Back last summer I was in Wales visiting my parents and while I was down there I called to see my old mate Dave Harcombe. While Dave and I were chatting about days gone by and how skint we used to be and about the time I smashed my mini-van in to the post office in Tally! As I was leaving Dave’s he gave me a copy of his new book, A Terrierman’s Life. When I got back home, I opened the book to a chapter called a time to be born. Reading on there was one line in there which says, “I gave a small bitch to Gordon Mason”. And how that one bitch was. She was to be the start of my family of terriers. The bitch I named Rose. She became a good little foxing bitch but she could not be compared to her brothers, like Stan and Ritchie, who were outstanding workers although Richie’s life was cut short in the line of duty – I think he would have been one of the greats.
I put Rose to my old dog Blackie and they produced Spade, one of the best bitches I have ever had, a pure working machine, she never came out and left unfinished business. Spade then produced Tex, a dog with the same tenacity as his mother, and in turn, Tex produced Brett and Brit. I am now digging to their sons and daughters. I rated Tex as a stud dog; he always produced grafters and gameness. Just the other day I dug a big old earth on an estate in our hunt country, it’s a big place but the tubes are tight. I have spent many hours there over the years, it’s never a quick job and foxes are very reluctant to bolt from there. Anyway, we had a two hour dig with a young dog called Black. Later, when I got home and thought about it, he was the fourth generation of dogs to do so; his father, grandfather and great grandfather have all been dug there, which is pleasing as all their genes are still being past down the line.
I think to keep a close family of dogs you must have a plan. Years ago, in the eighties, I saw some great Patterdale terriers such as Dave Harcombe’s Jack and Roy Evans’ Demon. Incidentally, those two dogs feature greatly in the ancestry of my dogs, Jack especially. I was a teenager then walking around the shows thinking to myself, one day I will have dogs like these black smooth coated warriors. Those thoughts were put aside as at that time I was a fanatical digger and didn’t care what dogs we were digging to as long as they did the job.
I think I got my first black terriers about 1986 and have had them ever since. I never started breeding them seriously until about 1996. When you start, the first few matings are trial and error until you settle on something that suits you and works well. If you keep breeding this way, in the end a type will appear naturally. All of my dogs can be traced back to four terriers I had at that time. I have never wavered from it and never use a dog not from my own dogs i.e. stud dogs. I struggled for bitches though, not for any reason, only the lack of them in litters. I had to breed from my old bitches and in my mind this is a mistake, I find that the old bitches do not throw good percentages of workers; even when repeating a mating you have done before and had great success with. Second time around only half made the grade, although the first litter was one hundred percent. I put this down to age and now my policy is to breed a bitch only once, ideally at about three years in age. Now this could be a trait just with my own line but that is what I have found. The first is always the best. So I am very careful about who is mated to who, I always look at it on paper to see if it’s ok. It has only gone wrong once in recent years. I used a dog out of one of my dogs and a bitch not of my strain, but a good bitch nonetheless. Only one pup made it to become a very good dog, but he was a one off and that is no good. The good thing about having a close family is that you can rectify things easily. That breeding can be removed from your pedigree by not using it again and anything from it and so eliminating it.
My lot are close bred but I never inbreed, what I call inbreeding is father and daughter, or mother and son matings. My favourite is a grandfather to granddaughter or vice versa. With inbreeding I worry about size, which you will lose and my dogs are not big, I think their size is perfect, not too big but not weak at all. They are all around twenty pounds in weight and strong enough for any underground foe. I think if you go out to breed super dogs you will have a lot of failures. I set out to breed a good, honest earth dog, some are better than others at something but all have their place and a job that they excel at, after all, they all carry their family’s genes and rarely do I get a non starter.
There are pros and cons to this way of breeding. Now and again you could see an excellent dog work and think to yourself, I would like to use this dog on a bitch but like I say, you must stick to the plan, the time for an outcross will come. For me, I would worry that doing this would make my dogs unrecognisable to me a few years down the line. I think for me, a time for an outcross has come, as I have a litter on the ground now of three bitches and I think they will be the last of their line. I have taken it as far as possible and at this point I have not got a dog on the yard which could be mated to them. They will be just too close.
But I have got a plan. I was lucky enough to be given a young bitch last winter which was line bred with Gary Morgan’s breeding and she has turned into an excellent worker. I have dug her over forty times this season and that is good enough for me. Why am I very lucky? The bitch’s size and coat is perfect for me. Everything you do when breeding should be personal to you and no one else. Since I started this line I have never bred a dog with any sort of coat other than smooth, which is one thing I am fussy about. Gone are the days of poor old Pal, freezing to death on a fell. Nowadays, they are in a box filled with straw on the quad bike, sheltered from the elements. So in my view, they don’t need a coat, it is not beneficial and only makes extra work.
I have no plans to breed for another two years, I have enough for now. Breed too much and things get popular, flavour of the month, and popularity kills. So to anyone out there who has a little strain of their own, keep it simple, stick to what you know works, rarely is the grass greener somewhere else. We have many enemies, more enemies than friends and they would like to see our dogs fade into oblivion forever. These little dogs live in troubled times and their future depends on people like us to fight for their survival because believe me, no one else will. So God bless them and those like them because they are few.