Posts Tagged ‘Bedlington terrier’

Jack Russell working as a retriever:


“Get dat duck, boy!”


One of the most interesting asides to retriever history is the use of terrier crosses to use for retrievers.

Stonehenge (John Henry Walsh) writes about terrier crosses doing quite well as retrievers in The Dogs of Great Britain, America, and Other Countries (originally published in the 1880s):

The Terrier cross [that is used as a retriever] is either with the beagle or the pointer, the former being that which I have chiefly used with advantage, and the latter being recommended by Mr. Colquhoun in his “Lochs and Moors.” He gives a portrait of one used by himself, which he says was excellent in all respects; and, from so good a sportsman, the recommendation is deserving of all credit. This dog was about 22 inches high, with a little of the rough coat of the Scotch terrier, combined with the head and general shape of the pointer. The sort I have used is, I believe, descended from the smooth white English terrier and the true old beagle; the nose and style of hunting proclaiming the hound descent, and the voice and appearance showing the preponderance of the terrier cross. These dogs are small, scarcely ever exceeding 10 lbs. in weight, and with difficulty lifting a hare, so that they are not qualified to retrieve “fur” any great distance. They must, therefore, be followed when either a hare or pheasant is sought to be recovered.

They are mute in “questing,” and very quiet in their movements, readily keeping at heel, and backing the pointers steadily while they are “down charge,” for as long a time as may be required; and when they go to their game they make no noise, as is too often done by the regular retriever. They do not carry so well as the larger dog, but in all other respects they are his equal, or perhaps superior. Owing to their small size they are ad* missible to the house, and being constant companions are more easily kept under command; besides which, they live on the scraps of the house, while the large retriever must be kept tied up at the keeper’s, and costs a considerable sum to pay for his food (pg.167-68).

Hugh Dalziel’s British Dogs (also dates to the 1880’s) includes a description of Scottish and Skye terriers been used as retrievers:

Many gentlemen in the north of Scotland kept a pack of terriers for otter hunting, and some do so still; and many at the present day use them for rabbit hunting, at which sport no dog can equal them, as they never get too excited, and are always ready to obey the commands of their master. In close creeping ‘whins’ or ‘ furze’ they will go through the rabbit runs like ferrets, and Mr. Bunny is either obliged to bolt or be killed. They are capable of being trained to retrieve, and it is a very pretty thing to see one of these little dogs carrying a partridge, woodcock, or snipe. They will take to the water like an otter, and give excellent sport when flapper shooting. In fact, in my day I have seen a great many, and used a few of the so-called retrievers; but give me a well-broken Highland terrier [one of the ancestors of the Scottish terrier] in preference to any retriever I know, and if there is game to be had I should have little fear in losing a wounded bird or quadruped if it kept above ground.

Rawdon Lee describes using  terriers and terrier crosses as retrievers in his A History and Description of Modern Dogs (Sporting Division) (1894), which describes a different terrier cross the Colquhoun text:

John Colquhoun, in his ” Moor and the Loch,” descants in praiseworthy terms of his wildfowl retriever, that was a cross between a water spaniel and a terrier. In appearance not unlike a modern Airedale terrier, it was, doubtless, one of the most useful dogs ever bred, and in a boat would do better than a larger and curlier animal, as he would bring less water in with him when retrieving his master’s ducks. Such dogs are, however, liable to be hardmouthed; still, I have myself owned terriers, and have one now—an Irishman—that will carry an egg in a cup without breaking either, or a piece of tissue paper without soiling it in the least. But such dogs as these have taken naturally to their work, and no amount of training would persuade or teach them to do what they like to perform of their own accord (pg. 213).

In the Lee also describes a bull terrier named Sam in A History and Description of Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland (The Terriers) (1897):

The puppy was christened “Sam,” for a long time he was my constant companion, and became an adept at hunting rats by the riverside, a capital rabbiter, and as good a retriever as most dogs. He would perform sundry tricks, find money hidden away, and could be sent back a mile for anything—a glove, a stick—that had been left behind (27).

Of course, there are many mentions of Airedale terriers as retrievers that are too numerous to mention. Airedales have a sort of multipurpose hunting dog quality to them that they have been use to hunt everything from quail to grizzly bears. The aforementioned Irish terrier, the Kerry blue,and the soft-coated wheaten terrier all have been used as retrievers. Kerry blues and the soft-coated wheaten terriers have some relationship to the poodle-type water dogs, either from the indigenous poodle-type of the British Isles or from Iberian water dogs that were left behind by the Spanish Armada  as it escaped off the coast of Ireland following its defeat by Queen Elizabeth I’s navy (a good story but one that is very difficult to prove.)

I know of at least one modern terrier, a Jack Russell, that lives to play fetch. He could have been trained to be a retriever, for he has much more instinct than my non-retrieving golden. He has a toy pheasant that he loves to carry, and because he is so easily trained, it wouldn’t take much for him to learn how to retrieve birds.

As some of these texts point out, using a smaller dogs as a retriever has advantages. However, only one modern retriever breed is of medium size. All the rest are large dogs that typically weigh in excess of 55 pounds. One wonders why these terrier-retrievers never made such a splash.

