TERRIERS—LONG MAY THEY REIGN!

In honor of the upcoming Montgomery County Kennel Club Terrier shows, this is from the ShowSight Archives. January, 2015 Edition. Above painting "Montgomery County 2011" by Allison Platt. Click to subscribe. 

No Group has won Best in Show more often than the Terrier Group. They have a long and illustrious history as enthusiastic, super confident show dogs. Terriers excel in performance events, too. They are tough, agile competitors in Fly Ball, earth dog trials, agility, Barn Hunt, and now even in lure coursing. So why are their registration numbers falling? Why are there so few terriers entered in the classes at all-breed shows? It seems as though only the large kennel club shows on both coasts can draw in the number of terrier entries that used to be common in the middle of the country, too. Even at the large regional Terrier Group shows, only a very few have managed to bring their entries up a bit from the “free fall” of declining numbers during the last six years.

 

For all purebred dogs and their breeders/exhibitors, many challenges make it increasingly difficult to continue in the sport of dog showing. Many Americans saw their jobs vanish, their life savings wiped out, and their homes lost, through no fault of their own, in foreclosure. Not since the Great Depression have so many suffered such financial disasters. Of the jobs that have returned within the last year, many are part time and the paychecks from full time jobs are consistently lower than before the Great Recession. Both partners in a marriage must work long hours to hold their households together. Just surviving has become a struggle for families and that doesn’t leave much room—either financially or in time available—for breeding and showing dogs. On top of all the other financial restraints, entry fees keep climbing as do the costs of travel to dog shows. Veterinary expenses and the cost of high quality dog foods continue to rise while wages remain below pre-recession levels.

 

In the midst of everyone’s hardships, there seem to be even greater challenges for the terriers—most especially, those that require skilled grooming, i.e., all of the coated terrier breeds. The current situation is bittersweet, because the quality of dogs in the terrier breeds right now is very good. I don’t know how deep that quality extends down through the classes, but by the Group and Best in Show levels of competition, there are some gorgeous, typey terriers being shown, and not just in the traditional “standout” terrier breeds.

 

In the terrier breed with which I am most familiar—Cairns—bringing in Scandinavian dogs to breed with our US. Cairns has greatly improved the coats, the movement, and the proportions of the dogs. Cairns have come a long way from the “little haystacks” that Annie Clark described thirty-five years ago. Similarly, a considerable number of the other terrier breeds have also improved in quality through the skill of their breeders and, in some cases, a judicious use of imported stock from the U.K. or Europe. Such international cooperation among breeders has been and will continue to be a key component in creating a brighter future for many of our terrier breeds.

 

Owners’ dedication to their terriers requires a high level of commitment—and that may be one of the greatest challenges to potential exhibitors. Let’s face it. Terriers are not the easiest breeds in the world to live with, to keep in coat, or to maintain harmoniously in a pack situation. Even in the breeds meant to live and work in a pack, stud dogs cannot be kept together past adolescence, especially, when bitches are in season. A seemingly congenial pack of bitches must be carefully monitored so that any emerging bully is immediately removed or that PMS in one of the girls doesn’t cause tension in the pack (yes, some bitches do suffer from PMS.). Oh, and the bitch who has just come out of heat, the one you’ve already entered in a large regional specialty, will now totally blow her coat in response to the flood of hormones during estrus. It sometimes feels as though dog showing resembles just one more “money pit”.

 

On the plus side, however, terriers have a keen sense of humor and of fun which make them not only great show dogs but also great companions. They’re always up for any adventure or activity you might suggest and will do it with panache. Bred for a high pain threshold and fearlessness, not much can dissuade a terrier on the hunt or defending those he loves. Life is never boring with a terrier!

 

Sadly, the number of terrier owners who can afford to have their dogs’ coats maintained by professional handlers has dwindled markedly. Most exhibitors must learn the demanding details of how to groom their terrier breeds themselves—hopefully, with the help of skilled mentors. But often, such mentors simply do not exist nearby, necessitating arranged visits to out-of-town or even out-of-state grooming experts. Depending upon the innate artistic skill of the novice and the availability of a mentor, most people need from one to three years’ apprenticeship—in a steep learning curve—before they can seriously compete with the professional handlers they will encounter in the show ring. Our Western culture demands quick fixes for every problem. It’s not an easy task to convince young people that spending years learning a skill is worth the effort when no fat paycheck accompanies the hard work. Even for those of us who have truly enjoyed grooming our terriers, the years can take their toll. After endless hours of hand stripping the hard-coated breeds or scissoring the soft-coated ones, nerve damage often appears in overworked hands and wrists—and there are no workers’ comp payments as recompense.

