eventually replaced by a new type of hunting imported from France — coursing with horse and hound — and some of the vernacular of today’s mounted hunts betray the French origins of the sport. "Tally Ho," for example, derives from the French "Il est haute" ("it is up there").
Coursing was initially limited to stag, but by the beginning of the 1600s, fox hunting had begun.
The first formal mounted fox hunt in the U.K. was probably the Bilsdale in the Yorkshire Dales, started in the early 1600s. Over the course of the next 150 years fox hunting slowly gained in popularity, but stag hunting still dominated right through to the start of the 19th Century.
Malthus, Darwin, and the Enclosure Movement
The great Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was the first person to write about fox-hunting as a social phenomenon. He was also the first person to talk about terrier work as part of the mounted hunts in Great Britain.
It should be said that, to this day, terrier work is divided between those who pursue fox with horse and hounds, and those who pursue fox on foot with terrier and spade.
Fouilloux, writing in 1560, was of the latter school. Though he wrote of a well-to-do landlord going out into the countryside with a cart of tools, a team of diggers, and a young maiden to stroke his brow, his terrier work had nothing to do with packs of hounds and a field of well-dressed riders.
In Guy Mannering, we find the other kind of fox hunting. Here Scott is writing about High Society and fox hunting as social event. The juxtaposition between "the haves" and the "have nots" is a core part of the story.
It is not an accident that the first substantive mention of fox hunting in English literature was written in 1815 and set in the 1760s. This period of time coincides with the great expansion of the Enclosure Movement which was to sweep through the United Kingdom and transform every facet of the British countryside.
It is impossible to overstate the economic violence of the Enclosure Movement which has been described as "a revolution of the rich against the poor."
In England some 6 million acres, or one-quarter of the cultivated acreage, was enclosed by direct act of Parliament. Another 4 to 7 million acres are estimated to have been enclosed privately. Most of the large woods were cut down and the land was hemmed in by stone walls and thick hedges — not only to keep sheep in, but also to keep peasants and their livestock out.
Every part of the United Kingdom was effected by this "rich man’s land grab". Poor peasants poured into towns and cities, most without jobs, skills, money, or entertainment.
One of the Great Questions facing the well-fed and well-bred in Great Britain at this time was what to do with the now inconvenient riffraff that were jungling up in cities and towns. This seething population seemed to breathe resentment and insurrection. At the very least they were discomforting and depressing.
In 1798, the Reverend Thomas Malthus published his tract on human population growth, which was written as a defense of the Enclosure Movement.
Malthus argued that the poor were morally incapable of abstaining from sex and that all other forms of birth control were clearly a Sin. The dilemma was what to do with the growing (and inevitable) number of poor which threatened Britain’s social fabric. Malthus argued that rather than help the poor, society should push them towards the grave so that the lives of the rich (and presumably moral and abstentious) could be better enjoyed and poor taxes reduced:[moral, rich and abstinent] marry at the age of puberty and yet few be absolutely starved."
"Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases: and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders. If by these and similar means the annual mortality were increased ... we might probably every one of us
In fact, increasing the level of misery was very much on the menu in early 19th Century England.
With the Enclosure Movement, came restrictions on hunting on lands that had once been part of the Commons.
The Game Laws of 1816, for example, limited the hunting of small game — such as pheasant, partridge, hares and rabbits — to landowners. The penalty for poaching was "transportation" overseas for seven years. If convicted a second time you were never to be allowed to return.
The Poor Law Amendments Act of 1834 started the work house system later made famous by Charles Dickens. Across England hundreds of thousands of people died premature deaths from diseases that flourished in the squalor of cities where sewage, water and trash systems were incapable of keeping up with rural-to-urban migration pressures.
Brown rats, which first arrived in England around 1720, found the cities of England a delightfully accommodating place, and they soon drove out the Black Rat, thereby ending the Black Plague carried by the black rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis).
Brown rats had another use. At harvest time rural threshers often kept terriers to kill rats that buried themselves in wheat and oats waiting to be separated. "Threshing parties," held at harvest time, often pitted several local terriers against the scores of rats seething through a now-greatly reduced pile of straw and grain.
A variant of this sport was recreated in the cities, with terriers competing to see who could most rapidly kill their weight in rats. Thus were born the Victorian rat pits, a kind of reduced version of the arena animal-baiting made famous by the Romans and still evident in the bull rings of Spain today.
