Posts Tagged ‘Scottish terrier’

Scottish terriers by the tail

Crufts always brings about controversies, but this year, I truly do dream of the days when best of breed bulldogs and Clumber spaniels failed mandatory health checks and dog fancy had a collective meltdown all across the worldwide web.

This year, the big controversies have largely been outside the general interests of this blog. There are reports that an Irish setter was poisoned at Crufts, but this is such a serious accusation that I will leave it alone. We don’t know all the facts. If we were dealing with a dog poisoner, then we’re dealing with a vile person.

And I’m not really interested in talking about truly vile people. Individual malevolence is certainly worthy of scorn, but I’m a structuralist. I’m much more interested in the collective evils that plague society, and in this case, I’m interested in the collective problems with the dog fancy.

Crufts didn’t give us much of that this year, but at the Best in Show judging and presentation, two things happened that got large numbers of people riled.

The one I thought would be more consequential was when a PETA activist stormed the floor with a sign that read “Mutts Against Crufts.” If this had been Westminster, I’m pretty sure we would all still be talking about him. I am not a big fan of PETA, and I’m not sure that this publicity stunt really put the purebred dog reform movement in a good light.

But PETA is not interested in having a rational discussion. It is interested in the theater.

Now, the reason I say that this PETA demonstration would have stolen show if this had been Westminster is because it was overshadowed by another scandal.

This scandal never would have raised the slightest bit of attention in the North American dog show world. That’s because this second scandal involved a handling practice that is so common in North American dog shows that most people don’t even notice it.

When terriers are judged in North America, most of the smaller breeds of terrier are lifted up with one hand on the tail and one hand just beneath the jawline.  Supposedly, it is a way of testing to see if the terriers still have their sturdy tails. If a terrier gets in a bad place, it could be useful to be able to grab it by the tail and pull it safety.

You see this everywhere in North American dog shows. I don’t think it’s he worst way to handle a dog like this, but I don’t think the dogs particularly like it. I’m not someone who is prone to picking up dogs in this fashion, so I honestly don’t what the science is behind the welfare issues involved. I am officially agnostic on the issue.

The dog that won Best in Show was a Scottish terrier. This is one of the smaller terrier breeds that is generally lifted up in this fashion at American shows.  The handler of this winning terrier, Rebecca Cross, is an American, and I’m sure she’s done the tail lift scores of times in the show ring.

And no one said thing.

But when she did it at Crufts–in front of all those cameras– uproar quickly ensued!

100,000 people signed an online petition to have the terrier stripped of her win.

This, of course, created outrage among the show set. The claim pretty much goes that lifting them by the tail gives the judge an idea if the terrier has a sturdy enough tail. If this terrier happened to be deep in the ground battling with a whole clan of badgers and the only thing that the owner had to grab was its tail,  then that sturdy tail would be a life saver.

The problem with that claim is that Scottish terriers are actually working earth dogs.

In Scotland, terriers were used more to bolt the badger and the otter than their English counterparts. Both the badger and the otter are now protected species. The rural Scottish culture that created these terriers doesn’t even exist.  The Scottish countryside was once full of crofters.  In the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, the Clearances depopulated the land in much of rural Scotland. The crofters were driven off the land in favor of sheep, grouse moors, and deer stalking grounds.

The working man’s terriers became show dogs, and the general prick-eared terrier from Scotland became the West Highland white, the cairn, the Skye, the Paisley, and the Aberdeen. The Aberdeen type is the basis behind the breed we call the Scottish terrier.

Now, terriers are still widely used in the United Kingdom, even though “terrier work” is quite controversial over there. There are still plenty of working red fells, Patterdales, Lakelands, borders, Plummers, and Jack Russells. There are even working strains of Bedlington terrier, which is a breed that North Americans think is only for the show ring .

