by   David Hancock

Have all the dog breeds of Scotland got a future? Scotland is well-known for its Deerhound, its Gordon Setter, its sheepdog breeds and, especially its terriers. But hunting the deer with hounds has long been banned, shooting over setters is waning, the Scottish type of Collie has been relegated to the show-ring and terrier-work has declined. Yes, the West Highland White Terrier is a show ring favourite; the Cairn has a loyal following, but the Skye is under threat. The Scottie is still with us but like the others has no discernible sporting use. The Dandie Dinmont Terrier is vulnerable as a breed, despite its immediate appeal to dog-lovers. The Rough Collie has a small band of devoted fanciers but its smooth-coated sister-breed is fading fast. The Shetland Sheepdog is popular still, but the increasing challenge posed by its long heavy coat deters the general public. The Deerhound is widely admired but not widely owned. The Gordon Setter is rarely used in the sporting field. Sadly, two terrier breeds, the Skye and the Dandie, could be lost within the next half-century.

For centuries, Scotland has had small rough-haired terriers, reference being made as far back as 1436 by John Leslie, in his ‘History of Scotland’, to a ‘dog of low height, which, creeping into subterraneous burrows, routs out the foxes, badgers, martens, and wild cats from their lurking places and dens.’ HD Richardson, writing in 1853, refers to three varieties of Scottish terriers, one ‘sandy-red and rather high on the legs’ and called the Highland Terrier; a second, the same size but ‘with the hair somewhat flowing and much longer, which gives a short appearance to the legs. This is the prevailing breed of the Western Isles of Scotland’; and a third ‘the dog celebrated by Sir Walter Scott as the Pepper and Mustard or Dandie Dinmont breed’. From this account, you could be forgiven for thinking of the Cairn, the Scottie and the Westie as one breed, with the Skye and the Dandie also featuring as distinct breeds at that time.

Colonel Hamilton Smith, writing in Volume X of the ‘Naturalists’ Library’, published in 1840, considered the Scottish Terrier to be the oldest representative of what he termed the cur dog race in Great Britain, stating: ‘Our diminutive modern terrier, particularly the Scottish or rough-haired breed, is therefore the race we look upon as the most ancient dog of Britain…and in no part of Europe has the rough-haired breed retained so completely as in Britain all the traits which constitutes a typical species. No dog carries the head so high…’ Despite the Colonel’s scholarly researches, I am forever suspicious of  Victorian writers on terriers, the latter were utilised by working men, unlike gundogs and hounds; whole libraries have been written about the latter, not many books were devoted to terriers in previous centuries and not every distinguished writer of those times was familiar with  terrier work, terrier-breeding and terrier construction.

In his book The Scottish Terrier, published by Our Dogs in the late 1920s, WL McCandlish recorded that “The Macdonalds of Skye had a preference for longer coated dogs, and hence the development began which has led by selection to the modern Skye Terrier. The Malcolms of Poltalloch found a small dog with a short head most suitable, and latterly, having a family liking for cream or white-coloured ones, the developmnt of the West Highlander commenced. The type from which the modern Scottish Terrier came was probably domiciled in the Blackmount region of Perthshire, the Moor of Rannoch, and surrounding districts…That there was no cross-breeding among the Terriers of the Highlands is improbable in dogs kept entirely for work by men not particular about pedigree or appearance.” For those zealots who seek an ancient line of pure-breeding in their breed of terrier from Scotland, those words are of significance.

The great chronicler of Scottish dogs, Thomson Gray, was writing in 1903: “Fanciers of recent years have tried to alter the original type of Terrier, by trying to engraft on a short cobby body a long, senseless-looking head, to get which they had to breed dogs almost, if not quite, twice the size of the original, and to alter the formation of the head…This straight-face craze began in Black-and-tan Terriers, extended to Fox-terriers, is now contaminating the Collie, and is threatening our national Scottish Terrier. Coats are also getting softer and more woolly in texture…reminding one of a cat’s coat instead of a pig’s, the bristles which resemble the true coat of the Scottish Terrier”. Again and again in our terrier breeds, you detect the abandonment of working criteria out of breeder indifference or ignorance. The show critiques of today regularly comment adversely on the faulty texture in terriers’ coats; but who will change the preferences of those who have never seen a working terrier braving the elements day after day?    

