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Terriers Breeds - The Old Working Terrier

Updated on June 24, 2010

The Old Working Terrier

The Old Working Terrier is one of the Terriers Breeds. 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.

The colour, size, and shape of the original terriers are not indicated by the early writers, and art supplies but vague and uncertain evidence. They are generally divided into two kinds, the one having shaggy coats and straight limbs, the other smooth coats and short bent legs.

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.

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.


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      Diana 8 years ago

      Cannot find any photos with these articles so still do not have a clue which terrier is which.

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      perfumer 9 years ago from California

      Thank you for your kind words Chris:)

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      Chris Miller 10 years ago

      Great article,Informative.Keep up the good work.