But there are no working strains of Scottish terrier. You will not find them anywhere. A lot of Scottish terriers still have the temperament needed for this sort of activity. George W. Bush had a Scottish terrier that loved to dig out armadillos, but no one can honestly say that there is a great demand for an armadillo dog.

And a nine-banded armadillo is nothing like a European badger or otter.

So if no one is really breeding a working Scottish terrier, the entire ritual of picking it up by the tail is just playing make believe.

At the most charitable, it is a hypothetical abstraction. It’s not a real adaptation on a real working dog.

This year’s big controversy, which I’m calling “Tailgate,” is more revealing about the culture of the dog show than it is about welfare concerns.

My guess is that the Kennel Club will make a very strong stand against picking up terriers by the tail at its shows.

And that will be it.

Meanwhile, Scottish terriers will continue to have very high rates of cancer and von Willebrand disease. They will continue to suffer from their own peculiar disorder called “Scottie cramps,” and they will continue to have an average lifespan of about 10 years.

Which, for a terrier, is pretty pathetic.

And it is a shame. This breed does occasionally have a reputation for being a bit surly, but a lot of these dogs are real characters, very sharp and responsive and clever creatures.

They are known for the deep loyalty to their people, and it is a real shame that people have allowed this breed to go so far downhill.

They have come a long way from the badger setts and otter holts, but now they must be looked at more realistically.

Playing pretend about the sturdy tails isn’t helping the discussion at all.

All of this rancorous debate over the ethics of terrier-lifting isn’t going to amount to much.

It’s just going to continue on. One camp will say that it is causing the terriers too much pain and stress, while the other is pretending they are evaluating real working dogs.

There is no real room for a discussion about the issues raised by closed registries and popular sires in this debate, and as this debate rages, much time and energy is being wasted.

Such is the tragic condition of the dog world in 2015.

Side-tracked by Tailgate.



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Barney, George W. Bush’s Scottish terrier, has died of lymphoma at the age of 12.

As soon as I heard that this Scottish terrier died, I knew it would be of some form of cancer. Scottish terriers have a lot of problems with cancer.

Scottish terriers don’t live very long on average. A 2005 survey of breed longevity by Great Scots Magazine found that Scottish terriers live only 10.15 years on average.

Barney was lucky to make it to 12.

A terrier should be living well into its teens, and I know of a least one Jack Russell from very diverse stock that is pushing past the 15 year mark.

Scottish terriers used to be among the healthiest dogs one could have, but like so many other breeds, the dog fancy’s distortions to its gene pool have not been good for it.



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A health survey of Scottish terriers that included dogs that were bred by established and backyard breeders revealed that the established breeders were not producing healthier dogs than the backyard breeders. Further, the only group that did not include 19-year-old dogs was the one that contained dogs from established breeders. The oldest dogs in that group were 17 years old when it died.

Many dog people like to throw mud. It’s just something they like to do.  That’s probably because they don’t have any ideas at all, and they just yearn to believe all the Grade A Bullplop they’ve been fed all these years. People with ideas are dangerous things. That’s why totalitarian societies criminalize thoughts. Thoughts have a way of becoming actions, so they must be kept under control.

Of course, I’d be delusional if I thought I could compare myself to a political prisoner. I’m nothing of the sort.

I know I don’t write the most controversial dog blog out there, but I am very much a skeptic of much of the belief systems that underpin the various subcultures that people have created around domestic dogs. And I do catch hell every once in a while. I’ve dealt with so many vile people in experience on the dog blog world that I could have lots of reasons to be a pessimist. And some days, I really am a dark cloud.  But for every naysayer I’ve dealt with, there have been a least half dozen others who make this work more than worthwhile.

So much of what I get from these odious individuals is nothing more than crap. You know, something that a certain political figure called “pious baloney” to refer to his main opponent’s near constant nattering about not being a “career politician.”  I think he erred slightly in his use of words. I would have used the term “sanctimonious baloney,” for piety generally refers to belief systems that are generally positive. Sanctimony is hypocritical or feigned piety.

