Working Terrier Packs
We are all familiar with the term "like a pack of hounds" but were terriers also bred to run in packs?
By definition a terrier is a dog capable of going to ground to destroy or oust subterranean vermin. In the past few years however, the hunting of small packs of terriers to rabbit, rat and mink has become an increasingly popular and entertaining sport, following the increasing problems associated with hunting other quarry.
By the very nature of a terrier, the main problem is one of control. This can be achieved to a greater or lesser extent by training and obedience to the owner, its genetic make-up and not least the in-bred temperament of the terrier strain itself to live and work alongside its companions.
Temperament is everything - you could have the best looking dog in The World but if the temperament is wrong, you shouldn’t give it house room. However the whole balance can be turned upside down by one rogue terrier or the appearance of a cat!
Some breeds of terrier pack very well, but some people breed different terriers together with a devastating effect, producing aggressive and dangerously game terriers with a ruinous effect on the packing instinct.
However many breeds of terrier will not only hunt well but also pack and work together well, rather than as a group of individuals, the PRT (Parson Russell Terrier) being one of them.
If however, one terrier is not "stock steady" then invariably very soon the pack will be rioting on sheep, cats, poultry and other farm livestock, so discipline, training and vigilance is essential.
Working terriers with ferrets is also great fun, but care must be taken to ensure that your terriers are steady to them. Even terriers that have been reared alongside ferrets and regularly worked with them react with hostility towards them when they see one killed by another dog.
Building a Pack
A single terrier not working well with its owner looks bad, but a team of terriers goaded on by a band of equally erratic owners looks terrible. Putting together a sensible, level headed terrier pack is both interesting and complicated but very rewarding in that one dog must be "the key".
That dog (usually a bitch) must be highly trained in obedience and when called, react to every command and come to hand immediately. The other members of the pack then take the lead from the key dog also know as the "dog pack leader" so even if the dog questions the wisdom of the owner, they NEVER question the wisdom of the senior dog. Thus if the pack leader is trained thoroughly, there will be little problem in controlling a terrier pack.
Increasing the number of a terrier pack must be done slowly with the addition of one or two at a time, as puppies from about 12 weeks of age by taking them initially to watch the pack and then training them to come to heel before introducing them and letting them run free with the pack.
Hunters and Catch Dogs
When a pack settles, they will separate into hunters who will seek out their quarry by the use of their senses and catch dogs which are keener to take the fight to their prey rather than simply seeking out their quarry by scent, with the hunter holding the higher position of esteem in the pack.
Pack respect and hierarchy is extremely important to the terriers and is seen in the respective actions of the pack members when key terriers are removed or rested from the pack, in that not only does the pack order change, but also the action and roles of the terriers change to suit the missing terrier.
Thus a terrier pack needs to be totally under control when hunting or at rest and if fights do occur, it will be generally when the pack is at rest. However if the pack is regularly worked, fights and scraps will be few and far between, as the terriers will be stimulated and active in both mind and body and thus not bored and the well-disciplined pack becomes a credit to itself, its owner and the terrier world.