Why Terrier Work Must Be Abolished

The Burns Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs examined terrier work and concluded, “…the activity of digging out and shooting a fox involves a serious compromise of its welfare, bearing in mind the often protracted nature of the process and the fact that the fox is prevented from escaping.” (Burns, para 6.52, page 117). The Committee was obviously very concerned about the use of terriers and advised that, even in the absence of a ban on fox hunting, “serious consideration could be given as to whether this practice should be allowed to continue” (Burns, para 9.20, page 149).

The use of terriers can result in prolonged underground ‘stand-offs’ between dog and fox, particularly if a fox is trapped in a cul-de-sac in the earth and has to wait to be dug out and killed. Fights can occur in which both fox and dog can suffer severe injuries.

The RSPCA has successfully prosecuted a number of terrier owners for failing to seek veterinary treatment for terriers involved in such encounters.

For instance, a decision by the High Court on 28th February 2000 recognised for the first time that the practice of terrier work, which involves a dog being forced into a hole to hunt large wild mammals, causes cruelty. The landmark decision has given legal recognition to the fact that people who use terriers for hunting foxes can be guilty of “cruelly ill-treating” their dogs.

The case concerned the arrest of three men in 1997 who were spotted digging in a fox covert on land where they were trespassing. A police spotter plane was scrambled which filmed the three men forcing their terrier into the hole after having blocked its exits. When the men were arrested the dog was found to have sustained appalling injuries.

Darren Brannigan and Stuart Bandeira, both from Teeside, were convicted of cruelly ill-treating a Lakeland terrier at Teeside Magistrates in July 1998. An appeal against their conviction to Teeside Crown Court was unsuccessful.

The High Court was asked for clarification on the following question: “Is a person who deliberately puts a dog into a burrow, den or other habitation of a wild mammal of which exits had deliberately been sealed off and which may contain a large carnivore which is likely to and does cause it injury, thereby guilty of cruelly ill-treating that dog under S(1)(a) Protection of Animals Act 1911?”

Mr Justice Astor ruled that a person could be guilty of cruelly ill-treating a dog in these circumstances and therefore rejected the defendant’s appeal.

Background to the Amendment

During the Committee Stage of the Hunting Bill an amendment was passed that banned the use of dogs to hunt below ground – i.e. terrier work*. As well as preventing hunts from using terriers, this general ban clearly has an impact on the work gamekeepers do.

Both the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) claimed that gamekeepers require the use of terriers, and the Minister (Rt Hon Alun Michael MP) has suggested that they might receive a special exemption from the otherwise total ban on use of dogs below ground.

The NGO believes that about 4,000 gamekeepers use dogs regularly in the control of foxes, mink and stoats. They claim that 46% of gamekeepers use their dogs underground for controlling foxes (i.e. terrier work). They would prefer this activity to be “exempt hunting” rather than registered.

In 1994, BASC comprehensively surveyed the gamekeepers in their membership, their activities, and evaluated their contribution to the management of the countryside. 2,800 gamekeepers – half of those employed as keepers – were sent a questionnaire and 58% responded.

The survey revealed that on the land covered by gamekeeping, four methods of fox control are employed: shooting at night, snaring, driving the foxes to guns, and terriers. On average 57% of foxes were shot, 30% killed by snaring, and 9% by the use of terriers.


The use of terriers to hunt wild animals below ground has the potential for severe animal welfare consequences – both to the terrier and the hunted animal.

There is no necessity for the use of terriers by gamekeepers and this form of hunting only accounts for 9% of the total number of foxes killed by gamekeepers. We strongly opposed amendments that permitted gamekeepers to use dogs to hunt below ground.

*Illegal under the Hunting Act 2004 but continues illegally.