And boy do so many dog people have that!

In no other place does this sanctimonious baloney reach the height of its hypocrisy than when these people start making lists of what responsible dog breeders are.

It seems that every problem that exists in the purebred dog can be blamed on backyard breeders. And if they aren’t blamed, puppy mills are. Or the really evil people are– the vile, disgusting, abusive people who crossbreed!

Puppy mills are bad places. I don’t defend them at all.

But the notion that the vast majority of the problems purebred dog can be placed at the foot of these people is utterly absurd.

And there is no evidence for it.

There not a single study that says that backyard bred dogs are less healthy than those bred by established breeders.

The evidence for this claim does not exist.

Strangely, in at least one breed, the evidence suggests the backyard bred dogs are no less healthy than those bred by established breeders. This study, performed by Joseph Harvill of Great Scots Magazineincluded survey of readers of the magazine. The magazine is widely read by both show dog enthusiasts and pet owners, and the sample surveyed included dogs that came from established breeders (“professional breeders,” not a very good term), pet stores, and backyard breeders. That means that the Scottish terrier’s health problems cannot be excused through blaming backyard breeders and puppy mills. The problem is both endemic and systematic to the nature of how Scottish terriers are bred.  The author makes comparisons with a study from the 1995 Scottish Terrier Club of America that came from surveying show breeders in 1995. That study found the average lifespan was 11.2 years, and although it is not necessarily fair or accurate to make comparisons with these two studies, the author does make these comparisons to state that the lifespan is getting shorter.

Further, the author discovered that the longest lived dogs in the survey came from “nonprofessionally bred sources.” The oldest professionally bred dogs lived to only 17, but there were 19-year-old dogs that were in the rescues, backyard bred, and pet store groups. The ages of rescued dogs may not have been accurate, but pet store and backyard bred dogs would have had a known date of birth or purchase.

This study really calls into question the shibboleth that the health problems in purebred dogs can be blamed upon backyard breeders and puppy mills. In fact, it really shows that the systems that have maintained the Scottish terrier within a closed registry system have caused a general inbreeding depression that exists across the breed. That’s the problem, not the backyard breeders.

I have not been able to find another study that examines longevity and health within a dog breed from this perspective. The Golden Retriever Club of America has a wonderful study on health and longevity within that breed. This study came out in 1999, and it came from surveys that were sent to all members and placed on the GRCA website in 1998. It also placed the survey on its website. The study included health and longevity history for 1,444 dogs, which is a large n.

However, as good as that study is, I don’t think it can be used to make generalizations about the entire breed. In 1998, the internet was a very new and novel thing. The most Americans were not on the internet at the time, and it may have been those who had lost a dog at young age who were likely to download the survey. The sample also included a huge proportion of established breeders or those breeding for conformation and obedience trials– which is exactly what you get when sample club members.

Only one fourth had never competed in a show or trial?

That’s not representative of the breed as a whole. In Harvill’s paper on Scottish terrier longevity, he points out that 95% of purebred dogs come from non-established breeders.

This study doesn’t contain anything like that sample. 54% were bred for conformation, and 40% were bred for obedience trials. Although this survey says that 61% were bred to be pets, vast majority of golden retrievers are bred to be pets– something  I would estimate to be in 85-90 percent range. Dogs bred for hunting purposes appear to be underrepresented in this survey, too, though I would definitely concede that the a small minority golden retrievers are bred for this purpose. People who breed their dogs for hunting purposes may not have registered their dogs with the AKC or even registered them at all, or if they did, they may not be as in touch with the Golden Retriever Club of America as other breeders. There are large numbers of golden retrievers in the Midwest, Great Plains, and Northern Rockies that are bred for hunting and may or may not be registered at all.

This is a good study, but generalizations about it are rampant. People think that golden retrievers live on a little over 10 years on average, when all other surveys show them living into the 12-13 year range. From that study,  people think that cancer is just rampant in golden retrievers, but a multi-breed survey of 350,000 dogs insured by Swedish dog insurance company found that they were no more likely than average to die of cancer. They were actually one of the healthier breeds in the survey.