Two authors, sixty years apart, but both  writing on sporting terriers, Piece O’Conor and Brian Plummer, didn’t write gushingly about terriers from Scotland. On the Dandie, O’Conor wrote “They are now, I fear, little used for work, ‘at the tods and the brocks’, more’s the pity. The show bench Dandie is rather too heavy and too low to the ground for an active working dog.”  Plummer wrote of the Dandie “It is in fact a pity that nobody is prepared to exploit the working qualities of the Dandie Dinmont for the type is still ideal for working below ground.”   On the Scottish Terrier, O’Conor wrote: “Today, he is ‘a thing of beauty and a joy for ever’ no doubt, but alas! a poor workman.”  Plummer wrote of this breed: “As to when the Scottish Terrier was last worked is yet another moot point.” He quoted Lucas who noted the inability of the breed to work as a pack.

In her book on the Cairn Terrier, published by Our Dogs eighty years ago, Florence Ross wrote: “Since he came into prominence, the Cairn has found favour with English MFH’s, their pluck and tenacity being sufficient to recommend a trial. One of the first to be engaged in this work was Crotal, bred and owned by Lady Charles Bentinck, and who worked regularly with Lord Charles, when he was Master of the Croome. The Grafton, Worcestershire, Meynell and Oakley all testify to their utility.” She went on to quote from a Highland sportsman’s letter which read: “I would happily pit a good working Cairn against any fox up the side of a long steep face of rock, with only roughnesses to use for foothold…the Cairn is often required to make its way into the fox’s lair, by a circuitous route, amongst small spaces between rocks” going on to praise their ‘well turned out forefeet’. Well turned out forefeet are not exactly favoured in today’s show ring, although the breed standard does expect ‘slightly turned out’ ones. Cairns which work are sadly not exactly favoured either. Short-legged terriers dig by throwing the earth to each side of them; turned-out feet allow them to do this. Longer-legged terriers throw the earth backwards through their back feet and need straight legs to accomplish this.        

In his book on hunt terriers, Lucas wrote “It must not be assumed that the bench has ruined everything. That pluck still exists in the right type of Highland terriers.” He may well be right but pluck without the backing of  the appropriate terrier physique is not by itself going to make a worker. The excessive coats, elongated spines and weak back-ends of the show Skyes, the under-muscled Westies and open-coated Cairns, along with heavily-coated Scotties and their overdone heads, don’t offer much of an enticement to sporting terrier-men. Any enthusiast wishing to try the terriers of Scotland as workers would need to exercise great caution before choosing pedigree stock. Show ring judges in their post-show critiques in recent years have commented on pinning-in at the front and movement too close behind in Cairns, weak muzzles, poor front and hind movement, woolly coats and thin feet in Dandies, out at elbow, narrow and poor fronts in Scotties, ‘Queen Anne’ fronts and weak hind movement in Skyes, poor rear construction, straight stifles and upright shoulders in Westies, and with one Crufts judge stating that the Cairns at the world’s premier shows were  ‘not of sufficient quality to be called show dogs’!

It is of interest to note what breeders of Skye Terriers were writing in past times. In the Kennel Gazette of January 1892, James Pratt wrote: “Many of the winning dogs this year are bred simply for money-making purposes…They are only large, coarse brutes, with donkey heads and ears, and cannot boast of one single drop of  Skye blood in their veins. Ask any aged Highland gentleman or gamekeeper if they ever saw in the West Highlands, 40 years ago, such dogs as were awarded the prizes at most of the shows held this year? I say we have not improved these dogs as working terriers. They ought to do a ‘day’s work’ just the same as the hard-haired Scotch Terriers. Can many of them do this? Decidedly not!” A year later in the same publication, Thomas Nolan was writing: “There are no doubt certain good old breeders who really believe that the Skye Terrier ought to be a largish dog of 20lbs to 25lbs or more in weight…No doubt also the huge ugly Skyes that we are complaining of are to some extent a recoil from the pretty little ‘toys’ that sometimes disfigure the show bench…Most certainly we do not want any little toys on our Skye benches. But still less do we want any big toys, - those great soft shapeless masses that a genuine little terrier of 16lbs. or 18lbs., would demolish in a moment.” The Kennel Club is about to republish its Kennel Gazette but would never print such hard-hitting comments today; that approach is perhaps one reason why the same comments could be made today.

