CHAPTER XXXI. THE BULL-TERRIER

The Bull-terrier is now a gentlemanly and respectably owned dog, wearing an immaculate white coat and a burnished silver collar; he has dealings with aristocracy, and is no longer contemned for keeping bad company. But a generation or two ago he was commonly the associate of rogues and vagabonds, skulking at the heels of such members of society as Mr. William Sikes, whom he accompanied at night on darksome business to keep watch outside while Bill was within, cracking the crib. In those days the dog's ears were closely cropped, not for the sake of embellishment, but as a measure of protection against the fangs of his opponent in the pit when money was laid upon the result of a well-fought fight to the death. For fighting was the acknowledged vocation of his order, and he was bred and trained to the work. He knew something of rats, too, and many of his kind were famed in the land for their prowess in this direction. Jimmy Shaw's Jacko could finish off sixty rats in three minutes, and on one occasion made a record by killing a thousand in a trifle over an hour and a half.

The breed is sufficiently modern to leave no doubt as to its derivation. In the first quarter of the nineteenth century attention was being directed to the improvement of terriers generally, and new types were sought for. They were alert, agile little dogs, excellent for work in the country; but the extravagant Corinthians of the time—the young gamesters who patronised the prize-ring and the cock-pit—desired to have a dog who should do something more than kill rats, or unearth the fox, or bolt the otter: which accomplishments afforded no amusement to the Town. They wanted a dog combining all the dash and gameness of the terrier with the heart and courage and fighting instinct of the Bulldog. Wherefore the terrier and the Bulldog were crossed. A large type of terrier was chosen, and this would be the smooth-coated Black and Tan, or the early English White Terrier; but probably both were used indifferently, and for a considerable period. The result gave the young bucks what they required: a dog that was at once a determined vermin killer and an intrepid fighter, upon whose skill in the pit wagers might with confidence be laid.

The animal, however, was neither a true terrier nor a true Bulldog, but an uncompromising mongrel; albeit he served his immediate purpose, and was highly valued for his pertinacity, if not for his appearance. In 1806 Lord Camelford possessed one for which he had paid the very high price of eighty-four guineas, and which he presented to Belcher, the pugilist. This dog was figured in The Sporting Magazine of the time. He was a short-legged, thick-set, fawn-coloured specimen, with closely amputated ears, a broad blunt muzzle, and a considerable lay-back; and this was the kind of dog which continued for many years to be known as the Bull-and-terrier. He was essentially a man's dog, and was vastly in favour among the undergraduates of Oxford and Cambridge.

Gradually the Bulldog element, at first pronounced, was reduced to something like a fourth degree, and, with the terrier character predominating, the head was sharpened, the limbs were lengthened and straightened until little remained of the Bulldog strain but the dauntless heart and the fearless fighting spirit, together with the frequent reversion to brindle colouring, which was the last outward and visible characteristic to disappear.

Within the remembrance of men not yet old the Bull-terrier was as much marked with fawn, brindle, or even black, as are the Fox-terriers of our own period. But fifty years or so ago white was becoming frequent, and was much admired. A strain of pure white was bred by James Hinks, a well-known dog-dealer of Birmingham, and it is no doubt to Hinks that we are indebted for the elegant Bull-terrier of the type that we know to-day. These Birmingham dogs showed a refinement and grace and an absence of the crook-legs and coloured patches which betrayed that Hinks had been using an out-cross with the English White Terrier, thus getting away further still from the Bulldog.

With the advent of the Hinks strain in 1862 the short-faced dog fell into disrepute, and pure white became the accepted colour. There was a wide latitude in the matter of weight. If all other points were good, a dog might weigh anything between 10 and 38 lbs., but classes were usually divided for those above and those below 16 lb. The type became fixed, and it was ruled that the perfect Bull-terrier “must have a long head, wide between the ears, level jaws, a small black eye, a large black nose, a long neck, straight fore-legs, a small hare foot, a narrow chest, deep brisket, powerful loin, long body, a tail set and carried low, a fine coat, and small ears well hung and dropping forward.”

Idstone, who wrote this description in 1872, earnestly insisted that the ears of all dogs should be left uncut and as Nature made them; but for twenty years thereafter the ears of the Bull-terrier continued to be cropped to a thin, erect point. The practice of cropping, it is true, was even then illegal and punishable by law, but, although there were occasional convictions under the Cruelty to Animals Act, the dog owners who admired the alertness and perkiness of the cut ear ignored the risk they ran, and it was not until the Kennel Club took resolute action against the practice that cropping was entirely abandoned.