Golden retrievers were at low risk for mortality in this study – only 22% died before 10 years. Golden retrievers were significantly less likely to die of trauma and heart disease and were in the baseline (average) risk group for neurological and tumour causes of death. They were at increased risk in the first age category for locomotor problems, but this effect waned with age as demonstrated by a negative age-breed interaction.

A much larger proportion of the Swedish dog population is insured when compared to those of the United States. Lots of people insure their dogs, regardless of the background of the dog itself Sweden has a relatively large population of golden retrievers, and these dogs represent lines that are fairly common in Europe in both conformation and performance lines. And while it is certainly true that Sweden has one of the most progressive kennel club systems in the world, I don’t think it can account for the differences in findings in the surveys. It is likely that a huge proportion of these dogs are bred to be nothing more than pets from people keeping just one or two dogs for breeding purposes.  It is much more likely that this study represents something like the sample in the Harvill Scottish terrier survey.

I am not saying that golden retrievers have no health issues with cancer and other disorders. They clearly do, but the issues surrounding them are more complex than most people assume.

But one interpretation of the comparing the Swedish study with the GRCA study might be that the general pet population is healthier than the dogs bred by the experts. One needs to be careful of this interpretation, of course, but there might be some reason for at least considering it.

Think about what pet breeders do.

They breed dogs to be pets. They don’t care much about conformation, and no one has taught them that line-breeding is the best way to produce puppies. Most backyard breeders would go out of their way to breed from male dogs that are unrelated. That’s something that established breeders really don’t do. They line-breed.  And because they compete for titles, they covet blood from top producing sires.

And we all know what that does to animals in closed registry populations over time. It creates the issues associated with an inbreeding depression, and it allows certain genetic diseases to get spread throughout a larger proportion of the population.

Backyard breeders, if informed that breeding two dogs might result in severe deformities, would not likely do the breeding. The same cannot be said for certain show breeders. I only have to point you to the breeders who produced a double merle collie that has no eyes. This dog was intentionally bred  to produce litters of merle collie puppies that would do well in the show ring.

They intentionally bred a defective dog to satisfy the fancy, yet it is these same people who will give you lectures about how unhealthy backyard bred dogs are.

We would call this the height of hypocrisy.

But then, the dog fancy is largely underpinned with theology, so actual facts don’t really matter.

And never mind that the real issues that are causing purebred dogs so much trouble are actually within the system that claims to be preserving and protecting them.

Virtually every purebred dog has issues with genetic diversity, mostly resulting from popular sire syndrome and a closed registry system based upon a very finite number of founders.

The way to solve this problem is to have more dogs within a closed registry breed reproduce. We need more sires producing litters and more bitches producing pups. If more sires are producing puppies, then the effects of just a single sire producing a huge proportion of puppies in any given generation are reduced. If more bitches are reproducing, more genes are surviving in each generation.

How do you get more dogs contributing in this way?

You encourage other people to breed dogs, including those who want a dog for a pet.

Oh my God! The heresy!

You’re saying backyard breeders can be a solution to some of the problems in purebred dogs.

You’re damn right I am.

The Norwegian lundehund has largely been able to continue to exist because its breeders decided to breed from virtually every male dog in the breed.

And this solution could apply across many breeds.

Jeffery Bragg, who has actually performed quite a big of conservation breeding with a particular strain of husky, writes about the importance of maintaining about the importance of several puppies in a litter producing litters, not just an elite one or two:

The breeder should strive to ensure that at least two of every litter (unless it should happen to be one of those litters that really had best be forgotten) contribute to the next generation; half the litter should be the ideal, though perhaps a difficult one to maintain. In every instance in which only one progeny from a given mating contributes to the next generation, automatically and infallibly half of the available genetic diversity in that line is lost permanently! If two progeny contribute the theoretical average loss is reduced to 25%, still less if more littermates contribute. This single point is a major source of losses of genetic diversity among purebreds, yet it often goes totally unconsidered by the breeder.

