I read with interest Gordon Mason’s article in the June issue on the breeding methods he uses with his terriers. I, myself, have a close knit strain of black terriers and can trace every dog I have bred back to just 3; 2 bitches, Bonnie and Betty, and a dog called Max (who unfortunately passed away 2 years ago). He was an outstanding black terrier out of Gould stuff and losing him was a huge loss.
I totally agree with Gordon when he says to keep things simple; if it works, stick to it, then fine tuning can take place by selecting certain qualities in offspring and using these qualities in future breeding programmes. I am always keen to hear how pups that I have bred or pups that have been bred using my stock are doing in the field and always ask people to keep in contact as to whether they make the grade or fail, either way I like to know. The more feedback you receive from fellow terrier men who have had dogs from your lines, the more you can do to produce better workers in the future through selection of brood bitch and stud dog. Are they keen hunters? Have they got good noses? Do they have staying power and intelligence below the ground? What size have they made? All these factors should be taken into consideration when planning to produce a litter of top quality workers that you can be proud to say you bred.
I know of many people that have travelled the length and breadth of the country taking their bitches to dogs to be mated because a friend of a friend of theirs has told them all sorts of fairy tale stories about the dog and its achievements below the ground. Would I travel 200 miles to take one of my bitches to a dog I had never seen, never heard of, or had the chance to see work below the ground? Probably not! Granted the pups they throw may turn out to be crackers but if I was planning to breed a litter either for myself, or for friends, I would much rather find a well bred, genuine worker that is known locally and if possible can be seen working.
We are all different in the qualities that we look for in our working terriers, some prefer a big, strong type; with a broken jacket and a placid nature whilst others would rather a real live wire with a smooth coat and narrow frame. For this reason it is all down to personal preferences as to what dog they decide to line their bitch with. When a good line has been found and proven in all aspects of work, over several seasons, only then can it be classed as a suitable dog/bitch to start another line from and so on. Nothing gives me more pleasure than entering a young dog for the first time that I have bred and seeing it succeed, just like its mother, father, grandparents and great grandparents did many years before.
Having got a 4th generation pup in my kennels at present I can see definite similarities handed down to him and can pretty much predict how he will turn out already, fingers crossed. At 8 months old he is showing all the characteristics of becoming a game little terrier and very often will end up getting a good shaking by his half brother, 4 years his senior. This doesn’t deter him one bit and will usually go back for seconds, nipping at his back legs as if to say “you don’t scare me”. This sort of behaviour in a young pup I am very fond of and his father was no different. Although I do like intelligence in a terrier when confronted with a fox, especially in this day and age when getting pulled over by the police after a day’s digging is every terrierman’s worst nightmare, I prefer one that isn’t too cautious when it comes to taking charge of a situation i.e. getting stuck in when needed.
One such dog of mine that is a typical example of a no messing, battle hardened warrior is Oscar. Oscar came to my kennels through chance as the girl who bred his litter, from a bitch via the first mating of Bonnie and Max back to a very hard black dog from a friend, rang me to say that the young couple who had him now had to get rid of him as they were moving away and asked whether I knew of anyone who might be interested in having him. With my kennels pretty much full at the time I had no intention of having him myself, but could quite easily find him a new home in the hunting world, after all that was what he was destined to do. At 9 months old he was the perfect age to bring on, so at the first opportunity I headed to a local estate to see him. There was no need for me to make any phone calls because as soon as I set eyes on him, I knew he was coming home with me. Space in the kennels would have to be made, pronto. After a month or two of getting him to come around to my way of discipline in and around the kennels, he was introduced to the odd fox carcass brought back, to see what he thought. As expected, very little interest was shown at first and a few nervous sniffs was all he could manage. Gradually over the next few weeks, the sniffs turned into gentle tugs on the tail, followed by the odd growl. Things were looking up. Now aged 3 and a half, he has turned into one of the best terriers I own and he doesn’t give an inch, no matter what situation confronts him. Very rare he will use his voice as he is a narrow type that can usually reach his quarry with no help needed, and then lets his teeth do the rest, although they are rapidly getting less!
