Posts Tagged ‘terrier’

Scottish terriers by the tail

Crufts always brings about controversies, but this year, I truly do dream of the days when best of breed bulldogs and Clumber spaniels failed mandatory health checks and dog fancy had a collective meltdown all across the worldwide web.

This year, the big controversies have largely been outside the general interests of this blog. There are reports that an Irish setter was poisoned at Crufts, but this is such a serious accusation that I will leave it alone. We don’t know all the facts. If we were dealing with a dog poisoner, then we’re dealing with a vile person.

And I’m not really interested in talking about truly vile people. Individual malevolence is certainly worthy of scorn, but I’m a structuralist. I’m much more interested in the collective evils that plague society, and in this case, I’m interested in the collective problems with the dog fancy.

Crufts didn’t give us much of that this year, but at the Best in Show judging and presentation, two things happened that got large numbers of people riled.

The one I thought would be more consequential was when a PETA activist stormed the floor with a sign that read “Mutts Against Crufts.” If this had been Westminster, I’m pretty sure we would all still be talking about him. I am not a big fan of PETA, and I’m not sure that this publicity stunt really put the purebred dog reform movement in a good light.

But PETA is not interested in having a rational discussion. It is interested in the theater.

Now, the reason I say that this PETA demonstration would have stolen show if this had been Westminster is because it was overshadowed by another scandal.

This scandal never would have raised the slightest bit of attention in the North American dog show world. That’s because this second scandal involved a handling practice that is so common in North American dog shows that most people don’t even notice it.

When terriers are judged in North America, most of the smaller breeds of terrier are lifted up with one hand on the tail and one hand just beneath the jawline.  Supposedly, it is a way of testing to see if the terriers still have their sturdy tails. If a terrier gets in a bad place, it could be useful to be able to grab it by the tail and pull it safety.

You see this everywhere in North American dog shows. I don’t think it’s he worst way to handle a dog like this, but I don’t think the dogs particularly like it. I’m not someone who is prone to picking up dogs in this fashion, so I honestly don’t what the science is behind the welfare issues involved. I am officially agnostic on the issue.

The dog that won Best in Show was a Scottish terrier. This is one of the smaller terrier breeds that is generally lifted up in this fashion at American shows.  The handler of this winning terrier, Rebecca Cross, is an American, and I’m sure she’s done the tail lift scores of times in the show ring.

And no one said thing.

But when she did it at Crufts–in front of all those cameras– uproar quickly ensued!

100,000 people signed an online petition to have the terrier stripped of her win.

This, of course, created outrage among the show set. The claim pretty much goes that lifting them by the tail gives the judge an idea if the terrier has a sturdy enough tail. If this terrier happened to be deep in the ground battling with a whole clan of badgers and the only thing that the owner had to grab was its tail,  then that sturdy tail would be a life saver.

The problem with that claim is that Scottish terriers are actually working earth dogs.

In Scotland, terriers were used more to bolt the badger and the otter than their English counterparts. Both the badger and the otter are now protected species. The rural Scottish culture that created these terriers doesn’t even exist.  The Scottish countryside was once full of crofters.  In the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, the Clearances depopulated the land in much of rural Scotland. The crofters were driven off the land in favor of sheep, grouse moors, and deer stalking grounds.

The working man’s terriers became show dogs, and the general prick-eared terrier from Scotland became the West Highland white, the cairn, the Skye, the Paisley, and the Aberdeen. The Aberdeen type is the basis behind the breed we call the Scottish terrier.

Now, terriers are still widely used in the United Kingdom, even though “terrier work” is quite controversial over there. There are still plenty of working red fells, Patterdales, Lakelands, borders, Plummers, and Jack Russells. There are even working strains of Bedlington terrier, which is a breed that North Americans think is only for the show ring .

But there are no working strains of Scottish terrier. You will not find them anywhere. A lot of Scottish terriers still have the temperament needed for this sort of activity. George W. Bush had a Scottish terrier that loved to dig out armadillos, but no one can honestly say that there is a great demand for an armadillo dog.

And a nine-banded armadillo is nothing like a European badger or otter.

So if no one is really breeding a working Scottish terrier, the entire ritual of picking it up by the tail is just playing make believe.

At the most charitable, it is a hypothetical abstraction. It’s not a real adaptation on a real working dog.

This year’s big controversy, which I’m calling “Tailgate,” is more revealing about the culture of the dog show than it is about welfare concerns.

My guess is that the Kennel Club will make a very strong stand against picking up terriers by the tail at its shows.

And that will be it.

Meanwhile, Scottish terriers will continue to have very high rates of cancer and von Willebrand disease. They will continue to suffer from their own peculiar disorder called “Scottie cramps,” and they will continue to have an average lifespan of about 10 years.

Which, for a terrier, is pretty pathetic.

And it is a shame. This breed does occasionally have a reputation for being a bit surly, but a lot of these dogs are real characters, very sharp and responsive and clever creatures.

They are known for the deep loyalty to their people, and it is a real shame that people have allowed this breed to go so far downhill.

They have come a long way from the badger setts and otter holts, but now they must be looked at more realistically.

Playing pretend about the sturdy tails isn’t helping the discussion at all.

All of this rancorous debate over the ethics of terrier-lifting isn’t going to amount to much.

It’s just going to continue on. One camp will say that it is causing the terriers too much pain and stress, while the other is pretending they are evaluating real working dogs.