Terrier authority John Winch, writing in the Fell and Moorland Working Terrier Club magazine, once described the Dandie Dinmont as the ‘crème-de-la-crème’ of working terriers, yet a couple of decades later they are only patronized in the show ring. Does the effeminate-sounding breed title, coming as it does from a fictional sporting squire in one of Scott’s novels, put down-to-earth terrier-men off? This breed was once the choice of sportsmen in the Coquet Valley of Northumberland, where they rarely reached 15lbs weight and were prized for their crisp double-coated jackets. The Cairn Terrier got its name from a 1907 show ring judge’s objection to the title ‘short-haired Skyes’; they were not called Cairn Terriers in Scotland before that. Rather than Westies and Scotties we so easily could have had Aberdeen, Pitterween, Poltalloch and Roseneath Terrier breeds, rather as we have Fell, Patterdale, Plummer and Lucas terriers now. Will some latter-day Scottish Brian Plummer come up with a revised working terrier from Scotland, perhaps in that stunning deep red chestnut coat which once featured in Cairns, lacking the overcoats of the Scotties, the centipedal structure of the Skye and the entirely ‘fancy’ topknot of the Dandie! (A topknot does not feature on the terriers depicted in the old print entitled ‘Dandie Dinmont and his Terriers’). It can be done; there are probably now more Plummer Terriers than Fox Terriers and more Sporting Lucas Terriers than Skye Terriers. What a project for a patriotic Scottish terrier enthusiast and what a rich heritage to call on. But what about the other Scottish breeds: the Gordon Setter, the Deerhound and the pastoral breeds?

In 2015, the KC registrations told their own story, as the list of each Scottish breed's figures indicates their current status: the West Highland White looks more than safe, with 2,692; the Cairn Terrier is coping, with 835; the Scottie had 592 but the Dandie, with just 88 and the Skye on 43 are both in peril. The Deerhound struggles on with 267, the Gordon Setter with 234 but in the pastoral breeds, the two Collies contrast markedly, with the Roughs getting 746 and the Smooths only 78, another Scottish breed in jeopardy. As usual, the Shetland Sheepdog attracted over 950 but this is a huge drop from years gone by. These three breeds are no longer working sheepdogs and need the pet market to survive. Are the show fanciers making this more or less likely? 

In her The Popular Collie of 1960, Margaret Osborne wrote:
“Unfortunately, far more recently than this date (i.e. the end of the eighteenth century, DH), infusions of different blood were introduced into the Collie, usually to satisfy a whim for a special point: the cross with the Gordon Setter was made to enrich the tan; with the Irish Setter in a misplaced attempt to enrich the sable; with the Borzoi to increase the length of head. As a result of the Irish Setter cross the words ‘setter red most objectionable’ came to be included in the earlier standards of the breed, and even today we all too often see the horrible results of the Borzoi cross in the receding-skulled, roman-nosed horrors which masquerade under the name of Collie.” It seems that Collie breeders would clandestinely outcross to achieve a change in a previous century, but forbid an outcross to remedy its after-effects in a succeeding century; an outcross to a different shorter-muzzled, broader-headed breed could so easily breed away from such an unwanted feature. 