One such occasion where Oscar’s no fear approach to handling a situation was while out with hounds in a forestry in winter 2011/12. A fox had been put up deep within the plantation and after a short run he broke cover and headed across the clear fell with hounds close behind. Little did he know he was heading in the direction of an eagerly awaiting gun that was ready to end that particular hunt there and then! Shots rang out and we were waiting for news on the outcome over the C.B., but the reply was one that every fox shooter throughout the country has come out with, “he’s hit hard and isn’t going anywhere”! We’ve all said it!! Hounds went away on this “fatally” injured fox but the unforgiving,
sometimes treacherous, terrain was too much for him to deal with and after a short run he went to ground in a 5 holer in amongst the stumps and brash.
The place wasn’t massive but could prove tricky with many of the entrances disappearing underneath a network of nasty looking roots, most of which were as thick as your wrist, so we dropped an experienced black bitch of a mates in to sort things out. The gun which had shot at the fox stayed on the bury to hopefully see for himself whether it was dead in the ground or not, for if it was, he could then count it as a shot fox and therefore put it on his seasonal tally!
The bitch entered but struggled to find, with her coming out several times, only to dart back in each time. This happened for 30 minutes or so and within this time we managed to get a mark at a certain point where she went to numerous times and bayed but did not stay. We started to question whether or not the fox had actually gone in or had gone over the bury and hounds had false marked it or the fox had pushed up tight and was dead at the point where the bitch kept going to. We thought this odd as she very rarely leaves a carcass so we decided to couple her up and see what Oscar thought. By this time several guns had left as the main pack, moved on and only the old hounds, still positive that Charlie was beneath us, were still on the bury. Their patience would be rewarded! After he’d searched the top side of the bury, a quick glance at the box showed that he was heading across the bottom to the spot which seemed to be causing the bitch problems. Once again the box read 1.7 but this time it never budged an inch. Something was down there, so a frantic dig commenced through some very hard and stony ground that had been sucked dry over many years by the trees. It would be another hour and a half or so of chipping and barring before we got a 0.3 mark on the Bellman and breakthrough was within reaching distance. The granite like earth finally gave in and the shovel broke though to Oscar’s back legs and, after clearing away a little, I could see he was like a cork in a bottle and wedged solid. Thinking he was stuck fast to a carcass, I started chiselling away from around his front end when suddenly he freed himself and pulled back in to the pit. Whatever it was that was around the corner definitely wasn’t dead and had put up a fair challenge so I lifted him out of further harm and then went back in to be greeted by a very unhappy and very much alive dog fox staring at me! Quite why the bitch wouldn’t stay we’ll never know. After all, our working terriers are just that, “terriers”, not machines with a guaranteed 100% success rate every time they are put to ground.
Knowing these abilities in a dog or bitch that you plan on breeding from is bound to give you best possible chance of producing some top quality workers that will give their owners many years of hard, honest graft, if given the chance.
With six black dogs kennelled at present, along with two lurchers, I’m stocked nicely for the coming season but I’ve also had pick of the litter out of a lovely little black bitch owned by a good friend and true terrier man, Steve Newell, from north Wales. The bitch was lined by Oscar and as a result, 7 pups were born with 4 making it through to 8 weeks of age, these being a bitch and 3 dogs. The decision was made almost straight away with a cracking chocolate pup, who I’ve appropriately named Charlie, accompanying me on the 40 odd mile trip home.
One thing I can say about having a little strain of your own is that it can get very addictive in that you always have to keep a pup back from each litter, regardless of whether you actually need one or not, just to see how they turn out. There will always be one that will catch your eye, that’s a sure fact! A couple of young dogs that are progressing well are Brock (Bonnie x Murphy, Murphy being out of Betty x Max), and Nell (Betty x Nelson, Nelson being out of Bonnie x Max), owned by a lad from south Yorkshire, who had them from me as pups. As well as being lookers, they too have become very game little terriers at a young age and are having to be held back a while, as gameness like this at such a young age can end in disaster, especially in the “wrong” place! I also kept a pup from each of these litters, Brock’s brother being Max Jr, a proper mad dog who’s hatred for red un’s is quite outstanding and Nell’s sister being Meg. Although she hasn’t come on anywhere near as quickly as Nell, she has recently started to come to life and her nose is now into everything, from mice in the log shed to digging moles for hours on end in the field. I’ve got high hopes for this little bitch this season and who knows, this time next year or the year after, depending on her progress, she too will be lined by a suitable proven dog of the same strain to provide the next generation of this fantastic little earth dog.