Out in the countryside livestock of both sexes were still kept together in the fields and allowed to breed at random, but that was about to change. A farmer by the name of Robert Bakewell realized that simply by separating males from females — made easy by the rising number of enclosed fields — a farmer could choose which stock was allowed to breed. By deliberately inbreeding livestock, and selecting for desirable traits, Bakewell rapidly created new and "improved" breeds of sheep and transformed modern agriculture forever.
Bakewell’s experiments with sheep quickly spilled over into other farm stock, such as cattle, pigs, and chickens, and eventually into pet stock such as dogs and pigeons.
One of the people who noticed the rapid transformation of British livestock was naturalist Erasmus Darwin who devoted an entire chapter in Zoonomia to the rapid changes he observed being made to British farm animals.
For his part, Erasmus’ son, Charles Darwin, was so besotted with country sport that his father despaired he would ever amount to much of anything.
"You care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and your family," Erasmus wrote to Charles.
In fact Charles Darwin turned out all right.
After washing out of medical school and the seminary, and then letting a romantic relationship drift away (due to his being more infatuated with beetles than women), young Charles signed on as naturalist aboard the Beagle, a survey boat on a voyage around the world.
Darwin returned to Britain in 1836, but it was not until 1859 that he wrote The Origin of Species, and then only after reading Reverend Thomas Malthus’s work on the role of "natural" limits to population growth.
Darwin’s ruminations about evolution were greatly influenced by the amazing varieties of livestock being produced by farmers and fanciers in the U.K. at this time. He was especially fascinated by pigeon breeders who were able to rapidly express all kinds of peculiar variation from the common rock dove — rollers, pouters, fantails, barbs, tumblers, and carriers, to name a few.
It was not much of a leap to speculate that the forced selection being done by pigeon breeders might have a parallel in "natural selection" among finches on a remote volcanic island in the Pacific.
Thus was borne the Theory of Evolution.
Jack Russell and the First Working Dogs
It might seem that I have strayed rather far afield in the previous section. What, in God’s name, does the Enclosure Movement, Malthus and Darwin have to do with the rise of working terriers?
Actually, quite a lot.
Mounted fox hunting requires relatively large amounts of open land in the hands of a relatively few number of people.
Squatters and inholders made hunting on common land difficult prior to the Enclosure Movement. Once people had been moved off the land and replaced with sheep and cattle, however, the only real obstacle to the mounted hunts were the stone fences and hedgerows keeping the sheep and cattle in — obstacles that provided excellent sport for competent riders.
Britain’s sheep economy proved less stable than hoped, however. Several busts in the wool business (brought on by cheap imports of wool and cotton from the continent, Australia, and the U.S.) forced marginal sheep ventures to look for other sources of income.
Rapid improvements in shotguns, combined with relatively easy escape from the city by train, created a new form of leisure sport — the driven bird shoot in which partridge and pheasants were raised in large mesh pens and released "into the wild" a few days prior to the arrival of "the guns".
After the birds acclimated themselves for a few days or weeks, beaters and dogs joined the guns in a long line, flushing birds out of cover. Hundreds of birds — at a set price per bird — were shot over the course of a few hours time.
Both the mounted fox hunts and the organized bird shoots required a certain number of working terriers, but for slightly different reasons.
The mounted hunts employed terriermen to find and "earthstop" fox and badger dens so that fox were forced to run long distances when raised by the hounds. If a fox did manage to go to ground, a terrierman was called to bolt the fox from the earth for another chase, or to dig down for dispatch. In some cases, an animal was bagged in order to replenish fox extirpated from other hunt lands.
Terriers were also used to protect pheasants and partridges being raised in netted enclosures for the shoots.
For game keepers, the primary tools for fox eradication were poison and leghold traps (gins), which were fast, efficient and cheap. Secondary tools were low-cost snares, long dogs (lurchers) and long guns used over bait at night. These last methods are still used today in the U.K.
Fox eradication with terrier and spade, while far and away the most humane form of fox control, is slow and inefficient. In addition, because fox rarely lay up in warm weather unless driven to ground by pursuing hounds, terrier work offers a frustratingly short season for a gamekeeper to eradicate fox over a large shooting estate. Gun, snare, traps and poison, however, can be used all year long.
