by Ralph Greaves 1962
I have been badly frighted more than once in my life, but never more so than when i was ordered to winkle out some very belligerent Huns who were lurking in a long, pitch-dark underground tunnel. My suggestion that they should send for the terriers was regarded as flippant in the circumstances. Fortunately this particular staff brainwave was cancelled just in time; so i am still here. But that is exactly the sort of job a hunt terrier does many time in the course of a season-and enjoys every minute of it.
There is probably no more courageous animal than a really “hard” dog who will go right up to his fox and stick to him. But on the other hand he is not expected to engage in mortal combat, for a terrier’s job is not to kill foxes but to shift them. A huntsman will run the terrier through a drain or artificial earth to see if it golds; and if there is a fox there, to push him out.
If a fox gets to ground at the end of a hunt, the terrier is put in to bolt him if possible; if it is decided to dig, the terrier is expected to go up to his fox and bay at him, thereby letting those above know where he has got to.
They must be dependable. The one thing a huntsman demands of his terriers is that they should be dependable and in this respect the “professional” is usually a better dog then the amateur whom the proud owner is anxious to “try’. Time and daylight are precious on a hunting day. People come out to ride, rather than hang around an earth, and an unreliable terrier can waste a lot of time. A good terrier will either declare the earth a blank or will bolt or draw his fox. Failing either, he will corner him and “bark and bait” him. If he actually fight him, not only will a lot of time be wasted but he will probably get himself mauled. The killing of foxes underground is by no means the object of the exercise.
The only exception to this rule is in fell hunting. A terrier on the fells cannot be too hard. The earths are in rocks or in great heaps of boulders that my spread over several acres. These “barrens” as they are called are dangerous places for a terrier, and many a good dog has gone in, never to reappear. Digging is usually impractical, nor is it likely that a fox, once in, will ever bolt. Here the barking and baiting type of dog is useless. A terrier is expected to go in and worry his fox-and that is what those terriers do.
These terriers of the fells-i hesitate to call them Lakelands on account of the show variety-are obviously too hard for other countries. There is the case of a certain Yorkshire sportsman who wrote to the huntsman of one of the fell pucks to send him a really hard dog. The terrier duly rived, and was tried at an artificial earth. There was a long wait and, except for the occasional bumping noises, complete silence. Finally it was decided to open up the earth and the terrier was found chewing away at three dead foxes. Needless to say he was returned with thanks to his native haunts by the next train.
A too-hard dog can be an internal nuisance, for he is usually a fighter; but one cannot but admire his pluck. I once owned such a dog he was usually known as “Mister”, and invariably referred to by our friends as “that damn dog of yours”, for never have i known and dog with such a hatred for his own species. He was a stocky little Sealyham type but to broad in the chest to be used to ground; but he would actually kill foxes above ground. for i saw him do it. The first perhaps was not such a glorious affair; for the fox was a mangy one which Mister cornered in a patch of bramble and made short work of. But the second encounter was in the nature of epic.
It was after dark and Mister had been turned out as usually before being bedded down. I heard a tow-row out at the back and i thought at first it was another cat or squirrel he’d treed. Bu as it didn’t sound like “barking and bating” this time i took a torch and went to investigate; and there in an open shed i found Mister locked in mortal combat with a dog fox twice his size.
It took Mister three rounds to kill that fox. The first round which was a flurry of snarls and flying fur, he lost on points being bitten through the paw. The fox crouched in the corner with arched back hissing like a cat, and in went Mister again seizing him and dragging him round the ring. By the time the fox last dead, Mister was all in; it was sheer pluck and pugnacity that had won the day.
Working Terrier Shows, Shows are now being held for Working Terriers (observe the capitols) but let us not take them seriously. Except perhaps the Lakeland and Border, the working terrier is not a breed but merely a strain-“one of old So-and-So’s” derived from working parentage. Let us hope he does not become “fashionable”, for he has no place on the show-bench. It matters little what he looks like, as long as he can go through a nine-inch drain. He may well be up on the leg-not so long ago the Hunt terrier used to run with the pack and the original smooth-coated fox-terrier was ideal-till the show people got ahold of him and now the Sealyham and rough-coated have gone the same way.
What one often sees is a dog with heavy shoulders, stumpy legs, short, straight pasterns and cat feet. Yet he is supposed to go where a fox can go. The latter, who can squeeze through the narrowest of crevices, jump on high ledges and scramble about as actively as a cat, is herring gutted, long legged, with a long sloping pasterns, and hare-footed. Would it be heretical to suggest a terrier should be built more on the lines of a fox, even if he didn’t win prizes at shows?