In praise of the Border terrier, who aims to please

Pausing with pets

April 08, 1992|By Ellen Hawks | Ellen Hawks,Staff Writer

A Border terrier's self-appointed job, says Joyce Kerns, is to please.

Mrs. Kerns, who breeds Border terriers, describes the dogs this way: ''They are not so fancy or stylish, but loving little companions who are plucky, alert and who own the people they live with. They dedicate themselves to pleasing.''

The breed is the oldest of terriers -- they are working terriers who go to ground after the fox, hedgehog or small critters. Breed information reveals that in the 1700s they were used by farmers on the Scottish-English borderlands. The dogs' longer legs helped them keep up with the farmer's horse and yet they were small enough to go to ground to help him get the fox that was killing stock.

The Border, like many go-to-ground terriers such as the Jack Russell terrier, will go right in the hole of some critter and many a gardener or farmer has had to literally dig up the little dog to get it out. The animals don't like to give up the chase.

Today, the American Working Terrier Association holds rallies with events that emulate the breed's natural instincts.

While a rally may include conformation and obedience, there will also be gameness trials, which are courses for going to ground, and also races. Winners of courses and races receive certificates for gameness.

A course is a 30-foot tunnel which is 9 inches across with two right-angle turns. The terrier must negotiate this tunnel in 30 seconds and when he reaches the end, must "work" the critter he finds there for at least one minute.

''The critters are rats, hamsters or such who are caged and completely protected. Working it means that the terrier barks or whines at it,'' says Mrs. Kerns.

For a race, up to six terriers are released from a chute similar to that of a horse race, onto a 100-foot enclosed raceway. Prior to the release, a smelly object such as an old squirrel or fox tail is waved before them and when the chute opens they chase this object, which is pulled down the track by a wheel. At the end of the track are bales of hay, one of which has a hole in it. The terrier who gets to the end and through the hole first wins the race. The racers are muzzled to protect them because in the heat of the chase, they sometime catch the smelly object and will scrap over it.

''I remember the first time we entered a terrier," Mrs. Kerns says. "Her name was Nessie and I asked myself when I began to put the muzzle on her if I really wanted to do this. She didn't seem to want it, either. Yet, when she came in second and I went to put the muzzle on her for the run-off, she stuck her face right in it.''

For 10 years, Mrs. Kerns and her husband, Wayne, have raised Border terriers. Their dogs are house dogs with a kennel name of Towzie Tyke Kennels. Two of their first dogs are still active -- Ch. Towzie Tyke Tweedle Dee is an 8-year-old called Tweed who became the No. 2 Border terrier in the country the first year he was shown in conformation. ''At the time he was also handled by a novice,'' says Mrs. Kern. "Me."

The couple still has their first Border terrier, 10-year-old Ch. Cotswold Dee Dee, called Dee Dee, who was the "first known terrier to win all of the events in her first rally." Both Tweed and Dee Dee have their Ch., championships -- a CD, Companion Dogs award in obedience and a CG, Certificate of Gameness.

The couple live in Bel Air. Mr. Kerns works for Allied Signal at the Goddard Space Center supervising computer-aided drafting. Mrs. Kerns is the library technician at the William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School in Abingdon and has worked for the Harford County Board of Education since 1970. They have two grown children.

They are members of the Northeastern Maryland Kennel Club, and Mrs. Kerns says that anyone interested is welcome to join their meetings which are held at 7 p.m on the first Tuesday of each month in the Fellowship Hall of the Unitarian Universalist Church at 210 Leeway in Bel Air.

Also, on the second Tuesday of each month from 5:30 p.m. to dark, club members gather at Friends Park on Mary Risteau Road in Forest Hill and hold what they call a show-and-go for those interested in learning how to show their dogs or work on obedience. For details, call 557-9826 or call Mrs. Kerns at 734-7276.

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