Working Patterdale terrier

Although they are now more commonly family pets, the Patterdale Terrier is, and always has been, a working breed. Working Patterdale Terriers still exist today and are often utilised in the pest control industry. 

Their high energy levels, strong prey drive, and intelligence make them ideal working dogs.

But, what do we mean by the term ‘working breed’?

A working breed is a dog designed for a particular job. Over hundreds of years, careful, selective breeding allowed breeders to choose distinct qualities and traits that would make their dogs more suitable for a specific task.

These specialist tasks traditionally included herding livestock, guarding property, hunting, and sledging. While most working dog breeds are probably only used as pets today, their unique qualities remain. 

Of course, working dogs were all bred for different purposes, so they all have individual qualities. However, several traits typically apply to all working breeds.

As the name suggests, working breeds tend to be extremely hard-working animals. They are always full of beans and raring to go due to their high-energy levels that would have previously kept them on the go all day at work. 

Working dogs are incredibly intelligent creatures – they have to be to learn their designated tasks properly. However, this can result in stubbornness and sometimes over-confidence. 

All working breeds live to serve a ‘master’. They thrive off of a strong leader who assigns them tasks to complete. Because of this, working breeds tend to be incredibly loyal dogs.

So, now we have a better understanding of working breeds in general, let’s take a closer look at the working Patterdale Terrier.

What was the Patterdale Terrier initially bred for?

The exact origin of the Patterdale Terrier breed is somewhat disputed and hard to pinpoint. However, it’s widely accepted that the modern Patterdale Terrier was popularised in the 1940s and 50s by Cyril Breay and Frank Buck – two famous terrier breeders.

The name ‘Patterdale Terrier’ stems from the village of Patterdale in the Lake District in Cumbria. The village Patterdale was renowned for hunts back in the early 1900s and is also said to be the birthplace of the ‘original’ Patterdale Terrier breeder, Joe Bowman.

In the rough terrain of the Lake District, farmers struggled to grow crops. So instead, they made their living by farming sheep. But unfortunately, their livelihood suffered due to a high population of foxes. 

Patterdale Terriers were initially bred to ward off and hunt these foxes and other predators. Their high prey drive and energy levels made them perfect for the task, and their size meant they were ideal for going into fox dens and badger setts.

Hunting and dispatching foxes and badgers remained the primary purpose of Patterdale Terriers for many years. However, hunting wild mammals with dogs was made illegal in the UK by the Hunting Act 2004.

In contrast, the hunting of racoons, badgers and foxes is still legal in most states in America. Over in the US, working Patterdale Terriers are still used today for this exact purpose.

Ratting with Patterdale Terriers

After 2004, when the hunting of wild mammals was made illegal in the UK, working Patterdale Terriers required a new purpose. 

Owners began to use their Patterdale Terriers for ratting to put their high prey drive and energy levels to good use. Under the Hunting Act 2004, hunting rats with dogs is still legal. 

The term ‘ratting’ refers to the use of dogs in an open space known to be infested by rats, typically on farms. Pest control companies often employ Patterdale Terriers to help them identify infestations and kill them humanely. My Patterdale Terrier, Buster, is a ratting dog who thoroughly enjoys going off to work!

While some claim it to be cruel, using dogs for ratting is actually far more humane than using poison. Rat poisons can take days, even a week, to effectively kill the rat, whereas a Patterdale only takes seconds. 

It’s also important to remember that rats are referred to as vermin for a reason. They cause damage wherever they go and are known carriers of potentially life-threatening diseases. 

Risks to a Working Patterdale Terrier

Working dogs tend to be more at risk of injuries due to their jobs. A lapdog with no job who only leaves the house once a day for a quick stroll around the park is at a much lower risk of injuries than a Patterdale Terrier.

Every job role comes with risks, and the Patterdale’s tasks of hunting and ratting are two particularly high-risk activities. 

Risks to Hunting Patterdale Terriers

As we’ve established, Patterdale Terriers were used for hunting foxes and badgers across the UK before 2004. To find and dispatch these animals, the Patterdale Terrier would enter into a fox den or a badger sett and bark or nip at them; driving them out into the open for their owners. 

Fox dens and badger setts are not just holes in the ground. Instead, they are far more complex. Fox dens can have up to 15 entrances, various dugout areas for storing food, and separate living areas accessed by narrow tunnels as long as 75ft long and 8ft deep.

Badger setts are also similarly complex, both designed to protect their young, hide their food and keep predators out. 

Patterdale Terriers would often enter these mazes during hunts and, unfortunately, become stuck underground. But, of course, their owners were too large to follow them, and they had to resort to digging them out instead.

With the dens being up to 8ft deep, it would take a long time to dig down to their location. As well as this, it was incredibly difficult to pinpoint the precise location of the Patterdale whilst it was underground. 

Sadly, these complications would sometimes lead to the death of Patterdale Terriers. If they couldn’t be found or their owners didn’t reach them in time, they would run out of oxygen. 

A piece of apparatus called the ‘locator collar’ was invented to combat this in the 1990s. This involved a small transmitter attached to the Patterdale’s collar and a receiver that the owner would carry. 

If a Patterdale Terrier went missing, the owner would be able to walk around the field with the receiver in their hand. Once the owner got close enough to the stuck Patterdale, the receiver would indicate they were nearby. They would then know an approximate location to begin digging. 

Early versions of the locator collars were not great, often breaking when they got wet or too muddy. However, locator collars are now much more precise and are still used today.

Risks to Ratting Patterdale Terriers

Patterdale Terriers in the UK and US are now most commonly used for rats. 

Rats don’t build complex underground dens, and setts like foxes and badgers do, so there is less risk of getting trapped underground.

However, ratting Patterdale Terriers are at risk of receiving injuries – particularly injuries to the face. This is because when the Patterdales enter their territory, the rats become hostile in an attempt to protect their young and survive.

As well as their claws, rats have long, sharp teeth that can definitely do some damage. As a result, ratting Patterdales will often receive scratches and bites on the face as they go to bite and attack the rats. However, a ratting Patterdale’s injuries will rarely be severe due to the size difference between the two animals.

What does a working Patterdale Terrier look like?

Working Patterdale Terriers today will often be identifiable by scarring or wounds on their face. As previously mentioned, rats can turn hostile and will try to bite and scratch their attacker. 

Usually, the damage to a ratting Patterdale Terrier is minimal, but it can be severe depending on the circumstances. Look out for scratches and scarring around the mouth and nose of a Patterdale Terrier – if they’re present, they’re definitely a ratter. 

Many working dogs, including Patterdale Terriers, have their tails docked. The term docking here refers to a process in which a part of the tail, or the whole tail, is removed to prevent injuries. 

However, this process was made illegal in 2007 by The Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails Regulations in the Animal Welfare Act. Although there is a clause in these regulations that specifies working dogs are exempt from this law. 

In order to be lawfully exempt, the dog has to be a working dog, an authorised vet must carry out the procedure, and the tail must be docked before the puppy is five days old. 

If you see a Patterdale with a docked tail today, then you can be confident they are a working dog. 

Overall, Patterdales are working dogs through and through. Even when the laws change, the Patterdale Terrier can adapt and continue working in a different role. So, regardless of what happens, I’m sure working Patterdale Terriers will continue to exist for many years to come. 

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