But this solution won’t be available to us when people do nothing but write screeds about what a responsible breeder is and continually denounce backyard breeders as if they are devil incarnate. Because everyone’s resources are finite, it will be necessary to have puppy buyers do some of the breeding, and by definition, these people will be evil backyard breeders!

The truth is purebred dogs wouldn’t exist all if it weren’t for backyard breeders. The vast majority of dogs are bred by people like this, and if that’s the case, it ought to be embraced.

Backyard breeders do need to be educated on what should and shouldn’t be done.

But they are not the cause of the problems that purebred dogs have.

The problem that purebred dogs have is the dog fancy system itself, which is overpopulated with hypocritical snots who like to lecture people about all the problems that come from dogs that weren’t bred “by experts.”

The truth is they are just diverting attention from the real problems, and in doing so, they create a scapegoat. In the diversion, they don’t get blamed for supporting the closed registry system, and in the scapegoat, they create a boogie man for everyone to hate.

Which leads to more laws being passed to control breeders.

The fancy has many sins, but one thing it uses to protect itself is to blame other people for the problems it has created.

Not a bad move.

It’s selfish and pig-headed.

And oh so hypocritical.

But that doesn’t matter, they can keep on doing what they want.

And if they want sympathy for their dogs dying of early ages from diseases that could be controlled if they would drop the entire dog fancy system, I suggest they consult a fine dictionary. There, you’ll find that sympathy can be found between shit and syphilis..

That’s the perfect location in the dictionary, if you ask me. You catch shit for calling them out on diseases that come from bad breeding choices.

Solutions aren’t going come so long as we hold onto the same shibboleths and bromides that brought us to this place.

We have to drop them, or we’re just wasting time and energy.

And if we don’t drop them, there are many breeds that simply will not last.

Extinction is forever, so the maxim goes. It is the same for dog breeds as it is for species.

And that’s where we’re heading. Slow but surely, but that’s where it ends.

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Remember when I asked about these puppies?

Most of you thought they were yellow and black Labradors, but Jess figured out that their proportions were way off when compared to normal large breed puppies.

She was right.

These are Scottish terrier puppies. Here they are with their mother:

They were born in 2009.

One of the black puppies appears a bit off.

That’s because it’s a brindle.

The yellow puppies are wheaten Scottish terriers, which are e/e red to yellows, just like golden retrievers.

Most Scottish terriers of this color are on the paler end of the spectrum, but there are some darker yellows around.


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"Scotch terrier" from Stonehenge's Dog in Health and Disease (1859).

The following account appeared in the Hobart Town Gazette (2 August 1823). It is quoted in Robert Paddle’s The Last Tasmanian Tiger.

Paddle explains that the thylacine probably could have defended itself against an attack by a small terrier, but it was so stressed by the four large dogs and the large number of men standing nearby that it didn’t focus its attention on the small terrier– which was a fatal mistake.

One should not assume that the dog called a “Scotch terrier” in 1823 or 1859 was exactly the same thing as the dog we call the Scottish terrier today. “Scotch terrier” was a term that referred to terriers from Scotland, which were varied in type from region to region and from strain to strain.

Australian native fauna was know for its naivete  when they first encountered European domestic and introduced animals. There was nothing on Tasmania that would have given the thylacine any clue that an animal of that size could have been a threat. I don’t think Tasmanian devils ever kill thylacines, but they may have been able to bluff them off their kills. I seriously doubt that any thylacine would have had reason to worry about them.

So why should it have worried about a small terrier? Especially when a pack of kangaroo dogs is nearby. Kangaroo dogs are a landrace of sighthounds that are roughly analogous to the staghounds of the American West. They probably could have killed a thylacine, but they were too scare of it.

