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Dandie Dinmont, a Once Popular Dog Breed on Extinction's Edge

By Edited Sep 19, 2016 4 10

Heirloom Hound

The Originator

Many of the organisms on this planet have, over the eons, gone extinct.

Some simply no longer fit into the evolving, and dominant, genome.  A good example of competition wrecking a species is the plight of Homo Neanderthalensis, otherwise known as Neanderthal man. This and the Cro-Magnon (true Homo Sapiens Sapiens) co-existed on the planet, but there is little evidence of social and cultural interactions between the two.  The Neanderthal simply failed to thrive.  [Some posit that the Neanderthals were bred out of existence by intermixing with Cro-Magnons.  One theory holds that the vestigial remains of Neanderthals can be seen today as “ginger kids”: red haired and freckled people.]

Another way a life form can die out is through popularity.  The mallow plant became severely endangered after its root went into making a nice fluffy confection known as “marshmallows”.  It was only when found that the demand for mallow root far outpaced the supply that alternatives to true mallow root were put into use.  Vanilla is in the same state—the world’s consumption is so great the natural beans harvested annually cannot keep apace.  Artificial flavors in lieu of true vanilla are a necessity.

Other plants and animals are so popular they are literally eaten out of existence.  The passenger pigeon went from billions of birds (whose migrations routinely blackened the skies as they passed overhead) to one lone bird in captivity.  This North American native unfortunately tasted good and was a cheap food substance for early 19th Century Americans.  It was killed en masse, with train carloads shipped to major cities. The last living specimen, named “Martha”, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

Silphium, a Mediterranean plant used for many medicinal purposes by prehistoric peoples, was similarly consumed out of existence.  In addition to having abortifacient and alleged aphrodisiac qualities the plant’s seed pod resembled a male testicular sac.  This became a symbol of potency and sexuality, and the pods became coveted items.  The plant was overgrazed (by agrarians thinking its qualities helped improve the meat of the grazing animal).  And with its seedpods given away in great numbers as symbols of sexuality by the ancient Romans among others it ceased to exist by the 2nd Century BCE.  [The seedpod’s shape, when inverted, became the “heart” symbol we use in modern times during Valentine’s Day—otherwise, it represented a hanging pair of testicles.]

Domestication can likewise cause the demise of a native species.  Ancestral strains may become non-extant thanks to cross-breeding.  Preservation efforts and seed banks keep many of these heirloom plants on the planet, though.  The original apples of Johnny Appleseed, the poisonous potatoes of the ancient Andean peoples—these are available today thanks to preservation efforts. 

Declining popularity of a species among humans can likewise account for its extinction.  One of the ancestors of the Flemish Giant rabbit, the European Patagonian, is gone (fl., 16th Century).  

And while people may think of dog breeds as stable, there is a centuries’ old  canine that is on the verge of extinction.

This particular dog breed genetically “fathered and mothered” other fashionable varieties (Bedlington Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, et al) and was itself well liked for about 300 years.  However, the Dandie Dinmont is on its way to extinction due to breeder apathy and the changing tastes of the masses. 

Máiréad Nutmeg M'Doggel, a mustard Dandie Dinmont puppy
Credit: Vic Dillinger, 2016

“Och!”
The Dandie Dinmont Terrier’s lineage is murky at best. 

The dog’s ancestry is definitely Scottish and appeared in the borderlands between Scotland and England as otter and badger hunters in the 1600s.  They also stalked small vermin and functioned as herders.   

Their source beyond that, however, is not clear.  A fanciful “origin” story involves the Rom (“Gypsies”).  On The Continent, the Rom used terriers mixed with Dachshunds to poach chickens or other fowl.  When they came to the British Isles and wandered Scotland they brought their thieving dogs with them, eventually leading to the Dandie Dinmont breed.

While a nice story it is likely false; there is no evidence the dog has any Dachshund blood in it. [Though the Rom was known to use Dandie Dinmonts as poaching dogs there is no proof they had a hand in developing the breed.]

The Scots, however, already had small, rough native terriers for ratting and herding.  These were selectively bred over time to produce more desirable traits.  The particular canine that became the Dandie Dinmont—long in the body with stumpy front legs and a fluffy topknot in adulthood—most likely seems to have its modern source from a family named Allan of Northumberland, England, in the early 1700s in the Cheviot Hills region.

This mid-sized terrier’s tenacity, low-slung and swaybacked body, and great stamina made it ideal for running small game to ground or for forging ahead into rivers and streams to catch otters.  It caught on as a favorite among small gamesmen, farmers, and shepherds.

Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott (book cover, 1815)

The Dandie Dinmont drew its name from a fictional character in literature, the only dog in history to lay claim to such an honor.  In 1815 Sir Walter Scott had anonymously published Guy Mannering (or The Astrologer).  This book featured a farmer character named Dandie Dinmont who owned borderland’s terriers.  His dogs, based on their color (the yellowish to brown and the blackish silver and grey), were named either “Mustard” or “Pepper”.

