The Dandie Dinmont Terrier, the first Terrier to have a name, is the only breed of dog whose name comes from literature. Shrouded in mystery, its background was an intense source of argument among early 19th century canine writers. It was developed from selected specimens of the rough native terrier in the Cheviot Hills in the border country between England and Scotland during the late 17th century, and kennel records show it was first recorded as a distinct breed by 1700. It was suspected to have descended from the extinct Otter Terrier, which had been bred down from the Otterhound in the 16th century. In any case, the terrier known as the “tinkers’ dog”, was pure and true to type long before it had a name.
A direct line of these dogs descended to both the aristocracy (Henry, the third Duke of Buccleuch commissioned Gainsborough to paint his Dandie in 1770) and the farmers in the Teviotdale Hills. Here Sir Walter Scott chanced upon them and – charmed by their uniqueness – made them famous in his 1815 novel “GUY MANNERING”. His character, “Dandie Dinmont”, a farmer, kept the immortal six – “Auld Pepper”, “Auld Mustard”, “Young Pepper”, “Young Mustard”, “Little Pepper” and “Little Mustard”. (Mustard and Pepper are the two colours of the Dandie Dinmont Terrier.) As the book became popular, the breed became famous as “Dandie Dinmont’s Terriers”.
As time progressed, the apostrophe was dropped, and the Dandie became the first terrier to have a name. In 1876, the Dandie Dinmont Club was formed in Melrose, Scotland – it is the world’s second oldest continuous dog club. Its founders wrote a detailed breed description, which remains the blueprint of the breed today.
The men who wrote the standard for the Dandie Dinmont used them for ridding their properties of all sizes of vermin, from tiny stoats and weasels to vicious badgers. In fact, it was not uncommon in the late 17th century to test the courage of a Dandie by hurling it into a pit with two badgers.
This required a punishing jaw, large strong teeth and a powerful neck, plus the strength and flexibility of a body designed to go to earth. Dandies at that time ranged from 7 to over 30 pounds, depending on the game they were expected to kill. As with most standards, the writers compromised, and determined that the middle-sized Dandies were ideal. The standard was written to describe a working terrier who would have the tenacity and physical ability to dispatch any vermin.
Sir Walter described their pluck: “I have them a’ regularly entered, first wi’ rottens, then wi’ stoats or weasels, and then wi’ the tods (foxes) and brocks (badgers) and now they fear naething that ever cam’ wi’ a hairy skin on ‘t.”
Renowned for his loyalty, gameness and adaptability to almost any environment, the Dandie Dinmont soon became popular in Britain. Queen Victoria kept several, and her sketches of them show that the breed has not changed in more than one hundred and fifty years.
In 1885, Mr. Charles Cook wrote a book about the origins and character of the Dandie Dinmont. It was the first single breed book in the world.
In appearance, he was described this way: “He evolved from the Scottish hillside, the grey mists forming his body, a bunch of lichen his topknot, crooked juniper stems his forelegs and a wet bramble his nose.”
By the turn of the century, other terrier breeds emerged, many using the Dandie Dinmont in their development. And as these new, ‘fashionable’ breeds were promoted, the Dandie Dinmont’s numbers dwindled, until it faded quietly into the background, to be perpetuated, over the generations, by a handful of dedicated breeders.