This section is from the book "The Terriers. A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland", by Rawdon B. Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: The Terriers.
Many of the varieties of the terrier we possess at the present time, and which as a group are doubtless the most popular of the canine race, are of quite modern origin, although no doubt there was a dog of similar appearance to the terrier coexistent with the original dog, whatever the latter may have been.
Our earliest writers on the subject have acknowledged the terrier, an animal so named because it was occasionally employed underground in the earth, to force the fox, badger, and otter from their lairs, and it has been said to have been used for the purpose of driving rabbits from their burrows, in the manner ferrets do at the present time. The bolting of rabbits is, no doubt, a fable, and, although we now have terriers more diminutive than any that were kept three or four centuries ago, they are not sufficiently small to do the work of a ferret or of a mongoose.
The original terrier was used as an assistant to hounds and to destroy the rats and weasels and foulmarts which infested the country, when it was less highly cultivated than is the case at present. One of the earliest representations of the terrier is given in Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes" an engraving from a fourteenth century MS., which represents a dog, assisted by three men with spades, engaged in unearthing a fox. The colour of the dog is not ascertainable, nor can I make sure that it has been underground, for the fox is only in part out of the hole, and the terrier is springing on to his prey from a little rising ground immediately behind. Possibly a second terrier is out of sight in the earth. Two of the hunters are in the act of digging, whilst the third is vigorously blowing a horn. It may be interesting to state that in the original engraving this terrier possesses a long, narrow head, not unlike that of the greyhound in shape, his tail is long and uncut, he is smooth-coated, and has erect ears. Blaine in his "Rural Sports" reproduces the picture, and, with a liberty that is quite inexcusable, converts the terrier into a wire-haired or long-coated one, white in colour, and with a dark patch over one eye. He also attempts to make the original manuscript of greater antiquity than is actually the case, by describing the picture as "Saxons bolting a fox".
I have no doubt this terrier record the learned Strutt has given us is the oldest upon which any reliance can be placed, so far as this country is concerned. Some may say that the dog given is not a terrier, but I believe it is intended to represent such a terrier as might be the common dog at that time. It is little bigger than the fox upon which it would like to seize, and the general surroundings of the quaint picture are altogether in favour of my supposition.
Later than this, Dr. Caius, at the instigation of Gesner, wrote the book on "English Dogs," which, being translated from the Latin, was in 1576 published, this being the first book in English concerning dogs. Of the terrier, Dr. Caius says there is one "which hunteth the Fox and the Badger or Greye onely, whom we call Terrars, because they (after the manner and custome of ferrets in searching for Connyes) creep into the grounde, and by that meanes make afrayde, nyppe and bite the Foxe and the Badger in such sorte that eyther they teare them in pieces with theyr teeth, beyng in the bosome of the earth, or else hayle and pull them perforce out of theyr lurking angles, darke dongeons, and close caues; or at the least through cocened feare drive them out of theire hollow harbours, in so much that they are compelled to prepare speedie flyte, and, being desirous of the next (albeit not the safest) refuge, are otherwise taken and intrapped with snayres and nettes layde over holes to the same purpose. But these be the least in that kynde called Sagax." Here, though quaintly written, is a description of the use a fox terrier ought to be put to at the present day, although setting nets before a fox earth would scarcely be called legitimate sport in the nineteenth century. Still, if a net is not used for foxes, its equivalent a sack is often enough, even now, found useful when the "badger or graye" be sought.
What Gervase Markham wrote about terriers early in 1600 is not of much account, for, however learned that great man might be, he was after all a mere bookmaker, as the numerous works he wrote plainly testify. Not satisfied with giving us elegant disquisitions on hunting, archery, and other sports, he wrote and filled volume after volume on military tactics, housewifery, heraldry, etc, and wound up by composing poems, and posing as a dramatist.
Nicholas Cox's well-known book, "The Gentleman's Recreation," published in 1677, gives us less information about terriers than one would have expected. He describes them as of two sorts - one with legs more or less crooked, with short coats; the others, straighter on their legs, and with long jackets. Possibly the first-named were the ordinary turnspits, or, may be, some bold breeder of the Dandie Dinmont will lay claim to them as the original progenitors of that variety of vermin terrier. Anyhow, whatever these crooked-legged dogs were, the long-coated ones "with shaggy hair," like water spaniels, were said to be the best workers, because they could both chase their game above ground and drive it from the earths, as occasion required. Other authors have followed much in the same strain; indeed, the general description of the terrier about this time appears to have been copied by one writer after another without acknowledgment, and without taking any trouble to ascertain the truth of the original statement. Master Cox, especially, seems to have been a great offender in this respect - not only where he deals with dogs, but where he treats of the fishes likewise.
The writer who suggested that terriers could be bred from a cross between a "mongrel mastiff and a beagle" was Blome, who, following the example of Cox, some years after the latter's publication - viz., in 1686 - rendered himself famous by the appearance of his "The Gentleman's Recreation." Whether a man who would suggest the production of suitable terriers by the above cross was the proper person to deal with sport and dogs from a practical point of view is surely to be doubted. He bore but a sorry character in his lifetime, for it was said he "was esteemed as a most impudent person; ... he gets a livelihood by bold practices . . . originally a ruler of books and paper, who had since practised for divers years progging tricks, in employing necessitious persons to write in several arts".