I actually do wonder what dogs actually thought abut the thylacine. I know that dogs will respond to objects that are in roughly the same shape as another dog, and a thylacine superficially looked like dog. However, its behavior would have been remarkably different, and dogs might have been disconcerted when encountering it.  The thylacine had very powerful jaws that were structurally quite weak, which explains why there is a more famous account of a thylacine splitting open the skull of a bull terrier as the bull terrier charged in for the kill. It probably wouldn’t have bitten that hard had its life not been so threatened.

And one killed by the Scotch terrier didn’t have time to react to the attack– until it was too late.



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These come from Harry Woodworth Huntington’s My Dog and I (1897). The black dog is Bellingham Bailiff and the rather dark wheaten (?) is Bonny C. from the Newcastle Kennels in Brookline, Massachusetts.

These dogs have much longer legs and less exaggerated heads than the modern show dogs. They don’t  have Groundskeeper Willie faces either. I have no concept of what size these dogs are, but they look like a dog that could go into a fox lair or badger sett in wild country of Scotland.

Scottish terriers are derived from the Aberdeen and Highland terriers. The Highland dog looked a bit more like what we would call a cairn terrier, and the Aberdeen terrier appears to be a Scottish terrier with a slightly broken coat.

These are something like the Scottish version of the German teckel.

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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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This dog is a Scolden terrier.

Half Scottish terrier/half golden retriever.

I told you it was a bizarre cross.  Some of you got close.

Here are some more photos.

Many of you may not be aware that Scottish terriers also come in cream color, which is referred to as wheaten (not “Wheaton.”) We generally tend to think of Scottish terriers as black or very dark brindle dogs.

It is an e/e yellow to red color, so it is possible to get yellow puppies out of this cross.

I don’t know why anyone would cross these two breeds. Both are fairly cancer-ridden, and Scottish terriers have a very different utility from golden retrievers.

I wonder how much one of these dogs costs.

My guess is that is far more than one would spend for the exact same cross at an animal shelter.

However, the designer dog phenomenon is a major pressure on the dog fancy. People are letting their imaginations run wild.

A lot of it is nothing more than avarice and the caprices of a fickle market.

But some of it might actually lead to some reforms in the greater fancy.

The market share that goes to these dogs takes money away from the established registries.

I’d like to have a rational discussion about these dogs that is free of the general  accusations that both sides tend to throw at each other.

You know my prejudice. I’m in favor of open registries. I am uncomfortable with the ideal of blood purity for blood purity’s sake. It seems to me a bit antiquated, and in the long run, it is going to be very harmful to domestic dogs as a species.

But I’m not so sure breeding Scottish terriers to golden retrievers is helping my case.

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Painting by Maud Earl:

Maud Earl painted a lot of different dogs in the late part of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century in both the UK and the United States.

She was a chronicler of what many dogs looked like as they became standardized breeds.

This is what the Scottish terrier looks like today in the form of this year’s Best in Show at Westminster:

The original dos were shorter in coat (which may be the result of a different stripping regime) and longer in the leg.

They are almost like different breeds.

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Yes. That’s a Scottish terrier winning Best in Show at the 2010 Westminster Kennel Club dog show last night.

And the Scottish terrier has won this show more than once. From this list, I am counting that this breed has won BIS 8 different times.  It is instructive to look closely at all of the winners through the history of this event. How many BIS dogs were terriers and possessing a coat that can be clipped or stripped? Just look at the list. It really is quite amazing.

This tells us that dog shows (or at least this particular one) are really good for a certain type of dog. If a dog has a feisty and extroverted temperament and a coat that can be sculpted in some way, this dog will tend to do well in the ring.

Yes, I’m very aware that the judges are judging dogs to their breed standards. The dogs are competing only against the ideal description of their breed.

However, it does seem to me more than a little interesting that terriers with coats seem to do very well.

