The British Kennel Club classifies breeds into six groups, five of these being categories comprising dogs from different regions throughout the world. The terrier group is unusual in that most of its breeds originate in the British Isles.
A reference around 1600 tells us that some terriers were long legged and some had short and crooked legs. We are also told that the "crooked-legged ones were smooth-coated and the straight and long-legged Terriers had shaggy coats". It appears that all were black and tan in colour and were eventually to be known as the Old English Black-and-Tan Terriers.
Towards the middle of the eighteenth century a writer gave the following description of terriers of that time: "There are two sorts of terrier, the one rough, short-legged and long-backed, very strong and most commonly of a black or yellowish colour mixed with white; the other is smooth-haired and beautifully formed, having a shorter body and more sprightly appearance, is generally reddish-brown colour or black with tanned legs".
By 1790 terriers were bred with the occasional white marking. An etching of that time shows a Black and Tan Terrier with a white chest. Gradually the numbers of white terriers increased and in 1858 the editor of The Field magazine maintained that "black and tan was the only true colour", adding that "many were to be seen white".
The earth terriers - with short legs - were hard working, energetic and extremely tough and would go to ground after fox, badger and rabbit.
The larger terriers were expert at disposing of otter, water rats and many forms of wildlife which lived along river banks and around farms.
It is only since the nineteenth century that terriers have gradually developed into distinct breeds. Countrymen in various parts of the British Isles realised the importance of breeding dogs along different lines to suit the locality in which they worked.
English terriers in the group originate from various parts of the country. They are different in size, shape and colour, and all have strong terrier instincts. The group includes the Airedale, the Bull Terrier, the Wire and Smooth Fox Terrier, the Manchester Terrier, the Norfolk and Norwich Terrier and the Jack Russell Terrier.
A large number of these terrier breeds are directly or indirectly descended from the Old English Black and Tan Terrier and the now extinct White English Terrier.
The Airedale and the Bull Terrier are two breeds whose ancestry has been influenced by these dogs. The former, in spite of strains from other breeds, has inherited the colouring of the Black and Tan. The latter's all-white colouring is the result of crossing the old type terrier with the White English Terrier.
The Wire- and Smooth-Coated Fox Terriers are descended from dogs with terrier and hunting blood in their veins and, as their name implies, they were originally used for foxhunting. In the mid nineteenth century, like other working breeds they became successful in the show ring. In the 187O's the English Fox Terrier Club was founded, with only Smooth-coated dogs accepted. Nearly forty years later a club was founded for the Wire-haired variety (Wire Fox Terrier Association).
The black and tan Manchester Terrier was developed in the north west of England. It was an all purpose dog, being used in warehouses, mines, factories, docks and homes to control the rat population and also as a sporting dog to hunt rabbits and in contests in the rat-pits.
The Norfolk and Norwich were earth terriers and came originally from East Anglia, on the eastern side of England. For their size they were extremely efficient at controlling most types of vermin.
The Jack Russell Terrier from Devonshire, a popular breed which has recently found royal favour, is an excellent worker and companion.
From north of the border come a number of well known breeds. The Cairn and the Skye Terrier are earth dogs and are thought to be among some of the oldest breeds in the British Isles. Both come from the Highlands of Scotland and were used as working dogs to eliminate fox, badger and other vermin which plagued the crofters and shepherds.
Together with the reserved Scottish Terrier and the spirited West Highland White Terrier, they make up the Scottish terrier breeds that have made their mark in the world.
Terriers from the Border Counties include the Bedlington the Dandie Dinmont, the Border and the Lakeland.
The source of the Bedlington and the Dandie Dinmont are unknown, but it is possible to be more precise as to the origin of their names. The Bedlington, originally known as the Rothbury Terrier, was named after an area called Rothbury Forest in the county of Northumberland. It was used by miners to clear the mines of rats and by gypsies for poaching. The Dandie Dinmont was given its name from a character in Sir Walter Scott's novel Guy Mannering. The breed was kept by hill farmers to destroy all types of vermin and also for hunting badger and fox.
Nowadays the Lakeland and Border Terriers are famous on the show-bench, but originally they were tough working terriers and quite capable of spending long hours with hounds until they had disposed of their enemy - the fox.
From the Principality of Wales come two types of terrier; the Welsh, which is probably one of the oldest terrier breeds, and the plucky little Sealyham from Pembrokeshire.
The Welsh, like the Airedale, is descended from the Old English Black-and-Tan Terrier and is probably more closely linked in appearance to its originator than any other terrier breed. Both the Welsh and the Sealyham were, like all terrier breeds, used originally to control and dispose of most types of vermin. They are still workmanlike little dogs. Those which live in the country and are trained for the purpose are are found to be as capable as their ancestors.
There are four Irish terrier breeds: from the south of Ireland the vivacious Kerry Blue; from the west the happy-go-lucky Wheaten Terrier; from the north of the country the compelling Irish Terrier; and from the east, in County Wicklow, the game little Glen of Imaal Terrier. All breeds lived and worked on the farms and have at sometime or other captivated us with their Irish charm.
The terrier breeds from other parts of the world are: the Australian Terrier; the Jagdhund - smooth- and wire-coated hunting terriers from Germany; and the small attractive Cesky Terrier from Czechoslovakia. Both continental breeds are capable hunters above and beneath the ground and have a substantial following.
In the past, dogs in this group played an important part in the lives of many people. Vermin had to be kept under control, and although rat and mole catchers were used for this purpose, most terriers just got on with the job without any outside assistance from man. Also, rats which were supplied for rat killing competitions had to be disposed of and this meant that terriers, especially Black and Tans and English White Terriers were in great demand. In the twentieth century terriers have gradually declined in popularity. They are no longer required for sporting events or to keep vermin under control - except for pleasure!
In the mid-1990's terriers are once more being used as working dogs. A British International Dog Rescue Team, based in north Wales, is training small terrier-type dogs to carry match box size cameras underground. The dogs will work in areas of national disaster to help find casualties who are trapped. They are called 'Tunnel Dogs' and are small enough to work in confined spaces which large dogs are unable to negotiate.
However, although terriers are still born with the instincts of a hunter, the majority of today's dogs are now good companions and very successful show dogs.
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