By Pat Rock
A Lakeland must possess courage to go up to the game and engage it, either killing it or holding it in place with its voice and physical presence until the hunters can dig down to it. Courageous does not mean foolhardy, and an overly “hard” Lakeland would not survive to pass its genes forward to subsequent generations. In the absence of the selective force of formidable quarry, many terriers that lack suitable restraint remain in the gene pools, sad to say.
There are documented instances of Lakelands trapped underground for days, still holding their quarry at bay. This is one trait that seems undiluted in the modern stock, even though it may now be re-directed toward a garden hose spray or wiggly-giggly ball in the absence of foxes in the garden.
The Lake District terrain and climate are unforgiving. It has been said that the trip home from the hunt determines which terriers have what it takes. No riding in saddle bags for this breed.
When faced with a situation where the quarry is not directly accessible, the terrier working the fells and rocky crevasses of the Lake District was required, for instance, to figure out how to reach an underground ledge, or negotiate a narrow opening.
Given the harsh climate and the many hiding places for the fox, superior olfactory powers were necessary for the Lakeland to avoid wasting time in unproductive hunting.
Hardly any character trait could be more important to the Lakeland than to be totally certain that Life is Good. It doesn’t see the glass as Half Full or Half Empty; it is trying to figure out a way of tipping the glass over to see how big a splash it can make! A Lakeland’s “what’s new?” attitude keeps it trying out new behaviors to see which ones are rewarding, and often it must try numerous similar behaviors, each of which have negative consequences (read that: injury) before hitting upon the technique that will allow it to subdue the quarry. The traditional fox may, through lack of access, become symbolically represented in the dog’s mind by a gate or door or toy.
For a terrier to develop combat skills it must be willing to perform acts that reward and punish at the same time. Its prey drive must be stronger than its avoidance of pain. In short, it must be what is known as “an adrenaline junkie”.
Earth terriers must have some of the genes that contribute to obsessive-compulsive disorder or they would never get their job done. If there is a root in the way when digging to quarry, the terrier must stay there and dig as long as it takes to get past the obstruction. No sane dog would work at an obstacle for hours! Too many of those OCD genes or inappropriate reinforcement during development (or both) and you have a dog with behavior problems, not The Great Hunter.
A Lakeland of correct character is amiable toward people AND OTHER DOGS. It should defend itself if attacked, but must not be quarrelsome. Going up into the hills to reduce the fox population was serious business to the Lake District farmers. Their sheep were their income. They would band together, each bringing his terriers. No way would a dog-aggressive terrier be allowed to disrupt the hunt.
Truly form follows function in character as well as structure. It isn’t difficult to use selection to create a wild, aggressive show terrier that looks like a million bucks challenging another dog in the ring. Nor is it difficult by selection to create a population of calmer, placid individuals who are not at risk of developing behavior problems when raised in pet homes by inexperienced owners. But when you travel down one of these two roads, you have see your last Lakeland Terrier.