The Lakeland Terrier, one of the oldest of the modern terriers, is a descendant of the old English Black and Tan and Fell Terriers dating back to the 1700s, and that makes the breed’s presence on the Kennel Club’s list of Vulnerable Breeds all the more tragic.
Lakies were bred to hunt and dispatch vermin, including foxes that preyed on farmers’ lambs and poultry in Britain’s border county of Cumberland. They did it with unforgiving efficiency. Working with larger hounds, a Lakeland’s original task was to “go to ground,” the breed’s size making easy for the dog to gain entry into hard-to-reach places. In fact, it was said that if a Lakie could get its head into a space, the rest would follow easily, its narrow front easily fitting between cracks in the rocks or a narrow tunnel.
How scrappy are Lakeland Terriers?
A story dating from the 19th century tells of a Lakeland Terrier belonging to Hugh Lowther, the 5th Earl of Lonsdale, who tunneled 23 feet under solid rock to reach an otter whose scent the dog had picked up. Three men blasted into rock for three days rescue the little dog who was still itching to get to his otter. At least he had an owner who didn’t give up on him (Lord Lonsdale was also the first president of the Lakeland Terrier Association). Sadly, there are anecdotes of Lakies who were never found, or who were worse for wear because of their protracted adventures. It was because of this pluck that one or two Lakeland Terriers were typically included a hunting party’s pack of hounds.
We came across a hunting song that seems a fitting way to conclude; appropriately, it’s called “The Terrier Song,” and includes a reference to the terriers in Lakeland:
There’s many a song about hunting, huntsmen are honoured by name,
But there’s never a song about terriers, that in Lakeland have gained lasting fame,
No pedigrees have these brave warriors, their colours no rules can define,
They’re bred for pluck and spirit, with a heart as big as a lion.
So always remember your terriers, protect them from wet and from cold,
For the love of a tyke for it’s master, can never be measured in gold.
Whether he’s rough or smooth coated, he’ll tackle badger, otter or fox,
Run a drain or creep into a soil hole, or squeeze through a grike in the rocks,
Whether it’s Trixie or Nellie, Rock, Jock or Turk it’s the same,
One quality you’ll find amongst them and dalesfolk call it “dead game”.
He’ll yield not one inch though they maul him, he’ll fight to the death on his own.
Though sometimes he’ll be imprisoned by a rushing of soil or of stone,
Then the brave lad’s of the vallies, to save him will toil day and night,
And join in a halloa of gladness as he blinks back to god’s blessed light.
At Crufts famous show down in London, they’ve terriers there not worth their name,
If you show them a fox or an otter, they’ll fly for their lives without shame,
They’re not built to creep or do battle, but to sit on a chair in a house,
And they do say that one recent champion was chased down the road by a mouse.
So here’s to our gallant la’al workers, not beauties perhaps but they’ll do,
For with gameness and also affection they’ll make you a pal good and true,
And when your terrier in old age is dying, and things around you seem sad,
Just a lick on the hand will console you for a better friend man never had.
– D P Todd
For those who want to hear the tune as well, watch the video below:
Image: “Keep Calm and relax” by EdsWatercolours is available here