Our season usually starts very slowly for us diggers and this year is no exception. I should be used to it but I never fail to panic and imagine all sorts of reasons to be pessimistic. Few foxes – nothing like the old days – too much shooting by day and by night – hardly worth keeping terriers – little chance of them having enough work to show their ability. It all goes through my mind but then I look back to recent years and the proof is there, this season is no different to others, it’s the way of things, normal state of affairs in our country. It will all come right in a week or two, it will improve. And although these days I’m just happy to be out with the hounds it still doesn’t cheer me up. And then the first fox goes to ground, the first dig to a young bitch and the world is a much better place. And to make it even better, another dig on the same day to the brother of the young bitch and both did what they were expected to do. Both entered well and completed their first, not very testing work in a manner which pleased us and gave hope that they would prove themselves. And to make it even more unusual for me, the terriers were Borders aged 17 months and for both, this was their first time to ground. Cant be bad.
Regular readers will know that in May last year Chipper, following up on something he mentioned some years earlier, offered me a bitch pup, free of charge, from a litter he had bred up in County Durham. I didn’t really want another terrier for I had told myself that at my age I must start to reduce my stock by not replacing the old timers as they left the scene but I took Chipper up on his kind offer and decided that a little Border bitch pup would be ideal to take with me during the summer months when I do a fair bit of walking. From my experience with the breed some forty years ago I remembered that I could take eight or ten of them out over the mountains and through the forests and at the end of the day they would usually still be with me or not too far away. Especially the bitches for I remember Sally, one of my best workers, and one or two others would hardly ever leave my side unless we crossed some good scent and they would often be right under my feet, almost tripping me up. I like to walk with the dogs running loose, no need for leads, free to run on and run about without having to worry about them chasing sheep, causing trouble with other dogs or simply disappearing. I can’t do that with most of my black terriers, they just deaf me out and off they go. Steve, who puts this mag’ together for us decided that he wouldn’t mind having one and so in July he drove me up to Durham and we came home with two nice little pups, healthy and strong. I had chosen a lively little bitch which I called Katie, all she had to do was walk with me sensibly and if she also came to do a bit of work that would be a bonus. Steve selected a dog which he named Guto after a famous old time Welsh road and fell runner. Steve does a lot of running himself and the plan was for Guto to run with him and also to be a ferreting dog with some occasional ground work if it happened to chance along. As the months passed by our plans would start falling apart!
Katie turned into a keen ratter and Guto showed that he wanted more than ferreting, in fact, he would probably have just killed a ferret and as time passed he proved not quite suitable as a house pet; he needed work. And Katie would just run off into the forest and return when it suited her. It didn’t suit me! But both seemed to be willing to work and Guto, in particular had developed into some animal. He was all dog, a superb specimen of a Border and the only dog I can recall with the same Alpha Male attitude was Jason’s great worker and producer, Samson. There was also an “Alpha Female” type from long ago called Tess but that’s not quite in the same class as an Alpha Male!
Guto and Katie both started work this same day, Katie in the morning, Guto an hour or so later. I would love to have kept Guto but he’s far too much of a dog for me to handle at my age. I’m too weak for him! I just wish I had him in my kennel forty odd years ago when I had some decent Border bitches but spent my time mating them to working pretenders in the breed. Both of them impressed on their first outings and were full of promise and it will be interesting to see how they go in the months ahead. Both are blue and tan and on the big side according to the Kennel Club breed standard but I’m not concerned about that. All I would like is to see them progressing to acceptable standards as workers. If Guto was smaller he would be a hell of a dog in a show ring for he seems to have everything going for him from his great powerful head to the tip of his carrot tail. I would expect him to produce quality pups. He needs a working owner who knows dogs and knows how to handle such a determined, fiery character and he now has one. His new owner couldn’t quite get used to the name Guto, a Welsh name, pronounced Gee as in geese, toe, or Gut as in — gut— o. He said a more appropriate name would be Conan, as in Barbarian! I told him that he could call him whatever he liked – he would take no bloody notice! Alpha Male – but he will learn that his new owner is the boss!