In the early 1800s, the era of bird shoots had not yet begun. Though mounted fox hunting had been spreading across Great Britain for nearly 200 years, the practice was not yet ubiquitous in the British countryside. Terriers used by farmers and mounted hunts alike remained a catch-as-catch can affair.
That was about to change.
At about the time Walter Scott was writing Guy Mannering, a young man by the name of John Russell was attending Exeter College, Oxford.
Looking out the window one day he spied a bitch terrier tied to a passing milkman’s cart. Something about the dog struck Russell’s fancy and he bought the dog based on looks alone. The year is variously given as 1815 or 1819.
When Russell bought the dog he could not have known whether the dog would work but, lucky for him, it did. Russell later claimed this bitch, named Trump, was the model for all the terriers that were to follow.
Russell’s story, and the story of Trump, are subject to more myth than fact (see the Appendix for a chronology of Russell’s life). For the moment, it is enough to say that Russell was one of the very first, and certainly one of the most dedicated and longest-riding, fox hunters of the 19th Century.
Though Russell seems to have bought and sold a great number of dogs, he apparently kept a vision of Trump in his mind’s eye — a small, white, wiry-coated terrier with a fierce voice and a strong desire to pursue fox to ground.
It should be remembered that this was an era of free-range poultry. Fox were seen as a threat to sustenance and treated accordingly by farmers. It did not take much effort — or expense — to bait rabbit entrails and chicken heads with strychnine, or set a few foothold traps around a chicken coop, rabbit hutch, or pheasant pen.
In the early 19th Century and through the Victorian Era, traps and poison were so brutally efficient and common that the Reverend Russell spent much of his early years trying to get people to stop killing fox so their populations would increase and he could find a little sport.
Russell was not alone in this endeavor.
In fact, fox protection was so deeply entrenched in the culture of the mounted hunts of the 19th Century that the concept made its way into the English language. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "vulpicide" as "One that kills a fox other than by hunting it with hounds."
The crime of vulpicide was seen as a crime against the aristocracy. God forbid that individual farmers, for the sole purpose of putting food on the table, threaten the weekend pastime of hundreds of wealthy aristocrats!
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.
The Rise of Animal Rights Rhetoric
At the same time that dog shows were roaring into fashion in Victorian England, another movement was beginning to take hold. This movement began with a push to improve the plight of farm stock and cart horses, but was quickly overtaken by those eager to push past the concerns of basic animal welfare in order to strike a blow at the less educated masses coming into cities and towns.
From the beginning the animal rights movement blurred the line between animal welfare and class warfare. Sensible concerns about the plight of animals kept by the poor were mixed with disdain for the rural poor themselves.
As the Chairman of the SPCA noted in 1824, the objective of the Society was not only "to prevent the exercise of cruelty towards animals, but to spread amongst the lower orders of the people ... a degree of moral feeling which would compel them to think and act like those of a superior class."
The first animal welfare law in Great Britain was passed in 1822 and was designed to "prevent the cruel and improper treatment of Cattle." This law — the Martins Act — was interpreted broadly to include all farm animals, but not bulls or pets.
In 1824 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) had its first meeting in a London tavern, with the goal of expanding the 1822 Act to encompass nonfarm animals such as racing and hunting horses, draft horses, and cart dogs. The Society also sought to end dog fighting and the fighting of exotic animals such as monkeys.
Despite having a focused agenda, the Society failed to move legislation for the first 10 years of its existence. In 1835, however, they managed to get a ban on bull baiting, badger baiting and cock fighting through Parliament. The same law also outlawed the rat pits.
In 1839 dog carts were banned in London — a major blow to the economic livelihood of small street vendors.
In 1840, Queen Victoria — a fanatical dog collector — associated herself with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and allowed Royal to be attached to its name. The Royal imprint attracted social and political cache to the SPCA, and strengthened its funding base as well.
From the beginning, the SPCA chose its political battles carefully, going after the sport, entertainment and livelihood of those with little political power. The SPCA (now RSPCA) was careful not to go after the field sports of the wealthy and middle class. Coursing deer, hare and rabbit was given a pass. It was not seen as the least bit ironic for an RSPCA supporter to be seen fox hunting. Angling and bird shooting did not raise an eyebrow. The goal, after all, was not to save wildlife or end hunting per se, but to change the base morality of the poor who were "undisciplined" and of "low breeding".
