by Nigel Hinchliffe
It has been the fashion recently to write articles in the sporting press giving high blown theories and exaggerated claims to the origins of various breeds of terriers. I make no special claim to such knowledge but recommend those in search of this kind of information read the excellent book “the working terrier” by Plummer. I intend to tell a little of the terriers
i work, breed and whose company i enjoy. It has been my experience that if you ask four terrier men in the know about the breed history of any terrier, you will get four different stories. If the question happens to be asked in the beer tent of a terrier show, then you have the added bonus of all four being prepared to back up the fact that his is the only true version, with his ready fists.
Working terriers have been a working mans animal and stud books have quite often been fag packets-beware of humbug. The terriers i keep are known as Patterdales. They vary in color from red and chocolate to black. Mine are always black and thanks to John Cowan, Melbreak Hunt stalwart and well-known lakeland breeder, are now known as Incliffes blacks.
As well as being black mine always have a white blaze on the chest- this varies from a few hairs to a star the size of a matchbox. Sizes vary as with all things and, as there is no firm standard, dogs stand between 12″ and 16″ at the shoulder, bitches are slightly smaller. In conformation the terriers are compact with straight front legs. Lacking heavy shoulders, they present a small workmanlike terrier. Mine are predominantly smooth-coated while others breed a rough-coated type. The jacket short or long, should be dense and hard and if the dog is in good order the coat should shine like a soldiers boot.
The head shape varies from the spade -shaped head usually coupled with a powerful jaw and suggesting an historic allegiance to the bull terrier. The other type has a square head and i would suggest is more closely allied to the the lakeland.
The breed is said to originate in the Yorkshire dales- certainly Cyril Breay of that part of the World was an early breeder of the type. Frank Buck of Layburn and Morris Bell of Hawes are well known for keeping a “black-un” about themselves. Brian Nuttall of Cheshire and Frank Stacy of Homle Valley beagle kennels are both noted keepers of the breed whose dogs are known to me and are without a doubt the genuine article.
The thing that sings out this type of terrier above all others is, in my opinion, his hardness and his tenacity. He will go on when others have packed up or backed off. He will go on until his opponent has had enough or he can go on no more. This make him unsuitable for certain jobs- for instance, many masters would not thank you for attempting to bolt his fox with a hard bitten Patterdale, for the dog is more likely to get hold and have a go-possibly even kill the fox rather than allow him to bolt.
It must be understood, however that in the fells of the north country hunts and terrier men are often allowed on land by the permission of the shepherd or keeper who wants a fox accounted for to protect lambs or grouse. This coupled with the protection afforded foxes in borans, rock tips, mines and scree all undiggable provide a need for a hard terrier. Such a terrier is the Patterdale. His hardness is only useful when properly directed and if misused this valuable quality will result in vet bills, fighting, often very seriously and other problems all unnecessary in a terrier which will give a man all it has if he uses it properly. I find this difficult to express so let me sum it up with two quotes. Firstly after a long difficult dig that lasted well into the dark we broke in on top of Frank Staceys young dog and a then dead extremely large dog fox. An exhausted Stacey was head to utter “if them black terriers were as big as alsatians it wouldn’t be safe to walk the streets”.
Finally a Welshman once rang me and asked to buy a black terrier, preferable one fully working. When asked what kind of work?, I was told a bit of ratting on the allotments and the occasional rabbiting in Pembrokeshire. I declined him advising him to buy locally for buying a “black um” for such work was like buying a Rolls Royce in which to deliver milk.
Let me finish with a word of caution. Because a terrier is black in color it dose not mean it will automatically be a world beater. Many years ago when there were far less terriers about I sent an excellent really hard smart working dog to a Welsh valley town. This man rang back delighted with the dog who became famed through that and neighbouring valleys. The result was that the dog was used to cover dozens of poorly bred bitches. Whatever was born into the world black was automatically expected to be as good as its father, despite its mothers shortcomings.
Alas, this does not work and that is why breeders of pure stock, like the men i have mentioned are always being dragged from their chairs of a evening to answer pleas for pups,young dogs or anything they have- breeding will tell!!. Davy Jones of the David Davis Hunt once told me at Rydal hound show that there were hundreds of terriers in Wales attributed to the men i have mentioned many to me, yet i rarely breed more than two litters a year, nor do any of the others to my knowledge.
So if you are looking for the Rolls Royce of Terriers you need to beware on impersonators, but if your lucky you are like a man who has sipped at the well of the world and remember take care of him for a better friend man never had.