In fact, go back to that list and count the number of smooth-haired sight hounds that have won BIS at Westminster. Then check the number of mastiff-type dogs that have won (and yes, you can count Newfoundlands. You’re going to have to!)

So if I really want to do well at dog shows, I need to get me a feisty wire-haired terrier, and because you really don’t want to compete against a big field, it is probably a good idea to get a relatively rare wire-haired terrier.

Like Winky:


But a Scottish terrier will do.


Now, the Scottish terrier that won last night is going to be touted as the greatest dog in the nation. This dog is the epitome of the virtues of intense selective breeding through the generations.

But you see the Scottish terrier has some rather detailed health surveys that have compared the breed’s performance over a decade .  It turns out that the Scottish terrier’s life expectancy has dropped from 1995 to 2005.  It turns out that Scottish terriers that have been extensively bred for the show ring for many generations simply aren’t that healthy, even when compared to the generic Scottish terrier bred for the pet market.

Now, I should point out here that the dog called a Scottish terrier is actually a merger of two distinct types of terrier native to Scotland. One of these was the Highland terrier, which looked more like a cairn terrier. The cairns probably are a Highland terrier that have at least some ancestry in the Hebrides, where they were closely associated with the Skye terrier. The other type of terrier merged into this dog was the Aberdeen terrier. Aberdeen terriers looked a lot like Scottish terriers, but they were not nearly as short in the leg. From this taxidermied specimen at the Rothschild Museum at Tring, England, it appears that at least some Aberdeen terriers were smooths or at least lightly broken-coated.

It turns out that the show version of the Scottish terrier is an American invention. The AKC recognized this breed before it was recognized in its native country. That was 1885. The KC didn’t recognize it until 1888.  Scottish terrier, however, was a far less specific term than it is today. If it came from Caledonia and was something like a terrier, it was a Scottish terrier.

Cairns, scotties, Skyes, and westies could all interbreed until 1917, which is one year after the KC stopped registering litters of golden and flat-coat crosses. For my purposes, I don’t consider a breed a “true” breed until the registry closes. When the registry closes, one can idea of when the Tristan da Cunha phenomenon starts.

To be honest with you, I have not looked closely at the Scottish terrier’s particular history.  it appears that even though it didn’t exist in a closed registry system until 1917, it has a far longer history as being exclusively a show dog than the golden retriever, which was put in its closed registry at roughly the same time. If the health studies are to be believed, the golden retriever has a longer average lifespan than the Scottish terrier. The golden retriever was not a popular show and pet dog in the early part of the twentieth century, but the Scottish terrier certainly was. And that factor is key to why the Scottish terrier’s health issues are worse than the golden retriever, which is a breed that definitely suffers from reduced genetic diversity and similar health problems.

I don’t know if anyone has used one as a working terrier for a very long time. Perhaps the last time they were used was when they were Aberdeen and highland terriers.

What has happened to the breed since it was recognized is a pursuit for physical perfection that has resulted in very real health problems for the breed.

I guarantee you that if I start playing around with pedigrees, I will find that just a few studs have sired most of the puppies in each generation.

This dog is meant to be a show dog and a fashionable pet.

It has been bred for its appearance for many, many generations. And most of that breeding happened with a certain degree of ignorance about health issues and a certain amount of a quasi-religious belief that selective breeding of this type “improved” organisms.

And the result has been a Scottish terrier with very real problems with autoimmune diseases, cancer, very short lifespans, and reduced litter size.

This breed has been created by whim and caprice, the vagaries of fashion, and the efforts of some starry-eyed romantics with a penchant for eugenics.  It was not created to be healthy and game as one would expect in a JRTCA Jack Russell.

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” said Albert Einstein, and I just don’t see how extolling the virtues of this Westminster winner helps this breed.

Talking honestly about the health of this breed and the real history of its population would be a much better discussion.

Too bad you won’t hear that on the news.

But I don’t think the Scottish terrier can take nae more.

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