A moral and disciplined child might hunt animals, but he did not bait them.
A rich man might spur a horse or whip it with a riding crop, but he did not hit a dust cart horse with a stick.
A quality person might own a dog, but it would not be a crossbred mongrel, but an animal with an established pedigree.
And so it went.
At the top of the RSPCA this kind of highbrow reasoning was focused on the bottom line. The RSPCA needed the support of wealthy patrons to underwrite their literature and campaigns. Only a fool would bite the sporting hand that fed it.
Organizers at the RSPCA were quick to realize that the people who attended dog shows had good educations, nice clothes and steady incomes. These were "the right sort of people" who not only cared about animals, but also understood the importance of social rank, moral discipline and Old Money.
In fact, the dog show world attracted the very kind of social climbers that the RSPCA encouraged — people who were trying to emulate the aristocracy. When people attended dog shows, they wore their finest clothes and talked about the value of Good Breeding. Could anything be more perfect?
Dog show attendees and RSPCA supporters often seemed more focused on the plight of turnspit dogs and cart horses than on the plight of scullery workers and drovers’ children. One was a defenseless animal, after all, the other the progeny of illiteracy and an implied moral weakness.
Show ring terrier owners might brag that their dog or breed was descended from "certified fox killers," but in fact they did not really understand or feel comfortable around shepherds or the rough men who did pest control in the countryside.
This kind of social stratification was a natural element of the aristocracy and the rapidly growing middle class. Gamekeepers and terriermen were required, of course, but they were not the sort of people you had over for dinner, were they?
In the end, the goals of the Kennel Club and the RSPCA were essentially the same — to improve rough stock by setting new standards. For one, the rough stock included dogs. For both, it included men.
Early Organized Terrier Work
As the 19th Century closed, more terrier breeds were added to the Kennel Club roster.
The Bedlington Terrier, the Fox Terrier and the Dandie Dinmont had been recognized by the Kennel Club since 1873. The Yorkshire Terrier was designated a breed by the Kennel Club in 1886 (formerly it was a type of Scotch Terrier), as was the Welsh Terrier.
The West Highland White Terrier was recognized by the Kennel Club in 1907, the Sealyham Terrier in 1910, the Cairn Terrier in 1912. In 1920 the Border Terrier was accepted at Kennel Club shows, the same year as the Kerry Blue. The Lakeland was embraced in 1931, the Norwich in 1932. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier joined the growing rank of Kennel Club terriers in 1935, the Bull Terrier in 1939.
In 1902, Arthur Heinemann, a young journalist born in America and of Jewish extraction, found the Devon and Summerset Badger Club. Heinemann claimed his dogs were directly descended from John Russell’s kennel, but there is considerable reason to doubt the assertion.
Heinemann was born in 1871, the year Russell gave up his hounds for the last time, and he was just 12 when Russell died. At the time of his death, Russell had just four ancient terriers left — "Rags", "Sly", "Fuss" and "Tinker".
No matter. The dogs Heinemann did acquire seem to have served him well. He worked his terriers almost exclusively to badger, bred those that worked well, and sold many terriers in the U.K. as well as overseas. In time, the badger digging club he founded would become the Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain.
In 1931 Sir Jocelyn Lucas published Hunt and Working Terriers. Lucas’ book provided a global snapshot of terrier work, from England to the U.S., and from India to South Africa. The main focus was on terriers used by the mounted hunts. More than 100 hunts in the U.K. were surveyed about the types of dog they preferred, and the kinds of earths they encountered. Useful advice on the construction of artificial earths was given, as well as a review of basic tools and techniques.
Lucas was a bit of a showman, and often hunted his own pack of Sealyham Terriers with a full retinue of onlookers in tow — many in their finest "just to be seen" sporting clothes. Advertisements and articles claimed his Sealyhams were "the only working Sealyham Terrier pack in Britain" — an honest brag, but also a caution. If Sealyhams were such great working dogs, where were the others?
Like Heinemann, Lucas was a dog breeder, but unlike Heinemann he participated in Kennel Club shows where he tried to promote the Sealyham as both a worker and a show dog.
It was a noble effort, but it was a doomed endeavor, and in the end, Lucas and his kennel partner, Mrs. Enid Plummer, found it almost impossible to carry on their own kennel in the face of show-ring demands for ever-larger Sealyham Terriers with elongated faces and softer coats.