 

So, why do we suffer the stripping knife callouses on our fingers and the nerve damage in our hands? Because a well-presented terrier showing itself off in the show ring is a sight that brings a thrill to our terrier-loving hearts and a chill up our spines. If we are the breeder-exhibitor of that gorgeous terrier as well as its groomer, then the rewards are even greater. That stylish, impeccably groomed terrier is a living work of art that we helped create, which is most fulfilling.

 

More serious challenges confront some of the terrier breeds, such as the Dandie Dinmont and the Sealyham, for they now deal with an ever shrinking gene pool. Even in their countries of origin, the rare breeds of terriers face dwindling numbers. The genetic health of the dogs is left in jeopardy. The international cooperation that I mentioned earlier becomes critically important for such breeds. To attain the goal of “uniformity of type but diversity of pedigree” (Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type, Rick Beachamp), their breeders must expend greater effort, time, and money in breeding decisions that include dogs in foreign countries to expand their breed’s gene pool. They must also tirelessly recruit new fanciers to those terrier breeds little known by the general public.

 

Another tool to aid in the survival and eventual thriving of the coated terrier breeds is international gatherings of breeders. These global gatherings are called by several different names: world congresses, world symposiums, or international conferences. The conferences must NOT be simply a series of speakers. After each presentation there must be small, breakout groups to chew on the information presented and share experiential knowledge. When these gatherings function at their best, breeders can share information on genetics, health issues, breeding practices, legal restrictions for breeders, educating policy makers about the responsible breeding of purebred dogs, marketing strategies for their breed, and yes, even their breed standards. Not that the goal is a universal breed standard, but that the world’s breeders agree on the essentials of their breed and that the differences in the standards are so minor that a “good dog can win anywhere in the world”. In conjunction with the conferences, a specialty show is usually held which gives the attendees a truly global view of their breed, a wonderful way to objectively evaluate the state of a breed. Beyond that, breeders can also recognize the benefits of using certain dogs from another country to improve their own breeding program and gain more genetic diversity.

 

International showing and breeding is already a reality, and these activities will only increase in the “global village” in which we now live. Because terrier owners and breeders are much like their dogs—strong willed and opinionated—terrier people have been more than a bit hesitant to come together in this sort of a “United Nations of Terriers”. Breeders of dogs from the other Groups have been actively meeting since the early 1980s on a regular basis—usually, every five years—at locations that rotate among the countries known to have dedicated breeders and a sizeable population of that particular breed. As one might expect, these international symposiums often create quite animated, energetic discussions. As long as a few thick-skinned diplomatic types are present to keep the discussions on course, many fruitful decisions can be made which move the breed forward in every way.

 

The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier parent club has participated in several of these international symposiums. The Glen of Imaal club held one during the World Dog Show week in Helsinki, Finland. International Cairn breeders met together during the week of the World Dog Show when it was held in Stockholm, Sweden. Another symposium was held in the UK the early fall of 2013. There may be other terrier breeds that have organized international conferences of which I am not aware. I hope that there are, because these gatherings prove most useful in furthering the health, quality of type, and even the popularity of a particular terrier breed when everyone works together to promote it.

 

Terriers survived for centuries in rugged terrain, harsh climates, and dangerous work in their native lands. For a couple more centuries terriers have retained the best of their traits in the rarified atmosphere of British parlors, the Kennel Club’s competitions, and now in the challenges of a jet setting US showing schedule. I can’t believe for a moment that terrier aficionados around the world will allow these charismatic dogs’ numbers to dwindle to semi-extinction. The science and art that is breeding, raising, grooming, and training terriers will always attract a following. As current terrier lovers, we must encourage, educate, and mentor the newcomers so that there always remains a steadfast group who are as enthusiastic and energetic as their terriers. 

