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Breed Spotlight: The Dandie Dinmont Terrier

The rare Dandie Dinmont Terrier has an odd history. A history inexplicably tied to the world of literature, because if it weren't for a long-forgotten novel from 1815 (one which notably sold out on its first day of release) the breed might not even exist today.

Foundation Dandie Dimont - year unknown

Sir Walter Scott set his novel of "Guy Mannering" in Northumbria, which straddles the border of northern England and southern Scotland. There, since at least the early 1700s, farmers bred a long-bodied terrier with a distinctive topknot, wiry double coat and a determination to vanquish any fox, badger or otter unfortunate enough to cross its path.

Scott was well acquainted with the rural Scottish Borders. As a child recovering from polio, he had been sent to his grandparents’ Scottish-border farm to regain his mobility, returning later to be the sheriff of Selkirkshire. He had heard of a farmer named James Davidson who kept “pepper-and-mustard terriers," and who had a habit of giving repetitive double names to the twenty or so dogs he kept.

Dandie Dinmonts in typical pet cuts

In “Guy Mannering,” James Davidson was embodied by the character Dandie Dinmont, a tenant at a fictitious farm called Charlieshope. His pack of six dogs included Auld Pepper, Auld Mustard, Young Pepper, Young Mustard, Little Pepper, and Little Mustard.

Dandie Dinmont drawing from 1886

The publication of the book upended life at Davidson’s farm on the edge of the Teviotdale mountains, making his redundantly named dogs famous overnight. Letters arrived from noble families inquiring about purchasing dogs from Davidson. Unaffiliated businessmen also latched on to this breed's new notoriety, applying the breed’s name to trains, tobacco brands, and whiskey blends. Flattered at the mention, Davidson began answering to the name Dandie Dinmont, though he admitted that he never read the book.

Even the great author himself could not escape the breed’s magnetic pull: Scott was given two Dandies -named Ginger and Spice - by Davidson. Despite divided loyalties – Scott, who owned Scottish Deerhounds, is responsible for describing that ethereal Sighthound as “the most perfect creature of heaven” – he bred 'The Mertoun' Dandie Dinmont Terrier, and the daughter of The Mertoun (Vixen) appears in almost every active Dandie pedigree in the world.

Despite this odd turn of events leading to the official naming of the Dandie Dinmont Terrier, they did not originate on James Davidson's farm. Theories abound about where exactly they came from and how they were created, but the two primary theories are that they were either created by breeding the now-extinct Scotch Terrier to the Otterhound, or that they resulted from breedings of mixed dachshund-like dogs that belonged to nomads who passed through Scotland and then were mixed with Yorkshire Terrier-type dogs. We know the dog dates back into the 1700s, but much else is shrouded in mystery.

One of two acceptable colors, this is called "mustard."

While “Guy Mannering” prompted a surging celebration of the terrier, by the late 1800s the Dandie Dimont found itself on the edge of extinction. One breeder who kept the flickering flame alive was Eaglesfield Bradshaw-Smith, who started breeding in 1841 after reading Scott's novel and continued until his death in 1882. He amassed such a range of dogs that he rarely had to go outside his kennel for new blood, but when he did, he scoured the countryside for quality dogs, making copious notes about them on the spot. All of Bradshaw-Smith’s dogs were tested on game, sometimes severely: required to work two badgers at a time, the dog would have to survive the attack of one while holding on to the other.

One of two acceptable colors, this is called "pepper."

Bradshaw-Smith eventually came to own Old Ginger, who is in the pedigree of every living Dandie Dinmont today. That dog’s father was Old Pepper, who had been caught in a poacher’s trap and so had no pedigree to speak of; his mother was the aforementioned Vixen, sired by Scott’s Mertoun Dandie dog.

Today the Dandie Dinmont Terrier continues its precarious balancing act. In 2016, because of a shrinking breed population (only 90 were registered that year) the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom recognized the Dandie Dinmont Terrier as a Vulnerable Native Breed. That same year the United States produced only 75 puppies. In 2019 the Dandie was ranked 174th out of the 193 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club in popularity, sandwiched between the Polish Lowland Sheepdog and the American English Coonhound.

Bringing Home a Dandie

There are exceedingly few breeders of Dandie Dinmont Terriers in the world, and the ones to select from here in the US are estimated to be fewer than 10. The silver lining is that this breed is very unlikely to be unethically produced, and almost unheard of in shelter or rescue situations.

A Dandie Dinmont Terrier puppy

Because a concerted effort has been made to breed out genetic abnormalities, there are no especially common conditions affecting the Dandie Dinmont Terrier. However, minor problems affecting the breed can include hypothyroidism, primary closed angle glaucoma and Cushing's syndrome. Overall, in comparison to other breeds, the Dandie is considered relatively healthy and sturdy. The average life expectancy of a Dandie Dinmont Terrier is 13 years. They are affectionate with family, good with respectful children and other dogs, and make first-rate watchdogs. They are also brave enough to face any intruding danger, though their relatively small size may prevent them from accomplishing much.

A Dandie Dinmont Puppy

Care should be given to make sure a Dandie is adequately exercised by running and digging. Both of these pastimes strengthen the muscles that support the long back, decreasing the likelihood of back injuries due to the breed's length.

Grooming a pet Dandie is simple, and most fanciers who don't show just keep them in a shaggy "pet" cut similar to the puppy pictured here. But if you would like a show cut, a professional groomer is likely going to be required at least for the maintenance of the topknot.

To see Dandies in action at a conformation show, click here!

Further reading:

If you would like to see our other Breed Spotlight posts, click here!


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