And as if that wasn’t enough I now have a little Jack Russell bitch in the kennel? What’s going on? My friends couldn’t believe it! Thought they were seeing things! I couldn’t believe it myself! My dog box in the van has three compartments and at one meet I had a Border, a black dog and the Russell; and Pipey said I only needed a Lakeland for the full set! Rhodri said it looked like a van from Battersea Dogs Home! The young men of today – no respect for us old buggers! Here’s how it came about.
Eddie Chapman rang me one day recently and asked me if I knew anyone who would take a young Russell dog, aged thirteen months and, in his own words, “busting for work”. It would be free of charge, the only condition that it had to go to a reliable, knowledgeable working owner who knew Russells. I thought I knew just the man and after contacting TC, he said he would take him. He had immediately come to mind because I knew his old Russell dog Spot had been a special dog by any standards and he had never replaced him and I knew that any dog with TC would have a great chance to work and develop his full potential. He would live on a hill farm in great country and he would spend much of his time with TC and his Lurcher and Collie around sheep, cattle and all sorts of wildlife. A sort of paradise for a young terrier. TC can handle animals, he’s a hunting man, a dog man, he knows what he’s doing, I rate him a top countryman. Look on the internet and you will see a short video of a fox he once reared from a cub which used to round up the sheep with his Collie; and his current Collie at just a year old is already hunting and finding foxy.
We arranged to make the long trip to collect the dog but now there was another condition, we had to take a bitch, a month younger and if possible keep them together. TC didn’t want the bitch but maybe his mate Harry would try her. When we arrived the pair were not immediately impressive, the dog had a long hairy coat and the bitch seemed a bit shy and on the frail side and when we got back to Wales she ended up with me temporarily for Harry didn’t want her. TC sheared the dog the next day and, as we had suspected, underneath all the hair was a decent looking Russell type and within a day or two he was catching rats. This left me with the little bitch and fortunately she immediately settled in with Katie so she would be no trouble until I found her a good home with someone who would treat her well and give her a chance to work. For she was now my responsibility and I had promised Eddie just that. Easier said than done.
Two weeks later she was still with me, a lively little thing, very active and with that intelligent expression which many Russells have; she was quite happy and got along with all the other dogs and I thought that if I had to keep her she could be the one to walk with me in the summer, obedient and sensible and also have a chance to show what she was made of. So I took her to a meet and no sooner was she out of the van than I had an order for a pup and I could have passed her on immediately! And people were taking notice of her. And all the years I have had my black dogs, many great workers, only those who know a digging dog ever took any notice of them! I had been told she was inclined to be a bit shy but she walked among us, took no notice of the hounds, pricked up her ears when she heard the horn and the music of a full cry, and just seemed to be at home with it all. She was a little bit reluctant to come to hand but that will improve. Of course my digging friends have all laughed at her, “snipey faced so and so” etc., but I’ve just told them to wait till later in the season when vixens are killing lambs to feed their cubs in tight little mouse holes! Perhaps they think I have finally lost it, old age has taken its toll but I just look on it as a bit of an experiment. After so many years of watching and owning some great Patterdales I know the score!
I have all the working dogs I want at the moment, terriers that suit my stage of life just now, easy for me to handle, my foxing bitches Rags, Bones and Dixie; together with the other lads’ dogs they will do all we ask of them. Nothing will be lost by carefully running on the Borders and the Russells alongside them if that’s how it turns out and if, by next April, I can report favourably back to Chipper and Eddie then I will be well pleased. And if a season of work manages to calm Katie then I may be able walk through the woods and over the hills in the summer with a sensible Border, sensible Russell and sensible black dog trusted and running loose. Just as if I had collected abandoned strays from Battersea Dogs Home! The Border would be Katie, not Conan. He could still well be the Alpha Male who pleases himself.