A Secondhand Dog: “Life’s too short to hunt with an ugly dog!!!”
It’s no secret that the variety of terrier breeds is in direct response to the need for dogs specifically bred to sort out a particular quarry in a particular (local) type of landscape. The nimble Border Terrier is ideally suited to navigate (and free itself from) the unyielding rocky crags and crevices of the Lake Country. The Irish Terrier, for more generalized work, is a bit more of a generalist for the pursuit of varied quarry in the open.
For its part, the Bedlington Terrier is the product of careful breeding by the lads who pursue their game in darkness—poachers. The speed, the power, and the silence of this fairly innocent looking canine make it a virtual godsend to those who may stray a bit to the left side of the law. While the dog fighting with the breed is long gone, the grab and hold technique of the breed makes it as valuable a hunter today as it was in the early days.
For its part, the Bedlington Terrier is the product of careful breeding by the lads who pursue their game in darkness—poachers. The speed, the power, and the silence of this fairly innocent looking canine make it a virtual godsend to those who may stray a bit to the left side of the law.
I admire dogs that work. Not just dogs that “could” perform their intended job but dogs that can and, more importantly, do perform their intended function. In my case, that’s hunting and vermin control. The fact that I live just a few miles from Times Square in the New York City metropolitan area that I share with 23.6 million close friends and neighbors just makes working my dogs a bit more of a challenge.
Still, we’re blessed with a presence of foxes, opossums, raccoons, rabbits, and even the occasional black bear. But the quarry which is most prolific, and most abhorred, is the lowly rat. Rattus norwegicus in this area. That one pound or so of fierce and furry rodent can provide hours of sport and challenge to the dedicated terrierist with a properly bred dog. It’s not exactly tiger hunting with the Maharajah, but when it’s the only sport you’ve got it works pretty well.
When “Marcus” reached these shores, his son “Catcher” (CH Notice Catcher in the Rye) had already achieved a certain amount of world acclaim by being the first of his kind to take on the city’s rattiest. The speed and power of the breed make it an excellent “catch” dog that is able to stand a bit apart from the action and wait for the rats to bolt from their feed pile in a bid for safety. Trip canceled! My ratting team at that time consisted of the Bedlingtons, two Jagdterriers, and some Dachshunds. Our “Friday night group” was slowly evolving from Border Terriers with their sensible style of hunting to the more raucous black dogs; the Patterdales and Jagdterriers.
Every so often we accommodate one of our friends or a media representative who may attend a hunt by loaning them a dog, and it was in this role that Marcus first hit the streets. I thought he was too soft to be a decent hunter. He was, and always had been, a “show dog” after all. Much to my surprise, those deeply ingrained genes sprang to life and my secondhand show dog became a wanton (if somewhat restrained) killer. No wasting time sparring with the barkers, just a quiet and decisive dispatch. He seemed to have a hidden switch that shifted into working mode whenever the field leads came out.
Now it is no secret that Bedlington Terriers can be a bit dog aggressive. That’s true of many worthy terriers, and the little tykes do look great standing a few feet apart and calling each other names. But that is NOT the style of the Bedlington, which very politely wishes its quarry “Good Day” and then snaps its neck. The closing pressure exerted by the Beddy’s bite at the very tip of the canines can approach 1200 pounds per square inch. You want to keep that channeled appropriately.
For his part, Marcus gets on well with other dogs, more so than Catcher who eventually found his forever home in a single-dog setting. Marcus’ other virtue in the field is that he will quite willingly recall if he believes that you have found quarry for him. He is one of the very few dogs that can be hunted off-lead in the city and still stay safe. With Marcus and Catcher setting the pace, it wasn’t long before other Bedlingtons joined the group and other groups with Beddy’s formed in other cities.
Most years, we run a special hunt to benefit Take the Lead. Usually right before Westminster (in years gone by) which makes for a cold, wet but always memorable experience for our tourists. Marcus served ably as lead dog for several years while I lent out the Jagdterriers to unsuspecting attendees.
The move from the show ring to actual hunting brought with it challenges and opportunities aplenty. Folks who work terriers are known to have egos as large or even larger than the dogs that they follow, and I claim no exception to this rule. Terrier Trials such as those held by the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America and the American Working Terrier Association provide both a forum to test and display the skills of our terriers, but also to back our confidence with a tiny wager. It’s not the dog fights of old, but very much the same idea. The wagers tend to grow in size in direct proportion to the amount of adult beverages available.
It was against this setting that I ran into a fine gentleman at the go-to-ground test at one of these trials. He had himself a small white dog and scoffed at the 17.5 inches-plus above the ground that Marcus occupied. “At his size he’ll never get through that tunnel,” said Tricky Trevor. Since the liners are about 9 inches square, it did indeed look that way, but a Beddy’s conformation is deceiving. Marcus made it in and worked the quarry and I was $100 richer.
“Maybe so,” grumbled Trevor “but he can’t turn around down there like mine.” The poor gent had obviously never witnessed the “lateral flexibility” of the breed and the lack of opportunity cost him another $100. Where there’s terriers and terrierists, there’ll be sport of one kind or another.
But skill at rat hunting is not really the mainstay of the Bedlington Terrier’s vocation. The breed is capable of work on bigger quarry and is used even today to put meat on the table. Its ability to bring down an unbelievable number of rabbits makes it a mainstay of those who sell their quarry at the local butcher shop. Beddys can function quite well as a lurcher, and Marcus proved that he too could hold his own on the hunt for “big game.”
A lurcher is not a breed, it’s a job description, and like terriers themselves, the best lurchers are bred specifically for a particular quarry in a particular country. We use them in the United States against fox, raccoon, groundhog, and even the occasional coyote. Too large to fit inside the burrow, the lurcher guards the “back door” while the dachshunds and terriers attempt to bolt the quarry. Hounds are useful for the task, but for the most part they lack the restraint necessary to make an efficient catch. Bedlingtons just kind of hang out and smile at the critter waiting for it to come out so they can get a good grab with no wasted motion or drama. (A Greyhound crossed with about 25 percent Border Collie makes another grand lurcher.)
We hunt foxes only on written complaint from farmers and landowners where the animal is actively doing damage. (We also contribute regularly to wildlife rehabilitators who rescue and preserve foxes.) Nearly all of this occurs during the winter months. Marcus is never happier than when waiting expectantly for the quarry to bolt, and has even developed a rather friendly smile to entice the quarry from the burrow. Once out, if the quarry works free, the chase is on and it’s up to the lurcher to bring down the quarry or bring it to bay. As you might expect, this is a rigorous pastime and Marcus worked hard at it until he approached nine years of age. Even in retirement, there’s nothing he likes better than a nose full of fox or groundhog to brighten his day.
Taking a conformation-bred Bedlington into the hunt field among a stalwart group of hunters from the deep South (only a cad would call them “rednecks”) devoted to “black dogs” and “white dogs” is not for the faint of heart. I was quickly accused of trying to hunt with a Q-Tip along with several unprintable opinions of the noble beast at the end of my lead. Marcus was able to change the jeering multitudes into Bedlington supporters with more than a few wanting to know where they could come by a Q-Tip of their own. He’s a pretty good ambassador for the breed.
So, along with the secondhand dog and the conformation that let him compete in the show ring came the genes that enabled him to use that conformation and mindset for its intended purpose in hunting and vermin control. He’s done well for himself and done well for me, and he’s brought some respect and recognition for the breed as a whole as well.
Bedlington Terrier Breed Magazine
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