Today the small compact Sealyham Terrier of Lucas’s day is essentially extinct — as are whatever working antecedents might once have existed for other Kennel Club terrier breeds. The names may live on, but something is surely missing, for none are commonly found in the hunt field today.
The principle problem Lucas encountered with the Sealyham was chest size — a problem that stalked the Fox Terrier and the Border Terrier as well. Lucas tried to get around it by crossing a small working Sealyham with a Norfolk Terrier. He called the result a "Lucas Terrier" but the new breed never caught on.
The central question remained: Why did working terrier breeds get too big in the chest after being enlisted on to Kennel Club roles?
The answer is to be found in an inherent defect of the show ring, and a basic understanding of canine anatomy.
As noted earlier, when cattle, sheep and chickens were judged in the show ring, there was no way to determine the veracity of production claims as they related to the quality or quantity of beef, milk or eggs produced.
Unable to judge the veracity of production claims, livestock judges tended to award ribbons and trophies based on size and appearance alone.
A variation of the problem occurred when terriers were evaluated in the ring.
The essential elements of a working terrier are small chest size, strong prey-drive, a loud voice, a sensitive nose, and a clever kind of problem-solving intelligence. Aside from size, none of these attributes can be judged at ringside.
In a judging field of 20 or 30 dogs, a selection filter of size alone does not provide the gradients required to articulate a reason for choosing a single dog or bitch as a winner. The breed club solution has been to generate pages of cosmetic criteria which effectively devalue the only important attribute of working terriers that can be judged in the ring — a small chest.
Head size and shape were deemed to be very important and assigned the greatest number of points. It was the head shape, after all, that gave each breed its distinctive look. It was the head that faced the quarry in the hole. Surely the shape of the head was important?
In fact, when it comes to working terriers, head shape is only important to the extent it leaves space for brains, produces a jaw strong enough to grip, and allows for unobstructed breathing. Most crossbred mongrel terriers have heads shaped well enough to do the job.
Unfortunately, Kennel Club shows require a very fine point be put on every attribute. With the advent of the Kennel Club, a continuous morphological spectrum was disallowed. Now every breed had to be distinct. A Fox Terrier could not look too much like a Lakeland, which could not look too much like a Welsh Terrier, which could not look too much like a Border.
In the world of working terriers, a bigger head is not necessarily better. Larger heads tend to be attached to larger chests — the latter being necessary to support the former. Instead of putting primacy on head size and shape, breeders should have focused on chest size.
Unfortunately, Kennel Club breed standards have rarely (if ever) been drafted by people who actually worked their dogs. As author Harriet Ritvo writes in her excellent book, The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age [Harvard University Press, 1989]:
"Specialist clubs were supposed to defend their breeds against the vicissitudes of fashion, but they had few other guides in their attempts to establish standards for breeds and judges."
The results were predictable: Fox Terriers with chests like keel boats and Yorkshire terriers reduced, in time, to the size of teacup poodles.
With some breeds, such as Border Terriers, the morphological changes were less dramatic but still inexorable. Fourteen inch chests on 12- and 13-pound dogs gave way to 16- and 17-inch chests on 20-pound dogs. As better nutrition maximized genetic potential for size, an 18- or even 19-inch chest was forgiven provided the dog otherwise looked well enough. A Kennel Club terrier, after all, was not likely to have to crawl down a tight pipe to actually face a fox, was it?
In fact, most Kennel Club judges had never even seen a fox den. Even fewer had dug on one, or run their hands along the slim warm chest of a living vixen.
A fox is not what it appears to be. Though a fox may stand 14 inches tall, it is mostly bone and fur. It is built more like a cat than a well-muscled dog. The average adult vixen weighs just 12 or 13 pounds.
This comes as news to most show ring fanciers who assume reductum ad absurdum, that a fox is a type of dog, and therefore a 14-inch tall fox will have a chest size similar to that of a 14-inch tall terrier.
But a fox is not Canis familiaris, but Vulpes vulpes. A dog is not a fox.
A 14-inch tall terrier will have a chest circumference that is two to five inches bigger than that of a fox. As a consequence, the average 14-inch tall dog will not be able to follow a fox to ground in a truly tight earth.
Again, this has never been too much of a concern for show ring terrier enthusiasts. The quarry they are pursuing are ribbons in a ring, not a fox in the ground. That said, it does explain one reason why show ring varieties of working terrier breeds are rarely found in the hunt field today.
