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Manchester Terrier Development: A Bulldog Influence?

By Amanda Kelly
Originally published May 2009 on the CMTC Blog

Much is said of the Manchester's success in the rat pits, yet we tend to gloss over the fact that many of the black and tan coloured terriers appearing in those venues were, in fact, bulldog and terrier crosses (referred to at the time as Bull and Terriers). Even our most famous "black and tan" hero -- Tiny -- descended from a bull and terrier cross! Though old texts tell us there were breeders maintaining "pure strains" of the black and tan
terriers, one must wonder how much influence the black and tan Bull and Terriers had in the formation of our breed. Of course, no one was keeping track at the time, but I'd be willing to hazard a guess there are a few bulldog alleles hanging out in our gene pool.
Why the Cross?
Texts from the late 18th and early 19th centuries are quick to recognize the gameness and tenacity of the smooth terriers who preceded our modern Manchesters. By the 1850s, however, some doubt seems to have crept in with a few writers pointing out the short-comings of the "pure" terriers as ratters, as in this example:

"I have, at various times, had at least half a hundred terriers of one sort or another, but there was only one out of the whole that would kill a full-grown rat single-handed ; but even he was very soon satisfied, since he mostly declined killing a second till another day ; and this I have found to be the case with the great majority of thorough-bred terriers. The truth is, they are too cunning and too soft for such hard work. " (James Rodwell, The Rat:Its History & Destructive Character, 1858)

There are likely a variety of reasons for this change in description, not the least of which was the fact that by the 1850s rat baiting as a sport was in its hey day and the expectations of the terriers being discussed had changed accordingly. The pressure and the profit of the rat pit would have raised both the expectations of terrier owners as well as the motivation to improve performance. No longer was a dog considered game and useful simply for keeping the barn clear of rats... now he was valued for the speed at which he could kill huge numbers of rats, a task requiring a very different skill-set, attitude and even physical build. Also at play was the formation of the basic concept of dog breeding and exhibition which were coming together during this period, bringing about big changes for many modern dog breeds. Noted 19th century dog historian Rawdon Lee tells us that it was in the 1850s or 1860s that the first crosses between black and tan terriers to a Whippet or Italian Greyhound were done -- an introduction that would undoubtedly have affected the temperament of the "pure" terriers to follow.

So, how to address these shortcomings? The Bulldog seems to have offered a solution:

"It is a current axiom among dog fanciers that no gameness can be got in any dog, without a taint, or cross, of the Bulldog. The Bull-terrier is a signal proof of this theory; for the pure Terrier, though active, is by no means distinguished for pluck; whereas the Bull-terrier is scarcely inferior in this quality to the Bulldog himself, and in vivacity and activity he surpasses him." (John Meyrick, House Dogs and Sporting Dogs, 1861)
Bull Breeds vs Terrier Breeds
These bull and terrier crosses certainly gave rise to modern bull breeds like the Bull Terrier and American Pitbull Terrier (a process begun earlier in the century in support of more arduous sports like bear and badger baiting), however some texts seem to suggest that by mid-century bull and terrier progeny were as likely to be bred back into terrier lines as to contribute to formation of a new type. James Rodwell gives the most convincing description of the absorption of such crosses (right down to the thumbprint!), saying:

"The great object, among the various breeders of these dogs for rat-killing, is to have them as nearly thorough-bred bull as possible, but at the same time preserving all the outward appearance of the terrier as to size, shape, and colour. Black and tan are considered the essence of perfection. The head, neck, body, and tail must be jet black, and not the shadow of a white hair about them. The legs, feet, chest, under jaws, and glottis must be the colour of a deep, ripe chestnut, with a full round spot over each eye. The hair on every part must be very short, fine, close, and glossy; the feet long and extremely narrow, with long black claws, and a pencil mark or black streak up each toe; the head round, and firmly fixed on an arched or longish strong Roman neck, well set in the shoulders; thin, transparent ears, cut clean out at the bur, and brought to a graceful point ; eyes black, bright, prominent, and well set; jaws full and firm, but rounding smoothly ofi' to a muzzle of sufficient length, strength, and substance; small, thin lips; nose flat at the point, with inflating nostrils; fangs long, strong, and straight; chest deep and full, but not too broad ; body rather short than long; loins firm, but gracefully working off to well-rounded haunches, rather light than heavy ; and the whole must terminate with a thin, tapering tail, about the length, shape, and substance of a highly-bred young lady's, delicate little finger.

"His action must be bold, yet graceful as an Arab steed's. At the same time he must be agile as a kitten, and as springy and elastic as an India- rubber ball j but in his every movement, look, and expression there must be an air of whining, restless, dauntless defiance. His weight should be from ten to fourteen pounds, not in starved, but trained muscular condition. With these requisites you will have a dog that may be pronounced a perfect specimen of a black-tan bull-terrier..." (The Rat, 1858)
Keep in mind that though England's Cruelty To Animals Act banned blood sports like bear and badger baiting in 1835, the ban on rat baiting was not enforced for decades afterwards (perhaps because rat pits were seen to provide a service by controlling disease-spreading vermin in crowded cities?). Perhaps this shift in focus also provided some impetous for increased crosses back into terrier lines given the smaller prey and need for speed and agility.

And What of Tiny?

John George Wood tells us that Tiny, the black and tan terrier bull and terrier we all known and love, was the product of just such a decendancy. As he points out, the aim of some breeders was to retain the tenacity of the bull cross while restoring the outward appearance of the terrier:
"How entirely the external form of the bull-dog can be eradicated, while its dauntless courage remains intact, is shown in the graceful little Terriers which are used for rat-killing, and which are formed on the most delicate model.

"The endurance and gallantry of these little creatures are so great that they will permit several rats, each nearly as large as themselves, to fix upon their lips without flinching in the least, or giving any indications of suffering. Yet the badly-bred Dog will yell with pain if even a mouse should inflict a bite upon this sensitive portion of its frame, and will refuse to face its little enemy a second time. One of these highly bred animals, which was celebrated in the sporting world under the title of "Tiny," weighed only five lbs. and a half, and yet was known to destroy fifty rats in twenty-eight minutes and five seconds. It is estimated that this Dog must have killed more than five thousand rats aggregate weight of which nearly equals a ton and a half. He could not be daunted by size or numbers, and was repeatedly matched against the largest rats that could be procured." (The Illustrated Natural History, 1865)
Several additional references to possible bulldog crosses in the history of the breed can be found in the CMTC's Reading Room -- check them out at Unfortunately, no pedigrees or breeding records from this time period are available, so the above is not much more than speculation and conjecture -- but it sure makes for interesting reading!
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