Critics of the Collie’s head and show ring alterations have long been at work. In his The Dog of 1933, James Dickie gave the view: ‘About sixty years ago the collie became a fashionable pet, and thereafter two new strains developed, the rough and the smooth show collies. It was then laid down that the head should be long, narrow and sharp, but not domed; since then dogs have been bred entirely without a stop and with extraordinarily narrow heads. The brain-pan, in fact, has been bred out of them, with the natural result that, compared with his working ancestor, the show collie is little better than a congenital idiot. The popularity of show collies is on the wane. The smooth variety was never common, and the rough variety, having been ‘perfected’ and become a fool in the process, is rapidly being superseded by dogs of less size and more brains.’ His prediction about popularity was, 30 years later, somewhat wide of the mark, but the severity of his words, with a forthrightness unlikely to be matched in dog books of today, do illustrate the depth of feeling over the changes in this breed brought about by show ring fanciers.  

 In 1908, there were over 1,200 Rough Collies and 170 Smooth Collies registered with the KC; one hundred years later, in 2008, the figures were: 1,171 Roughs and 43 Smooths, the latter’s very survival being threatened. Twenty years earlier however, over 8,000 Roughs were registered, indicating the fickleness of the pedigree dog world and indeed the public response to the promotion on film of a breed. The ‘Lassie’ films gave enormous exposure to the Rough Collie; it has not been to the breed's good.    

The pedigree dog world itself has not always been kind to the pastoral breeds, with the Rough Collie being a prime example. William Arkwright, the great working gundog expert, writing in The Kennel Gazette, July, 1888, had this to say: “…’fancies’, locust like, appear to have settled on the Collie, and, unless we can exterminate them, they will most assuredly exterminate the Collie. ‘Fanciers’ have recently determined that a Collie shall have an enormous head, an enormous coat, and enormous limbs, and that by these three ‘points’ shall he stand or fall in the judging ring; so they have commenced to graft on to the breed the jaw of an alligator, the coat of an Angora goat, and the clumsy bone of a St Bernard. A ‘cobby’ dog with short neck, straight thick shoulders, hollow back, and small straight tail, but graced with a very long snout and a very heavy jacket, is already common at our shows, and increases and multiplies…First of all, the Collie is intended for use, for definite work, and, as soon as we find ourselves breeding dogs that cannot gallop, jump, ‘rough it’, aye, and think too, we may be certain that, whatever he may have got hold of, it is not a sheepdog…” Neither is it an appealing pet if coat-management becomes a trial!

  If you look at portrayals of the Sheltie in the show ring of a century ago, you could be forgiven for thinking it was then a quite different breed. Whilst this could be said of a number of breeds, in this one I very much prefer the 1913 specimens. If you look at photographs of Thynne’s Kilravock dogs, such as Laddie, a fine tricolour, the mainly white Cleopatra, Gipsy Love, a black and tan with a truly weatherproof coat, Eureka, a beautifully balanced bitch and Flora Modal, an excellent tricolour, you can see the sound foundation of any future breed. They all had strong wide-skulled heads, thick but not long coats and, unlike some of the chicken-boned contemporary dogs, ample bone and broad chests. From such stock could have come a really impressive breed. In due course, the Eltham Park kennel continued this type, but already, in their dogs, you could detect the heavier coat and lighter bone. They were much more collie-like than today’s dogs and why not? The Houghton Hill kennel became influential but led to over-use of this line, bringing a more refined head – continued in the Exford line. If the type exemplified in the 1920s, with Mary Grey’s Hurly Burly and Farne of Greyhill both fine examples, had been perpetuated then perhaps the drift towards being a Toy breed could have been averted. If this breed is to deserve its title of sheepdog it has to justify that proud tag.

In his Dogs and I of 1928, sportsman and judge Harding Cox wrote: “The Shetland is a very small sheep dog, but it may well be too small! Already some of the prize winners  are below the proper standard of inches and weight. They are not ‘Toy’ dogs, therefore any attempt to degrade them to such a level should be severely frowned upon and condemned. Judges take notice!” A dog looking more like a longer-backed Pomeranian, or ‘all fluff and no puff’ as one disillusioned Sheltie fancier put it to me, has no right to be named or considered as a sheepdog. In Hutchinson’s Dog Encyclopaedia of 1934, the breed has these words on it: “…there are two distinct types of Shetland Sheepdog, but both are registered under the same name, a fact that has led to considerable difficulty and argument. The one variety is very like the Collie dog of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, before the days of registration, and the other is a miniature of the show Collie type…This rather unfortunate state of affairs has divided the breeders into two camps, and it is to be regretted that it did not at the same time divide the dogs…” Is this a discussion to be resumed if this breed is to establish lasting type?  With registrations falling steadily, the pet market is making a judgement; this breed is being changed - and not for the better! The slow decline of the Deerhound's popularity has different reasons.