The book’s character was based on a real life farmer, James Davidson, whom Scott had met and with whose terrier dogs he had become acquainted.  [Davidson’s dogs were unimaginatively named variants of “Mustard” and “Pepper”: “Auld Pepper”, “Auld Mustard”, “Young Pepper”, “Young Mustard”, “Little Pepper”, “Little Mustard”.  These were descended partly from the early 1700s stock of the Allans of Northumberland.]

The breed was first called “Dandie Dinmont’s Terriers” after the early 1800s thanks to this novel, but then later lost the apostrophe in the name.

Furry Friend Features
Most terriers have a typically “terrier” face: ears that are stiff at the base of the head then drop down, bushy “eyebrows”, short snouts, and moustaches. 

The Dandie Dinmont differs from all other terriers in its body shape.  It is longer with a disproportionately large head, front legs that are shorter than the rear; the front paws turn out slightly for better digging.  The chest is barrel shaped and sturdy.  The tail curls up over the back and has a fur tassel at the end (the tail will be held straight or can droop depending upon the animal’s mood). 

They have a penciled coat: a short, soft undercoat that is water repellant, and a finer, wispier overcoat of fur.  Though the hair looks wiry it is very soft to the touch.  In adulthood they have a largish, fluffy tuft that grows between their ears—the signature “topknot”.  [Puppies develop the topknot over time—if it is cut severely in adulthood it will not grow back to its full glory.]

Their ears start out low on the head, but angle upward for a short distance and then drop downward (much like the cornette of 1960s’ television’s The Flying Nun, though less exaggerated). 

Dandie Denmont Terrier, diagram of key features
Credit: Vic Dillinger, 2016

Though there are variations these dogs are easily categorized by color simply because there are only two from which to choose: mustard and pepper.  The “mustard” can range from yellowish blond through pale browns to fawn, or even darker.  The “pepper” is normally a silver/grey/black mix of colors (with shading variations all over the map). 

examples of pepper and mustard colorations in Dandie Deinmont Terriers
Credit: petsadviser.com; Pleple2000

They fall into the “medium sized” category of dog.  They can stand between eight and eleven inches tall at the shoulder (about 20 cm to almost 28 cm).  Weights average between 18 pounds and 24 pounds (around 8 kg up to nearly 11 kg).  The lifespan runs from twelve to fifteen years.

A Dinmont’s bark is sharp and short, but resonant.  They also “howl” (if you want to call it that): it sounds more like a high-pitched whistling sound bordering on a yodel than a traditional dog’s plaint. 

Temperamentally, they are good with most other dogs and older children.  They are not, however, to be trusted around small animals (such as guinea pigs—caveys—or rabbits or mice or pet rats).  Their hunting instincts are very strong and they may inadvertently kill a smaller house pet if left unattended.

Highly intelligent, the dogs can be taught many things, not the least of which is to not bark at all.  [Since the Dinmont is an excellent watchdog that is not something most people would want to do.]  They are herders by nature and spend play time with other dogs “herding” them.  They are very affectionate; part of their herding heritage meant time spent at Master’s feet, so they have a tendency to follow their owners and sit between—or on—their shoes.

With that intelligence comes a strong will and a fierce sense of independence.  While they are readily trainable they do not react well to overly harsh discipline.  [Verbal only!  No one should ever strike an animal as part of its training!]  If the dog feels its owner is being unduly unfair it will let him or her know it with signs of dismay: low growling, possibly nipping, and sulking.

Grooming can be an issue for the lazier owner.  The dogs tend to have a shaggy, disheveled look, and they do not shed.  Combing their fur and plucking by hand the loose hairs from their top coat routinely keeps it looking proper, otherwise the top coat hairs, not sloughed off, become matted and gnarled.   As far as cutting goes, shaping of the topknot, a “sanitary” shave around the bottom, and trimming the body hair are all okay, but do not scalp the dog as the topknot will not come back fully.

Health wise, they are not subject to many problems.  Significantly, because of their longish bodies overweight Dinmonts may experience back trouble.  They are also subject to glaucoma, and they have a higher-than-average incidence rate of certain types of canine cancers.  Overall vet bills will likely be low unless the animal sustains an injury.

Caveat Emptor
The Dinmonts were very popular with outdoor sportsmen.  However, over the past century they have switched from their more utilitarian purposes to that of house pet. And they were very popular as house dogs for many, many years.

Unfortunately, that is no longer true.  It has fallen out of fashion, though, and as a result there is a dearth of Dandie Dinmont breeders.

In the UK, the animal is listed as in the category of “Vulnerable Native Breed” due to the continually lower numbers of puppies registered annually. About 130 new pups were registered there in 2015. 

And in the United States, with but a handful of reputable breeders of these fine dogs, less than 100 new Dandie Dinmont Terrier puppies are registered each year.  [Measure this against one of the most popular dogs in the US: there are around 60,000 new Golden Retriever puppies registered annually].  At current birthrates this breed will likely be extinct within the next few decades.