There is no real room for a discussion about the issues raised by closed registries and popular sires in this debate, and as this debate rages, much time and energy is being wasted.

Such is the tragic condition of the dog world in 2015.

Side-tracked by Tailgate.



Read Full Post »

Sting was part bulldog, part terrier. Fox, in the background, was a fox terrier, which also has some bulldog ancestry.

And here, I don’t mean that smooth terriers were bred to bulldogs to make the bull and terrier type, which gave us the various dogs called pit bulls, American staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, the Boston terrier, and standard and miniature bull terriers.

I’m talking about terriers, as in Jack Russells.

Stonehenge writes about the common practice of breeding terriers to bulldogs to make them more game on vermin in the 1859  edition of The Dog and Health and Disease:

Most of our smooth terriers are slightly crossed with the bulldog, in order to give courage to bear the bites of the vermin which they are meant to attack. When thus bred, the terrier shows no evidence of pain, even though half a dozen rats are hanging on to his lips, which are extremely tender parts of the body, and where the bite of a mouse even will make a badly bred dog yell with pain. In fact, for all the purposes to which a terrier can be applied, the half or quarter cross with the bull, commonly known as the “bull-terrier” or “half-bred dog,” is of more value than either of the purely bred progenitors. Such a dog, however, to be useful, must be more than half terrier, or he will be too heavy and slow, too much under-jawed to hold well with his teeth, and too little under command to obey the orders of his master. Sometimes the result of the second cross, which is only one quarter bull, shows a great deal of the shape peculiar to that side; and it is not till the third or fourth cross that the terrier shape comes out predominant: but this is all a matter of chance, and the exact reverse may just as probably happen, if the terrier was quite free from the stain of the bull, which is seldom the case; and this may account for the great predominance of that side in most cases, as we shall see in investigating the subject of breeding for the kennel in the next Book.

The field fox-terrier [the ancestor of all fox terriers, including the Jack Russell], used for bolting the fox when gone to ground, was of this breed. So also is the fighting-dog par excellence, and, indeed, there is scarcely any task to which a dog of his size may be set that he will not execute as well as, or better than, most others. He will learn tricks with the poodle, fetch and carry with the Newfoundland — take water with that dog, though his coat will not suffer him to remain in so long, — hunt with the spaniel, and fight “till all’s blue.” For thorough gameness, united with obedience, good temper, and intelligence, he surpasses any breed in existence (pg. 160-162).

So, the Jack Russell is actually derived from dogs that we would call “pit bulls” today.

Stonhenge goes further:

Terriers are entered to vermin with great facility, and require very little breaking, unless they are intended to be used with ferrets, when they must be broken to let these animals alone, as they are apt to make their appearance occasionally in passing from one hole to another. It is only necessary to let the ferret and the terrier be together in a yard or stable, cautioning the latter not to touch the former, for a few times, and the young dog soon learns to distinguish his friends from his foes. Some terriers are not hardy enough to brave the bites which they are liable to in ratting, &c., and, indeed, the true terrier without any cross of the bull-dog is a great coward, so that he is quite useless for the purpose. In such a case he must be encouraged by letting him kill young rats first, and as he gains confidence he will perhaps also increase in courage. If, however, the terrier is well bred, he will seldom want anything but practice (pg 279).

The gameness in terriers, according to Stonehenge, came from the bulldog.

When my aunt and uncle stopped at a truck stop in Southwest Virginia when they were coming to West Virginia for Thanksgiving. They had both Cammie and Rhodie in tow, and some woman asked if they were “baby pit bulls.”

And these two aren’t very pit bull-looking Jack Russells.

So here’s the wonderful irony of a noted Jack Russell terrier blogger bloviating about pit bulls and how we need all these regulations on them:  his dogs are derived from dogs that if we saw them today, we’d call them pit bulls.

It’s so ironic, one can smell the rust.

Read Full Post »

Classic scene from Frasier. David Hyde Pierce is at the top of his game here. So is Moose:


Of all the sitcoms from the 90’s that are still shown syndication, this is about the only one I still find funny.


Read Full Post »

Jack Russell

This is why Jack Russells can’t be allowed to “free hunt.”

Jake the Jack Russell went rabbiting near his home in Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, Wales. He disappeared down a rabbit warren, and he didn’t return. His owners looked for him, but no one thought he would actually be stuck in a rabbit warren. (European rabbits, unlike our cottontails, dig rather extensive burrow systems called warrens.)

With no food, Jake lost a bunch of weight. He lost four pounds underground, which was just enough to make him svelte enough to work his way out of the warren.

This is why no wild dog is as game as a Jack Russell. If a fox chased a rabbit that far down, it wouldn’t survive. It’s genes wouldn’t be passed onto the next generation.

However, we humans wanted a little dog with the gameness of the toughest hunting dog– one that would brave the depths of the wild beast dens without much hesitation.

I remember when Jack Russells first came to my part of the world. They superficially resemble the feists and rat terriers that most farmers and squirrel hunters kept. However, feists and rat terriers might go to ground occasionally, but they never go as far down as a Jack Russell. 

That’s why Jack Russells can’t be allowed free run of a farm. Yes, they’ll kill the rats, but then they’ll go off on hunting trips. And it won’t be long before the dog disappears. And there is a good chance the dog will be stuck in a burrow somewhere. The chances of the dog having Jake’s luck are really slim to nothing.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: