Most owners would agree that life with a terrier is a life enriched, thanks to their fierce loyalty, big personalities and reckless dedication to chasing things. Kate Green explains how this sporting little dog diversified all over Britain.
What is your favourite terrier breed? Terrier owners all have strong opinions on the subject, but it does depend what you want to do with it. Will it be a working dog or a family dog? Are you going to show it, or go running long distances with it? These plucky dogs have been close to our hearts for generations. Below Kate Green explains the history of how terriers were bred by us to fulfil our needs, and we list all our favourite breeds and explain their particular characteristics with lovely illustrations.
In 1815 a hunting-mad Oxford undergraduate called John Russell had a Damascene moment that redefined the dog world. Russell was strolling in Magdalen’s meadows, ‘Horace [poet] in hand, but Beckford [sporting diarist] in his head’, when he met a milkman who had, trotting beside him, ‘the animal of his dreams’. It was an enchanting little rough-coated, tan-and-white terrier bitch called Trump.
According to the Rev E. W. L. Davies, Russell’s curate and biographer, the daydreaming student ‘halted as Actaeon might have done when he caught sight of Diana disporting in her bath; but unlike that ill-fated hunter, he never budged from the spot til he had won the prize and secured it for his own’. Parson Russell devoted the rest of his life to his north Devon parish of Swimbridge, to hunting and to breeding the eponymous dog, using Trump as the foundation. His terriers had to be predominantly white with a few patches of colour, long enough in the leg to keep up with a pack of foxhounds, but sufficiently compact to fit down an earth and bolt the fox.
However, small, hairy hunting dogs existed long before Russell and other field sportsmen began developing the 28 distinctive regional types that comprise the Kennel Club’s (KC) Terrier Group. Johannes Caius, a doctor of physics at Cambridge, wrote graphically in Of English Dogs, his epic 1576 work, of ‘Terrars’ and their insane dedication to chasing creatures bigger and stronger than themselves: they ‘make afraid, nyppe and bite the Foxe and the Badger in such sorte that eyther they teare him in pieces with theyr teeth, beyng in the bosoms of the earth, or else hayle and pull them perforce out of theyr lurking angles, darke dungeons’.
The terrier’s job was to help hounds by wriggling through thick undergrowth and into narrow crevices in fearless pursuit of foxes, rabbits, badgers, otters, polecats, wildcats and weasels, to terrorise rodents out of haystacks or drains and to cleanse slums of rats. In the 19th century, Lord Lonsdale’s Fell terrier reputedly followed an otter 23ft through rock— it took three days’ blasting to extract it. Terriers were feisty money-earners; the concept of keeping one as a family pet didn’t develop until the advent of dog shows in the 1860s.
Although the terrier is still an essential and much-loved adjunct to a sporting man’s life, and some forms of terrier work are still legal under the Hunting Act (2004), nowadays, they are as commonly seen trotting, reasonably obediently, around an urban park or snoozing beside their pensioner owner as yapping in the hound van or disappearing, bottom up, down a rabbit hole.
But the chasing instinct will never be bred out entirely: a sleeping terrier can erupt with astonishing speed. He’s not a sensible babysitter for a guinea pig and can’t be relied upon not to excavate a beloved pet’s grave or worry chickens. Be he a pristine white Westie, a piratical Parson Russell or a bustling Norfolk, any squirrel or pigeon idiotic enough to come within range will receive short, noisy and sometimes violent shrift. As C. G. E. Wimhurst wrote in The Book of Terriers (1968): ‘Do not expect a terrier to have a solemn outlook on life.’
Read our guide to the terriers of the British Isles and tell us which is your favourite:
The largest terrier of all hails from Yorkshire, where it was known as the Bingley or Waterside terrier, perhaps later named after the Airedale Show, at which dogs bred to hunt otters in the valleys were shown. It’s closely related to the Irish and Welsh terriers, with Manchester and otterhound bloodlines. The steadfast Airedale was valued as a sentry, police, Red Cross and army messenger dog; it was imported by theRussian Army and popular in the USA—two Airedales perished on Titanic. During the First World War, one, Jack, carried a message through half a mile of enemy fire before dropping dead. Breed star President Harding’s Laddie Boy had a special chair in which to attend Cabinet meetings at the White House
In the 1940s, Sir Jocelyn Lucas, a sporting man and noted breeder of the Ilmer line of Sealyhams, became concerned about the heavier type that was being bred for the show ring, so he crossed one with a Norfolk. The result was endearing: a sweet-faced, mop-haired little dog with more colouring than a Sealyham and a softer coat than a Norfolk. The Lucas is not recognised by the KC, but it has a devoted following in the UK, where there are about 500. Breed star Mtoto, who was flown to the Isle of Wight in racehorse owner Robert Sangster’s private plane for a mating
The sausage-shaped breed was around centuries before it was named after a character in Walter Scott’s 1814 novel Guy Mannering. Dandie Dinmont—probably based on Hawick farmer James Davidson, who gained a litter of puppies in a drinking game—was a jolly farmer who kept six dogs and called them all Mustard or Pepper. Despite its aristocratic poodle’s topknot and soulful panda eyes, the Dandie Dinmont was a tinker’s dog, bred to hunt badgers and otters— today’s Dandies are thought to be descended from one found in a trap on the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate in 1839. Another story has a gypsy called Piper Allen as the original breeder; the Duke of Northumberland was said to be so enamoured of his dogs that he offered him a farm in return for one. Breed stars Dandie Dinmont’s ‘Auld’, ‘Young’ or ‘Little’ Mustards and Peppers
The comical, egg-headed bull terrier owes its existence to 19thcentury Birmingham ‘wide boy’ James Hinks. His idea was to mix a fighting dog with strains of smooth-haired terrier, dalmatian and greyhound to produce an all-white ‘gentleman’s dog’. The first, Old Madman, was born in 1855 and his progeny proved successful in the show ring and lucrative. Champions of the breed include the artist Cecil Aldin, who often painted them with piratical patches, and The Princess Royal. Breed star Bodger in The Incredible Journey, Bill Sikes’s Bullseye in Oliver!, Heloise in I Capture the Castle
Of all the terrier strains developed by individual hunts, the quizzicalfaced border, bred to follow the Border Foxhounds in Northumberland, is arguably the greatest survivor and, according to the KC, ‘if nature were left to itself and dogs bred naturally’, the end result would closely resemble a Border. When the breed was first recognized in 1920, there was much anxiety that showing would have a deleterious effect on its sporting characteristics, but, in fact, the KC breed standard— ‘essentially a working terrier’—is admirably pragmatic. Breed stars Tennis player Andy Murray’s Maggie May and Rusty, who have their own Twitter accounts
Despite its curious, lamb-like appearance, the curlycoated Bedlington, which takes its name from a Northumbrian mining village, was bred to catch rabbits for the pot. Known first as the Rothbury terrier, it was a gypsy dog, probably containing Dandie Dinmont and whippet blood. Breed star In the 1820s, Piper, a Bedlington belonging to mason Joseph Ainsley, saved his master’s baby from a ferocious sow
A close relative of the Cairn, the Scottie’s dumpy yet dignified silhouette has become one of Scotland’s most famous brands as well as a Monopoly board totem. James VI of Scotland bred them and the 4th Earl of Dumbarton had a pack called the Diehards. Also known as the Aberdeen terrier, presentday Scotties are thought to descend from 19th-century bitch Splinter II. The breed was standardised in about 1879 by Capt Gordon Murray and KC founder Sewallis Evelyn Shirley. Breed stars White House residents Fala, owned by President Roosevelt, Meggie (Eleanor Roosevelt) and Barney and Miss Beazley (George W. Bush), plus the 41 parading at the recent Commonwealth Games
A breed beloved of advertising agencies, the smileyfaced Westie also derives from the original Skye terrier. Some foxhunters thought their colour signified cowardice, a theory disproved by the 8th Duke of Argyll— the dog was originally registered as the Roseneath terrier after his estate—and the 16th Laird of Poltalloch, who developed a white terrier that couldn’t be mistaken for a fox and shot. Breed star The one in the 2006 film The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby, much to the annoyance of Skye terrier aficionados, and the impossibly clean Cesar dog-food model
The silky-coated Skye, formerly the terrier of the Western Isles, may be the oldest Scottish breed—one crept miserably out from under the bloodstained skirts of the executed Mary, Queen of Scots in 1587 and Caius described long-haired ‘lap dogs brought out of the barbarous borders’. Once the companion of aristocrats, including Queen Victoria, it’s now the rarest of all terriers.
The aloof, floppy-haired look belies a tough streak— Robert Louis Stevenson was heartbroken when his Wattie died after one dogfight too many and, during a walk in Hyde Park, renowned breeder James Pratt’s pack put up a badger, which, unfortunately, was Victorian naturalist Frank Buckland’s pet.
Until the 19th century, when selective breeding for type and colour became fashionable, the Scottish terrier, possibly originating from Spanish (an Armada shipwreck), Pictish or Viking bloodlines, was essentially a hairy little dog built to withstand Highland weather and thick heather. Described in Our Friend the Cairn (1932) as ‘perhaps the most compact canine parcel of all the doggy virtues ever seen’, the jolly Cairn (named for its ability to squeeze into cairns) was one of a generic group of shorthaired Skye terriers before being officially classified at the start of the 20th century. Breed star Terry, a film star whose credits include Toto in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz
The stocky, brindle Staffie is rarely considered in the same breath as most other terriers, but it’s a prolific breed. It was developed for fighting, about 200 years ago, as a bulldog-terrier cross, and has arguably suffered from overbreeding— most rescue cases have Staffordshire blood—as well as an unfair association with pitbull terriers; devotees say it’s the soppiest of dogs. Breed star Sallie, mascot for the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, who guarded injured soldiers in the Battle of Gettysburg. She was killed in battle two years later and is commemorated with a monument in Gettysburg, USA
Whether Noah had an Irish terrier on the Ark or one welcomed St Patrick into Ireland are moot points, but it’s certainly an ancient breed, wonderfully described in an old Irish manuscript as ‘the poor man’s sentinel, the farmer’s friend and the gentleman’s favourite’. In the 1880s, the Irish terrier was the fourth most popular dog in Britain; now, sadly, it’s an endangered breed. Breed star Prince, who followed his master, Pte James Brown, from England to the trenches in France; an Irish terrier features on the Animals in War Memorial in Park Lane, London
One romantic theory in the breed’s evolution into a versatile Irish herding and sporting dog is that it’s the result of a mating between a blue-black Co Kerry dog and one that swam ashore from a wrecked ship off Tralee in the 1700s—certainly, its silky, wavy coat, which needs regular attention, may owe something to the Portuguese water dog as well as the Wheaten. Breed star Convict 224, owned by Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, who tried to get the Kerry Blue adopted as his country’s national dog
A close relation of the equally tough Lakeland, which was bred to hunt badgers, foxes and otters, the cheery Welsh terrier is an ancient breed, which may originate from pre- Roman invasion times when the Celts retreated to Wales and the Lake District. It received a wider audience when 19th-century transport opened up access to the Welsh mountains. The former Prime Minister Clement Attlee had a Welsh terrier woven into his coat of arms. Breed stars Charlie, John F. Kennedy’s White House dog
The eponymous terrier developed by the sporting vicar was eventually registered by the KC—after much controversy among terrier fanciers—in 1990 and is one of very few breed standards to include the clause ‘honourable scars permissable’. Russell’s foundation bitch, Trump, is described in his memoirs as ‘white with a patch of dark tan over each eye and ear while a similar dot, not larger than a penny piece, marks the root of the tail. The coat, which is thick, close and a trifle wiry, is well-calculated to protect the body from wet and cold but has no affinity with the long rough jacket of the Scotch Terrier. The legs are straight as arrows, the feet perfect, the loins and whole frame are indicative of hardiness and endurance, while the size and height of the animal may be compared to that of a full grown vixen fox’. Edward VII commissioned a painting of Trump, which is still at Sandringham. Breed star Sykes, star of Midsomer Murders, Sweeney Todd, Young Victoria and much more, who, although originally a stray, has Parson Russell characteristics
The term Jack Russell covers a multitude of sins. All terrier characteristics are packed into the bustling Jack Russell, the non-KC registered, shorter, bandy-legged version of the Parson Russell, which is arguably the most fun of the lot. Aldin is probably the ultimate Jack Russell painter and The Duchess of Cornwall is a devotee. Breed star Sir Ranulph Fiennes’s Bothie, the only dog to have left pawprints at both the North and South Poles
Beagles, pointers, bulldogs and even Dalmatians may have had a part to play in the creation of the fox terrier, which now has two separate breed standards.