The RSPCA’s New Cause
With the end of World War II, the RSPCA found it needed a new cause. Cart horses and buggy whips had simply disappeared.
Though genuine cases of animal abuse still occurred, these were local problems and not the kind of expansive issues needed to sustain a national fundraising campaign.
As the nation was new, so would the RSPCA have to think anew.
Earlier RSPCA campaigns had attacked the sport and livelihood of the poor. Now was the time to take the battle to the other half.
The battle to ban fox hunting was enjoined in 1949. That year Britain banned the use of leghold traps and poison against any animal larger than a rat.
That same year two private member’s bills to ban or restrict fox hunting were introduced. Both bills failed to make it onto the statute books. One was withdrawn, the other defeated on its second reading in the House of Commons.
No matter. The animal rights movement settled in for the long fight, content they had found a controversy robust enough to serve as a fundraising vehicle for the next 50 years.
Out in the countryside, of course, animals continued to reproduce. Rabbits were seen as a particularly noxious problem not only because of significant crop loss in some areas, but also because very large rabbit warrens cut into the side of railroad embankments, occasionally weakening track beds.
In the early 1950s, the British purposefully imported a rabbit disease called myxomatosis from South America (via France). The hope was that the disease would help "control" the U.K.’s rabbit population.
The myxoma virus was a frightfully efficient killer, wiping out 98 percent of all rabbits in Great Britain within a decade of its introduction. One result of this unhappy turn of events was that the ancient rabbit warrens that had once served as natal dens and sources of food for fox simply vanished.
In order to help out Mother Nature, and improve the chance that a fox would take up residence on hunt land, many hunts constructed artificial dens out of brick, slate and clay drainage pipe. If well-sited these artificial earths could be counted on to house a fox and, thanks to straight and smooth sides, a larger terrier could be used to force a bolt.
The 1960s saw a wage rise in the UK and an increase in leisure time as well. More young people had easy access to cars, and as a result more young men were able to get out into the countryside.
Impatient young men eager for experience, and with a "dominance" attitude towards all thing wild and natural, found badger earths easier to locate than fox dens, especially in the summer and early fall when fox were rarely found to ground.
Many of these same young men sought "pull cord terriers" that would start right out of the box, but which too often ended up too hard for sensible badger work.
With the entry of hundreds of young men into the terrier world, a kind of culture war seems to have occurred. On one side were the older diggers who knew more about wild animals and places and tended to be more conservation-minded. These older diggers stressed the value of bagging and moving badgers rather than killing them. This was the generation that had seen poison and traps sharply reduce fox and badger numbers in many areas.
On the other side were young men who wanted to "prove" their dogs and who considered a scarred-up terrier as possessing the only true "red badge of courage" — never mind that it was more often the scarlet letter of inexperience or the wreckage of over-heated canine aggression.
Too many young men with too many over-hard dogs chasing too few badgers created a situation which fell right into the hands of animal rights advocates.
As Eddie Chapman writes in his excellent book, The Working Jack Russell Terrier [Dorset Press, 1985]:
"The macho terrier men ... with the image that they portrayed, gave the antis all the fuel they needed to persuade the general public that with literally hundreds of new people suddenly joining the sport, too much pressure was being put on the Badger population, so that it was in danger of being extinct, and ‘bang’ a Law was passed that protected them from being dug."
Along with the first restrictions on badger digging, the 1970s saw the first use of terrier locator collars and telemetry boxes.
Terrier transmitters and receivers made by Deben Industries were relatively simple affairs. A very small transmitter, about the size of the first two joints of your little finger, was attached to a terrier’s collar. This transmitter sent a very weak radio-signal to a handheld receiver which was about the size of a thick cigarette pack or portable AM pocket radio. Inside the receiver was a small directional antennae. By turning a volume dial on the side of the receiver box, the location and depth of the dog could be ascertained (though not always with perfect accuracy, and never under a power line).
No invention has done more to save terrier lives than the locator collar, and today no one with an ounce of common sense would allow a dog to go to ground without one.
Locator collar technology did have a downside, however. Prior to the invention of locator collars, mute dogs were considered nearly worthless as they could not be dug to unless you were willing to trench an entire earth. With the new locator collars, however, mute dogs found a place in the field and this trend has, unfortunately, proliferated, degrading the quality of the terrier gene pool by encouraging the use of over-hard mute dogs.
