Montgomery & the National Earthdog Test
The ‘Terrierist’s’ Common Bond
Photos by Richard Reynolds & William Reyna
No matter what your attraction to terriers may be, Montgomery County Kennel Club’s Annual Show for Terrier Breeds Only on the second weekend in October is where you want to be. The performance folks are there and, of course, all the gods and goddesses of the terrier ring. (You know who you are.) This year there were 1,310 very nicely bred terriers competing for some very high honors.
On the far side of the pond, the label “terrierman” has a specific connotation. It is applied to the professional (or honorary) hunt servant who breeds, handles, and transports the hunt’s terriers. It also applies equally to ladies and gentlemen of the night who roam the hills and dales and moors and glens with their dogs in search of illegal game; Poachers, of course, but the best stewards and preservers of the breeds that there will ever be. But no matter which side of the pond, which side of the law, or where in the social strata one may fall, being a terrierman creates a common bond.
On this side of the pond, that title is most often directed toward a professional handler or judge who has focused his or her career on dealing with breeds in the Terrier Group:
- Peter Green
- George Wright
- Ernesto Lara
- Amy Rutherford
- Margery Good
- Gabe Rangel
It’s an honor, though, that should be available to all sexes and persuasions, so I would propose to replace the term with the title of “terrierist.” There should be a specific name too, for a group of terrierists. Let’s call it a “sparring.” For its part, Montgomery is one of the truly great sparrings of terrierists on the planet.
In the huge galleries of folks surrounding the rings (all of them looking tweedier than the British), one can spot the all too quiet observers. They don’t say much, don’t move around a lot, and aren’t dressed appropriately, but are as keen on terriers as any. They are the terrierists who work their dogs on quarry above and below ground and know by experience the conformation priorities necessary to get the job done. One of those is my friend and frequent hunting partner whom we’ll call Tricky Trevor.
Trevor is a native son of Ireland and brought with him to America as fierce a love of terriers and hunting as there ever has been. Having had a part-time job as a grave digger, he can dig a dog out of the earth in record time. Trevor is a Patterdale breeder who admits to a secret longing for a good working Lakeland like he had in Ireland.
Whenever possible, I like to get Tricky Trevor to a dog show. This time was easy since I was judging Lakeland Sweepstakes and I was sure that a spirited discussion of the breed (and my miserable judging) would certainly follow along with some exceptional Single Malt spirits. (I do miss the open bar that was a feature of Montgomery in years long past.)
This year, it was my privilege to judge sweepstakes classes in both Russell Terriers and Lakeland Terriers. Both breeds have their roots firmly established in the hunting tradition, albeit under very different conditions. Russell Terriers, as we know them today, found their start as short-legged Jack Russell Terriers which were commonly known as “Puddin’s.”
I used to breed them to work with the hounds and found them more useful in the dens of Pennsylvania than their longer-legged brethren, the “Parsons.” For their part, the Lakelands and their first cousins, the Patterdale Terrier and the Fell Terrier, were and are some of the most useful terriers ever to walk the planet. Far from being yesterday’s terrier, both breeds are used today, both in the larger dens of England and the smaller confines of burrows in America. Having dug to both breeds (on occasion for far too long a time), I’m keenly aware of what it takes to get the job done. I’m used to having different priorities in conformation judging. I know what is required to get the job done, but what will I find on the green, green grass of Montgomery?
Fortunately, the day began just after sunrise with some “terrierific” weather with clear skies and just the slightest covering of frost on the grass (and tables). Everyone felt it, and the big white tent literally came alive. In Lakies, my ring stewards were Marie Falconer, an old friend, and Al Ferruggiaro, a Lakie breeder-judge and all-around terrier expert. I immediately began hatching a plan to shield myself from the possible slings and arrows of Tricky Trevor, but when all was sorted, we more or less agreed on the placings.
The whole message here is that a good dog, whether judged by a kennel club standard or decades of working experience, can and should be rewarded in either venue. On this day it happened.
There were but twelve terriers out of the 1,310 entered who brought with them an Earthdog title. Of these, six were Border Terriers. The parent club has historically placed an emphasis on the preservation of the working qualities of the breed, both here and in the UK, and offers well-attended Working Classes.
Entries from the Working Classes have, on several occasions, actually gone Best of Breed at Specialty Shows. But while the BTCA may lead the preservation effort, other clubs such as the Bedlington Terrier Club of America and the United States Lakeland Terrier Club have joined ranks and each of these breeds has produced some great working terriers and, more importantly, lines of useful working dogs. (My Best in Veteran Sweepstakes was later found to carry a Senior Earthdog title).
The test this year was very well attended with 130 overall entries, with a significant number of them freshly stripped and trimmed from Montgomery.
Several years ago, we were able to resume holding the National Earthdog Test on the day following MCKC at a site within a reasonable distance of the show. The test is sponsored each year by a different parent club, but is open to all eligible terrier breeds and Dachshunds. The test is geared towards the novice dog with little or no actual training or experience. This year, the addition of a Novice Earthdog regular class made the effort doubly attractive.
The National Earthdog Test this year was very well attended with 130 overall entries, with a significant number of them freshly stripped and trimmed from Montgomery.
One of those vying for a green and white rosette was Ch. Julerr Anisette Alegretto RATN FDC, “Anna,” who is bred, owned, and handled by Julie Gritten of Livingston, Montana. Anna was Best of Breed and Best Bred-By Exhibitor in Cesky Terriers at Montgomery.
As one of the more recently evolved of the terrier breeds, the Cesky has laid claim, some of it provable, to a hunting and working heritage. Although the breed was intended to be “suitable for hunting the forests of Bohemia,” it has certainly not been widely used, either in Europe or America. The breed appears to be able to easily compete in Earthdog Tests and Terrier Trials, and would seem to be appropriate for hunting fox and, perhaps, raccoon here in North America. Videos posted on the Internet of Ceskys supposedly hunting wild boar leave a great deal to the imagination.
In the mere 18 years since the breed entered AKC’s Foundation Stock Service, Ceskys have not been common participants in Earthdog Tests or Terrier Trials. Perhaps this is the result of a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the current parent club or an unfortunate geographic distribution of the still relatively rare breed. Either way, there’s a world of accomplishment and challenge out there waiting for the Cesky and the few breeders who are starting to reach for it. I’m looking forward to the day when I can actually hunt over one of them.
For her part, Anna was game enough to qualify but hadn’t quite made the connection between those quite smelly and aggressive “hybrid” rats and the long, scary, pitch-black tunnel that separated her from them. After the tests were concluded, a few minutes of intensive instruction brought her to “the epiphany” and she no doubt will be an able hunter or earthdog. Perhaps her initiative and success will stir a movement for aggressive steps by the breeders to preserve the basic working qualities of the breed inherited from the Sealy and the Scottie, both top performers in their own right.
Next year’s National Earthdog Test will be sponsored by the United States Lakeland Terrier Club. Same day, same place, and the same opportunity to prove your status as a preservation breeder. Meanwhile, we’ll try to offer some type of working experience to any terrier and its owner who wants to try… and all the dogs want to try.