All pedigrees start from 1870, from three dogs: Old Jock from the Grove hunt kennels, Trap, who was related to the Rev John Russell’s dogs, and Tartar. The fox terrier was carefully bred in ducal hunt kennels, at the Beaufort, Belvoir and Berkeley, its popularity exploding in Victorian times; in 1890, a pair of bitches made 500 guineas and top dogs commanded a stud fee of £10. Breed stars Nipper (smooth), star of the His Master’s Voice (HMV) advertisements, and Edward VII’s Caesar (wire), who followed the coffin at his master’s funeral
One of many strains of fell terrier, the Patterdale, named after a Cumbrian village, is usually a neat little black, black-and-tan or, occasionally, rust dog, sometimes with smart white markings, and is much sought after in terrier circles, although it’s not KC-recognised. Breed star Bingo, the breed originator, bred by Joe Bowman, master of the Ullswater hounds. Sadly, Bingo was killed by a fox
Resembling a miniature Airedale, the Lakeland was developed with strains of Bedlington, Border, Dandie Dinmont and wire-haired fox terrier to bolt foxes in the fells. Key figures in its history included a group of gunpowder makers at Elterwater in the 1850s and Tommy Dobson, a bobbin-maker and master of the Eskdale Foxhounds. Eventually, the name Lakeland was settled upon in the 1920s, after which the sporting 5th Earl of Lonsdale (the Yellow Earl), who really championed the dog, became first president of the Lakeland Terrier Club. Breed star Stingray of Derrybah, the only dog to have won Best in Show at both Cruft’s and the equivalent, Westminster Show, in the USA, in 1967
The Glen, a ‘big dog on short legs’, had a tough upbringing in Co Wicklow, where it was used for the digging out—and baiting in gaming pits—of badgers, its bowed front legs working like a mechanical digger. The dog is said to date from Elizabethan times, when French mercenaries brought their low-slung hounds to Ireland and mated them with local terriers. Another story had the poor little dogs running on treadmills to operate turnspits. Breed star Dan, owned by the Marquess of Conyngham at Slane Castle, the first known Glen to be photographed, in 1910
See Kerry Blue—the debate as to which came first varies in historical reports, but the Wheaten is generally regarded as Ireland’s oldest breed. It would have died out but for the efforts of Dr Gerard Pierse, who was taken with a Wheaten he spotted at a field outing for terriers and badgered the Irish Kennel Club to recognise the breed. Breed star Glenguard Mourneside Firecrest, Best in Show at Romford, Essex, in 1946 and the foundation sire of most UK Wheatens
In the mid 19th century, field sportsman Capt John Edwards, who lived at Sealyham in Pembrokeshire, set about breeding the perfect working terrier and ratter from a mix of Dandie Dinmont, Corgi, Westie, bull terrier and wire-haired fox terrier blood. They were hugely popular— Princess Margaret had one called Pippin—as evinced by the 15 books on the breed to be found in the KC library. Then, heavier, show-ring types took over and the sporting Sealyham became rarer than the giant panda, until Harry Parsons, who owns a pack of ratters in south Devon, began to sing their praises, aided by a COUNTRY LIFE call to arms (October 26, 2011). The Sealyham is now recovering slowly. Breed stars Alfred Hitchcock’s Geoffrey and Stanley had cameo roles in The Birds
The two, originally bred as farm dogs in Norfolk with Glen of Imaal, Dandie Dinmont and red Cairn bloodlines, were originally shown as one breed, the Norwich, until 1964. The Norwich has sticking-up ears; the Norfolk tends to be stockier and blunter faced and its ears droop forward.
In the 19th century, Manchester was the centre for the sports of rat-catching—with betting on how long it took the dog to polish off all the rats in a pit—and rabbit chasing.
One amateur owner, John Hulme, decided it would be more economical to develop a dual-purpose dog by crossing a black-and-tan terrier with a whippet. The ratting record was set by Billy, a Manchester terrier reputed to have caught 100 rats in 5min 30sec at the Cockpit in Westminster in 1823. Queen Victoria kept Manchester terriers; each year, Rentokil awards a sash modeled on the one worn by her Jack Black to its most efficient pest-controller.
Breed star Agatha Christie’s Bingo, inspiration for Hannibal in Postern bof Fate