Bulldozers and Bullshit
The 1980s saw rapid changes in the British countryside. Large numbers of city people began to buy mini-estates in areas which had once been dominated by working farms, and these mini-estate owners sometimes clashed with fox hunters who trespassed onto their property.
During this same period of time, increasing numbers of farmers began to adopt the massive machines needed to make a go of it in the world of modern agriculture. Large combines, harvesters, and loaders required large fields and wide entrances. Ancient hedges were often leveled to accommodate the new machines, and even more destruction occurred when road widening was done to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of people and cars.
During a single 10-year period (1984-1993), more than one-third of all of the hedgerows in the United Kingdom were lost — a whopping 121,875 miles of destruction. Another 96,000 miles of hedgerow had been lost in England in the previous 40 years (1945-1984).
Ironically, the hedges of the Enclosure Movement were now falling under the onslaught of population growth. It was not quite as Malthus had predicted, but people were indeed having an impact on the land.
In 1997 the final push to ban fox hunting in Great Britain was launched when the Labour Party won the general election with a promise that it would advocate "new measures to promote animal welfare, including a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned."
In fact several "free votes" were had in Parliament, but though the House of Commons passed a fox hunting ban several times, the ban was routinely defeated in the House of Lords.
A "free vote in Parliament," it turned out, would not result in a ban on fox hunting in the U.K. A non-free vote would have to be gerrymandered.
In September of 2004, Prime Minister Tony Blair grew tired of the inconvenience of a two-house parliamentary system and decided to use the little-used Parliament Act to overrule the House of Lords. The "ban" on fox hunting thus became law in October of 2004.
"The Ban" took effect in February of 2005, but so far has been somewhat less successful than its supporters had hoped. During the first month mounted hunts in the U.K. killed about 800 fox, most of them legally shot as they bolted for cover.
The fact that fox could still be legally killed by the hunts came as a surprise to many poorly-informed anti-hunt proponents. In fact, under the "ban" terrier work is still allowed, but only two dogs can be employed at a dig, and the fox must be shot after it bolts. The fox cannot be allowed to bolt free and unharmed, nor can it be terminated with a straight shot to the brainpan while it is still in the earth.
In short, the ban did nothing but mandate death, replacing the safest and most humane form of fox control with one that is less safe and less humane. Such is progress when the ignorant craft laws.
It remains to be seen what will happen in the U.K. next, but if past is prologue, the animal rights movement will field-test new campaigns to see which of them will generate the best direct mail returns.
A push to further restrict mounted fox hunting seems likely. A renewed push to ban the use of snares is assured. A push to ban the hunting of pen-raised birds and to ban sport angling may be just around the corner.
Meanwhile, the biggest threat to wildlife in the U.K. -- habitat loss -- remains unaddressed by the animal rights movement. Wild bird populations are in decline as habitat is degraded and eliminated. Fox once humanely dispatched by hunters are now "saved" to be struck by cars and die broken and starving in ditches. Still others succumb to long-term debilitating diseases, such as mange and distemper.
It comes as news to most animal rights proponents that in the wild animals do not expire in hospital beds with morphine drips. Nature is violent, and natural death is almost always an extended misery and not a short one.
In the wild it is a lucky animal that makes it to adulthood to meet a competent and humane hunter on its last day. It is a truth that nonhunters never seem to consider.
The question then is not whether an animal will die, but how it will die and what can be done to make sure a species is maintained in optimum balance with the environment.
In this regard, mounted hunts and terrier work are ideal, as they are the most humane form of fox control and also the least efficient.
What this means is that extirpation of fox over a wide area is quite impossible with horse and hound, terrier and spade, while elimination of the occasional "problem fox" is still possible without having to resort to poisoning, traps and shooting over bait,
In his masterful book, Running With the Fox [Guild Publishing, 1987], fox biologist David MacDonald notes that "fox hunting is of minor significance to foxes" in terms of reducing their numbers.
Of greater importance, argues MacDonald, is that fact that fox hunters routinely stand up for the kind of habitat protection essential to healthy fox populations.
When a history of irony is written, surely a few paragraphs will be devoted to this: that noting has benefited fox more than fox hunting, while nothing has harmed working dogs more than admiration by the Kennel Club.n