 

Until next time,

Sandra | horsnhound@gmail.com

 

TERRIERS—LONG MAY THEY REIGN!

by Sandra Murray

 

No Group has won Best in Show more often than the Terrier Group. They have a long and illustrious history as enthusiastic, super confident show dogs. Terriers excel in performance events, too. They are tough, agile competitors in Fly Ball, earth dog trials, agility, Barn Hunt, and now even in lure coursing. So why are their registration numbers falling? Why are there so few terriers entered in the classes at all-breed shows? It seems as though only the large kennel club shows on both coasts can draw in the number of terrier entries that used to be common in the middle of the country, too. Even at the large regional Terrier Group shows, only a very few have managed to bring their entries up a bit from the “free fall” of declining numbers during the last six years.

 

For all purebred dogs and their breeders/exhibitors, many challenges make it increasingly difficult to continue in the sport of dog showing. Many Americans saw their jobs vanish, their life savings wiped out, and their homes lost, through no fault of their own, in foreclosure. Not since the Great Depression have so many suffered such financial disasters. Of the jobs that have returned within the last year, many are part time and the paychecks from full time jobs are consistently lower than before the Great Recession. Both partners in a marriage must work long hours to hold their households together. Just surviving has become a struggle for families and that doesn’t leave much room—either financially or in time available—for breeding and showing dogs. On top of all the other financial restraints, entry fees keep climbing as do the costs of travel to dog shows. Veterinary expenses and the cost of high quality dog foods continue to rise while wages remain below pre-recession levels.

 

In the midst of everyone’s hardships, there seem to be even greater challenges for the terriers—most especially, those that require skilled grooming, i.e., all of the coated terrier breeds. The current situation is bittersweet, because the quality of dogs in the terrier breeds right now is very good. I don’t know how deep that quality extends down through the classes, but by the Group and Best in Show levels of competition, there are some gorgeous, typey terriers being shown, and not just in the traditional “standout” terrier breeds.

 

In the terrier breed with which I am most familiar—Cairns—bringing in Scandinavian dogs to breed with our US. Cairns has greatly improved the coats, the movement, and the proportions of the dogs. Cairns have come a long way from the “little haystacks” that Annie Clark described thirty-five years ago. Similarly, a considerable number of the other terrier breeds have also improved in quality through the skill of their breeders and, in some cases, a judicious use of imported stock from the U.K. or Europe. Such international cooperation among breeders has been and will continue to be a key component in creating a brighter future for many of our terrier breeds.

 

Owners’ dedication to their terriers requires a high level of commitment—and that may be one of the greatest challenges to potential exhibitors. Let’s face it. Terriers are not the easiest breeds in the world to live with, to keep in coat, or to maintain harmoniously in a pack situation. Even in the breeds meant to live and work in a pack, stud dogs cannot be kept together past adolescence, especially, when bitches are in season. A seemingly congenial pack of bitches must be carefully monitored so that any emerging bully is immediately removed or that PMS in one of the girls doesn’t cause tension in the pack (yes, some bitches do suffer from PMS.). Oh, and the bitch who has just come out of heat, the one you’ve already entered in a large regional specialty, will now totally blow her coat in response to the flood of hormones during estrus. It sometimes feels as though dog showing resembles just one more “money pit”.

 

On the plus side, however, terriers have a keen sense of humor and of fun which make them not only great show dogs but also great companions. They’re always up for any adventure or activity you might suggest and will do it with panache. Bred for a high pain threshold and fearlessness, not much can dissuade a terrier on the hunt or defending those he loves. Life is never boring with a terrier!

 

Sadly, the number of terrier owners who can afford to have their dogs’ coats maintained by professional handlers has dwindled markedly. Most exhibitors must learn the demanding details of how to groom their terrier breeds themselves—hopefully, with the help of skilled mentors. But often, such mentors simply do not exist nearby, necessitating arranged visits to out-of-town or even out-of-state grooming experts. Depending upon the innate artistic skill of the novice and the availability of a mentor, most people need from one to three years’ apprenticeship—in a steep learning curve—before they can seriously compete with the professional handlers they will encounter in the show ring. Our Western culture demands quick fixes for every problem. It’s not an easy task to convince young people that spending years learning a skill is worth the effort when no fat paycheck accompanies the hard work. Even for those of us who have truly enjoyed grooming our terriers, the years can take their toll. After endless hours of hand stripping the hard-coated breeds or scissoring the soft-coated ones, nerve damage often appears in overworked hands and wrists—and there are no workers’ comp payments as recompense.

