Lock up your cats, the Patterdale terrier is coming

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By George Appleton

Stand aside Jack Russells, move over borders: there’s a new terrier in town. During the past 20 years, the feisty Patterdale has exploded beyond its native Lake District, where it was originally bred to run with the Lakeland fell packs, squeezing into rocky crevices to bolt foxes.

The neat little dog is so popular in the USA that it became a registered breed in 1995 —in the UK, it remains a ‘type’ and isn’t Kennel Club registered. Steve Plummer, son of Patterdale expert Brian Plummer, author of The Fell Terrier and The Working Terrier, is a former paratrooper who works his dogs, Spike, Bingo and Quest, with the Lunesdale hounds. He explains that the name is relatively new: ‘The modern Patterdale has been bred out of the old working fell terrier, a term that many traditionalists still prefer to use.’

Patterdale terriers Steve Plummer

Steve Plummer’s Patterdales, Spike Bingo and Quest

The Lakeland fell packs all operate on foot and the terriers are expected to keep up, unlike their softer southern relations who might have the luxury of a quad bike or truck to travel in. ‘You could easily expect to cover 12–14 miles out hunting, so the terriers will do twice that with all the running about they do,’ points out Robert Nelson, formerly a whipper-in with the Coniston Foxhounds. ‘It was even harder work when I was a lad, as there’s a bit more reliance on 4x4s now. If we were hunting at Grasmere, for instance, we would walk there from the kennels at Rydal.

That’s five miles before the day had even begun.’ The landscape and climate of the fells matches the dogs: tough, unpredictable and with an undeniable beauty. Patterdales should be neat of build, mostly smooth-haired (but also rough or broken-coated) in an attractive black, black-and-tan or fox-red colour, often with a smart white bib.

The adoption of trail-hunting in the wake of the hunting ban has made the role of the terrier man redundant in some places, but, in the Lakes, as in other upland areas where sheep-farming is central to the economy and foxes can wreak devastation, especially at lambing time, the role of the working Patterdale has changed little. Their job is to lure a fox out once it has gone to ground by yapping at it, slowly backing up until the fox is ready to bolt. In strict adherence to the Hunting Act (2004), the fox is then shot.

‘Although the Patterdale is primarily a working terrier, it makes a fantastic pet,’ says Mr Plummer. ‘They’re hard as nails, but have a lovely soft side to them, too. When it’s time to work, they’re more than willing, but they’ll also happily curl up on the sofa with the children and stay there all day.’

Kathryn Houghton, who works at her family’s livery yard in south Cumbria, is another proud owner of three of these indomitable little terriers: Lily, Phoebe, and Razor. ‘They’re very much part of the family and we love them dearly,’ she says. ‘Lily’s getting on a bit now, but in her younger days, she was quite a tearaway.

She’d disappear all day with her head down a rabbit warren and once even pursued a deer across several fields. However, the dogs keep me company when I’m out feeding or mucking out and there’s never been any trouble between them and the horses.’ Mrs Houghton’s Patterdales also live up to their reputation as fearsome rat catchers. ‘It’s inevitable that we get a few rats, but they never last long—Razor, especially, is a dab hand,’ she laughs.

‘It’s in their breeding,’ says Lancashire gamekeeper Mick Grimes. ‘Anything with feathers and they’re not interested, but show them some fur and they’re straight after it.’ Cat lovers should certainly think twice before purchasing one. Most terriers aren’t fond of felines, but Patterdales have been known to take this tendency further. When Mike Baines, a gillie on the River Eden, moved into his new house, the first thing he had to do was to knock on his new neighbours’ door and apologise that his dog had just killed their cat.

Patterdale terriers John Appleton

John Appleton is a Patterdale convert, having previously kept labradors

My father, John Appleton, a retired judge from north Lancashire, is a convert to Patterdales, having always had labradors, which were kennelled outside. ‘When I retired, we fancied getting a house dog. One sees a lot of Patterdales in these parts and I’ve always admired them, so we thought we’d give one a go,’ he explains. ‘Aggie arrived five years ago and she was such a success that we bought Lilly a year later.

‘They’re such good fun and always make me laugh. They both have their individual traits—Lilly loves to terrorise the local grey-squirrel population. She’s got a great nose and can sniff out anything; she’s even been known to go after moles. Aggie, on the other hand, prefers a more leisurely existence and likes to keep an eye on proceedings from her favourite chair by the Aga.’ He adds: ‘They’re fiercely loyal and make great guard dogs. Aggie has had a few scrapes with the postman, but he’s started bringing her a biscuit when he comes, so they’re now best friends.’

Edward Johnson, a land agent in North Yorkshire, who has Minnie, advises: ‘Be prepared to be entertained and tested—and hope that the former outweighs the latter. My housemaster at school described me as neither saint nor sinner and I would apply this to my Patterdale. She does enough to redeem herself—just.’

Unlike the Jack Russell, there are no plans to admit this breed to the Kennel Club in the near future, but this is unlikely to bother Patterdale owners. As Mike Baines says: ‘There are terriers and then there are Patterdales.’

Where is Patterdale?

Patterdale (St Patrick’s Dale) is a village at the southern end of Ullswater, in the shadow of Helvellyn and Place Fell. It’s thought that the terrier got its name after a dog show held there. The first Patterdale terrier is said to be Bingo, a rust-coloured dog owned by Joe Bowman, huntsman of the Ullswater, which was, sadly, killed by a fox.

However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that the Patterdale was developed selectively in earnest, by Cyril Breay and Frank Buck. In the 1960s, Brian Nuttall furthered the breed and many of the best dogs today are descended from his bloodlines.

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