Perhaps it was the fact that wavy and flat-coated retrievers were so promoted by the doyens of the British dog fancy, most notably S.E. Shirley, the first president of the Kennel Club.

Perhaps it just became fashionable to have stylish, uniform brace or two of wavy or flat-coated retrievers working an estate shoot, and no one wanted to use some terrier or terrier mongrel for the task. It was probably fashion, rather than necessity, that stopped the terrier retriever.

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MRS mentioned that the Bedlington terriers could have derived from crosses with water spaniels. This is something I have long suspected.

It is well known, though, that Bedlington terriers are close relatives of the Dandie Dinmonts. For a while, Bedlingtons and Dandies could be born in the same litter. However, Bedlingtons have what is called a “linty” coat, which is quite a bit different from the Dandie’s more typical terrier coat.

It seems logical that this Bedlingtons have some other things in them besides the whippet that everyone assumes is there. The water spaniel, poodle, or Barbet type water dog connection must be considered.

Bedlingtons come from Northumberland, which is the northernmost part of England. It has a close connection to adjacent Scotland.

The town of Berwick-upon-Tweed is in Northumberland. It is the northernmost town in England. It has changed between Scotland and England for centuries, when Scotland and England were full separate kingdoms.

It is also the place that Dudley Marjoriebanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth, represented as an MP.

On the Northumberland coasts and that of the Scottish borders, there were water dogs and water spaniels. One of these was the oft-mentioned (at least this blog) Tweed water spaniel or Tweed water dog. It had some influence from Newfoundland-type dogs, which is why it so closely resembled retrievers.

But before that dog evolved, there was probably a water spaniel type that more closely resembled a what we imagine a water spaniel looking and behaving like.

It is likely that the water spaniels that were crossed into Bedlington were of this type.

And it is possible that these dogs are in some way distantly connected to the golden retriever.

This is, of course, a bit speculative, but it is worth considering.


I hope this scene could be enjoyed while it still could.

It will not be long before the tar balls show up on Miami Beach.

And there are very few places in that part of the world that allow dogs on the beach anyway.

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I am not a terrier expert, so I have no idea whether this theory is even possible.

The following comes from Rawdon Lee’s The Terriers. A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland (from the 1894 edition):

It is most unpatriotic for writers on canine matters to fly back for the origin of our best dogs to foreign countries. Even this has been done with the Bedlington, as was the case with the Dandie Dinmont terrier. The latter was said to have got its crooked fore legs and peculiar shoulders from a cross with the German dachshund, the writer to that effect forgetting that what would produce it on the one would do so on the other, viz., a long heavy body, too much for the little legs to support without giving way under its weight. Of the Bedlington, it was said that the strain had been brought, about the year 1820, from Holland by a weaver who settled near Longhorsley; but all the Holland there has been about him was that Mr. Taprell Holland was one of his great supporters twenty-four years ago, and a leading exhibitor of the variety in its earlier days.

What kind of “Holland” dog could be in the Bedlington’s ancestry?

Well, there is a Schnauzer-type dog from the Netherlands, called a Smoushond. It vaguely resembles a long-legged, rough haired terrier.

Its was not standardized until the early twentieth century, but it is likely that small ratting dogs of this type were common in the Netherlands. It is possible that some of these dogs made their way to Northumberland. Perhaps they accompanied British sailors and soldiers leaving the Low Countries after Waterloo, or they could have  been introduced by a Dutch weaver who settled in Northumberland in search of work.


The modern Smoushond breed was reconstructed using a lot of border terrier blood, and it is very likely that the border terriers have certain relationship with the Dandie Dinmonts and the Bedlingtons. They were developed in areas that were not far from each other, so some of the similarities I am seeing with the Smoushond and the Bedlington come from this influx of border terrier blood.

Of course, I may be reading too much into all of this, and it may be that Rawdon Lee was simply wrong about the Dutch dogs. He took the last name Holland to mean Dutch.

I do know that Dandie Dinmonts and Bedlingtons have a close ancestry. Bedlingtons and Dandies were whelped in the same litters. However, Bedlingtons are know for their sight hound physiques and their “linty” coats. They also come in an unusual liver color. Both the coat texture and liver coloration appear to be indicative of some poodle or poodle-type water dog ancestry.

But in the end, who actually knows what is really behind the Bedlington terrier?

I am willing to consider lots of different potential ancestors of this breed, but the possible Dutch connection makes me think of the Smoushond.

Maybe I am wrong.

This is nothing more than idle speculation.

But it is a possibility that I am considering.

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This dog appears to have rather strong retrieving instincts, but I don’t think the young sparrow hawk will indulge him.

I don’t doubt that these dogs have a lot of old-type water dog in them, but historically, one of their functions was to retrieve shot game.

Yes, these are Bedlington terriers, which are a mixture of some sort of terrier, whippet, and poodle/water dog ancestry. Their color is liver or “silver,” both of which appear in water dog.

I’ ve never been around this breed, but everything I’ve read suggests that they are good retrievers. Maybe someone will consider them.

And they wouldn’t be the only retrieving terriers. Dachshunds and Jagdterriers are used for retrieving.

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