In her valuable book on the breed, Nora Hartley, who bred the famous Rotherwood hounds, ends with these words: 'Stock- breeding is like a marathon - we take the torch from the hand of the past, do all that in us lies to carry it forward and pass it, still bravely flaring, into the grasp of the future. So let us do so for deerhounds.' Those wise words should be the leitmotiv for every Deerhound breeder during their time in the breed. Producing puppies is the task of the dam; producing sound typical Deerhounds is the task for the breeder, with any true devotee keeping the faith rather than lamely following the style of the day. All breeds are at the mercy of show ring whims but the ancient breeds merit our vigilance and care. In future this may well become more and more difficult, as owners increasingly seek dogs that have no function and merely satisfy their preferred appearance. There is a considerable challenge here.

It is likely that the Deerhound retained its essential type because it attracted  distinguished owners and breeders. Names like Miss Doxford of the Ruritania kennel, the Misses Loughrey of the Ross kennel, Miss Bell of the Enterkine kennels, Miss Linton (Geltsdale), Miss Hartley (Rotherwood) and Miss Noble (Ardkinglas) would grace any breed club register. But I do see, mainly over the last five years or so, far too many deerhounds in a new mould: small, woolly-coated and light in bone, with sharp pointed heads and completely lacking the soft eye. Hounds like this are really without true type. Writing in his "Dogs of Scotland", published in 1891, Thomson Gray remarked that: "Another great drawback in connection with deerhounds is that they become small and weedy through interbreeding...all breeders will acknowledge that it is a serious one". Nobody wants the deerhound to have the narrow head of the borzoi or greyhound but if this pedigree breed does need an infusion of new blood there are some fine deerhound type lurchers around, although  far too many of the latter are rather coarse-headed. It would be a major tragedy if this magnificent ancient breed were allowed to deteriorate; it is part of the heritage of Scotland and deserves to be preserved on pure merit. It would be both timely and very worthwhile if the landed families of Scotland today were to patronise this fine old breed, just as their predecessors did for so many centuries. No Scottish castle truly looks authentic without one! And no traditional Scottish estate ignores their Gordon Setter.

Is being a 'one-coated' breed counting against the Gordon Setter? Its KC Breed Standard makes the following stipulation on coat colour, apart from setting out the black and tan markings: ‘Very small white spot on chest permissible. No other colour permissible’. The Duke must be turning in his grave! How many potentially top-class gundogs in this breed have been destroyed at birth because of the unacceptable colour of their coats, despite the revealed honesty of the gene pool? We now very sensibly recognise red and white Irish Setters; why can’t we respect the gene pool of the Gordon Setter and recognise the coat colours it throws up. As many historic illustrations show, the grouse moors of Scotland had more non-black and tan setters than today’s restricted Gordon Setter type. 

Would a variety of colours threaten breed-type or increase diversity? This a fine breed, but with a narrowing of the breeding stock on colour grounds, far too heavy a coat and persistent anatomical faults, its breeders have much to ponder. The Crufts 2010 judge for this breed reported: “Shortly before the show I was reminded by the Kennel Club about the need to avoid excessive coat and excessive hind angulation, overlong hip to hock and sickle hocks…I do feel that excessive coats are not really typical of the Gordon…”   I doubt if the Duke would have lent his name to gundogs dripping with coat and displaying unsound hindquarters; are they truly fit for purpose? Retain the breed’s name and rightly so, but associating it closely with the Duke is unwise. Why not revive the parti-coloured black and white 'Scottish Setter' as shown at dog shows at the end of the last century on the Continent?  If these precious Scottish dog breeds, whether terriers, sheepdogs or gundogs, are to survive, then thinking the unthinkable may be necessary to save each of them.