 

So, why do we suffer the stripping knife callouses on our fingers and the nerve damage in our hands? Because a well-presented terrier showing itself off in the show ring is a sight that brings a thrill to our terrier-loving hearts and a chill up our spines. If we are the breeder-exhibitor of that gorgeous terrier as well as its groomer, then the rewards are even greater. That stylish, impeccably groomed terrier is a living work of art that we helped create, which is most fulfilling.

 

More serious challenges confront some of the terrier breeds, such as the Dandie Dinmont and the Sealyham, for they now deal with an ever shrinking gene pool. Even in their countries of origin, the rare breeds of terriers face dwindling numbers. The genetic health of the dogs is left in jeopardy. The international cooperation that I mentioned earlier becomes critically important for such breeds. To attain the goal of “uniformity of type but diversity of pedigree” (Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type, Rick Beachamp), their breeders must expend greater effort, time, and money in breeding decisions that include dogs in foreign countries to expand their breed’s gene pool. They must also tirelessly recruit new fanciers to those terrier breeds little known by the general public.

 

Another tool to aid in the survival and eventual thriving of the coated terrier breeds is international gatherings of breeders. These global gatherings are called by several different names: world congresses, world symposiums, or international conferences. The conferences must NOT be simply a series of speakers. After each presentation there must be small, breakout groups to chew on the information presented and share experiential knowledge. When these gatherings function at their best, breeders can share information on genetics, health issues, breeding practices, legal restrictions for breeders, educating policy makers about the responsible breeding of purebred dogs, marketing strategies for their breed, and yes, even their breed standards. Not that the goal is a universal breed standard, but that the world’s breeders agree on the essentials of their breed and that the differences in the standards are so minor that a “good dog can win anywhere in the world”. In conjunction with the conferences, a specialty show is usually held which gives the attendees a truly global view of their breed, a wonderful way to objectively evaluate the state of a breed. Beyond that, breeders can also recognize the benefits of using certain dogs from another country to improve their own breeding program and gain more genetic diversity.

 

International showing and breeding is already a reality, and these activities will only increase in the “global village” in which we now live. Because terrier owners and breeders are much like their dogs—strong willed and opinionated—terrier people have been more than a bit hesitant to come together in this sort of a “United Nations of Terriers”. Breeders of dogs from the other Groups have been actively meeting since the early 1980s on a regular basis—usually, every five years—at locations that rotate among the countries known to have dedicated breeders and a sizeable population of that particular breed. As one might expect, these international symposiums often create quite animated, energetic discussions. As long as a few thick-skinned diplomatic types are present to keep the discussions on course, many fruitful decisions can be made which move the breed forward in every way.

 

The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier parent club has participated in several of these international symposiums. The Glen of Imaal club held one during the World Dog Show week in Helsinki, Finland. International Cairn breeders met together during the week of the World Dog Show when it was held in Stockholm, Sweden. Another symposium was held in the UK the early fall of 2013. There may be other terrier breeds that have organized international conferences of which I am not aware. I hope that there are, because these gatherings prove most useful in furthering the health, quality of type, and even the popularity of a particular terrier breed when everyone works together to promote it.

 

Terriers survived for centuries in rugged terrain, harsh climates, and dangerous work in their native lands. For a couple more centuries terriers have retained the best of their traits in the rarified atmosphere of British parlors, the Kennel Club’s competitions, and now in the challenges of a jet setting US showing schedule. I can’t believe for a moment that terrier aficionados around the world will allow these charismatic dogs’ numbers to dwindle to semi-extinction. The science and art that is breeding, raising, grooming, and training terriers will always attract a following. As current terrier lovers, we must encourage, educate, and mentor the newcomers so that there always remains a steadfast group who are as enthusiastic and energetic as their terriers. 

 

Until next time,

Sandra | horsnhound@gmail.com

 

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