The lack of “product” on the market means these animals are expensive.  Puppies range from $1500 US on the low end up to $3000!  Because of their relative rarity many less scrupulous individuals are selling other terrier types that resemble the Dinmont as the real thing.

There are also people shamelessly selling the Zuchon (or “teddy bear” dog, a mix of the Bichon Frise and Shih Tzu) as the scruffy Scottish dogs.  [As small puppies the two can look enough alike for the uninformed to get taken in.]  And because the Zuchon is not recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club basically a buyer would be paying big money for what is really nothing more than a mutt.

A Dandie Proposition
Credit: Vic Dillinger, 2016

So, when considering a purchase, get in contact with someone who knows the breed and can advise about the authenticity of the animal under consideration.

Fun Time with Máiréad
A year or so ago my wife rescued a show-quality Yorkshire terrier pup from a breeder/hoarder situation in conjunction with the aid of a local “no kill” animal shelter.

 The Yorkie’s name is Annabel Lee Vicious, and she weighs all of a bit over three pounds (around 1.5 kg).  [She was named for the Edgar Allan Poe poem “Annabel Lee”—I added the “Vicious” surname because I thought it was funny.]  I call her “Junior” (because I also think that’s funny).  Even though Junior was allegedly from Yorkshire I gave her a Scottish accent when she talks (I do the voice as I do for all our critters).

As it turned out, after doing some research we discovered a few months ago that Yorkies, while actually “from” that English region, had been brought there by Scottish migrants.  So, they actually are Scottish in origin and thus my accent for Junior was serendipitously correct.

At the same time, we learned about the Yorkshire’s lineage.  We found they come from a few different terriers, one of which, the Paisley (an extinct dog), may have had Dandie Dinmont blood in it.

Like all good nosy people, and having never heard of the Dandie Dinmont, we dug around online and found some basic info.  We thought the dogs unique enough looking; considering the size—not too big, I hate huge dogs lumbering around—we thought it would be right for our household.

The community of “true” Dinmont fanciers is tight knit and extremely helpful.  The Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club of America maintains an official website about the breed.   Through that site we reached out to a woman in Michigan who had several of her own, and she told us the ins and outs of owning one.  We connected with a recommended breeder that, unfortunately, was an eleven hour drive—one-way—from our home (yup, that’s how few and far between quality breeders of this dog are). 

This person, however did have a puppy ready for sale, but it was considered defective (only one testicle).  Because of the “flaw” the price was $1800 US (otherwise it would have been higher).  While the price caused us to do a double-take (but expected) it was the logistics of going to get the puppy that killed the enterprise.  [We considered flying, etc., but traveling that far with an animal just wasn’t in the stars for me.]

The same wonderful woman in Michigan, however, notified us of a roughly three-month-old female Dinmont puppy that a local “no kill” animal shelter had rescued from a high-kill dog pound.  Someone had gone in and verified that it was indeed a true Dinmont.  The shelter arranged for a meet ’n’ greet with us.  We had to bring some of our other dogs to interact with the adoptive terrier that they were calling “Nutmeg”.

Nutmeg, to her caretakers’ surprise, got along just fine with the other pooches (Harpo Barx, our poodle; Junior, the Yorkie; our miniature pinscher; and one of our three Mexican Mafia members, a chihuahua).  She also seemed to like us just fine, as well—without being coaxed she came right up to us, let us hold her, slobbered all over our faces, etc..

Thus in mid January 2016 we adopted a 3½-month-old, genuine Dandie Dinmont puppy.  She is of the “mustard” variety (though she looks more tan shot with dark brown).  She has the typical long, sloping Dinmont body (looks as if she’s walking downhill all the time).  Her topknot is just starting to show itself, too.  She is a cutie, and like her Yorkshire Terrier sister, she “speaks” in a Scottish accent.  [Again, you know I do the voice, right?  Dogs can’t talk!]

But her slave name of “Nutmeg” just wasn’t good enough for us, and we had to add to it.  Her full name is Máiréad Nutmeg M’Doggel.

The “Máiréad” is for the blond fiddler of Celtic Woman, Máiréad Nesbitt.  [I truly hope Máiréad Nesbitt doesn’t mind that I named a dog after her.]

The surname, “M’Doggel”, I gave her because it sounded Scottish, and I thought it was funny.

Máiréad Nutmeg M’Doggel (a Dandie Dinmont Terrier
Credit: Vic Dillinger, 2016
Máiréad Nutmeg M’Doggel (a Dandie Dinmont Terrier)
Credit: Vic Dillinger, 2016

Máiréad and her sister/descendant, Junior, took to each other immediately (perhaps recognizing their Scottish kinship) and have spent much time wrestling around (although Máiréad, at over 9 pounds—about 4 kg or so—is roughly three times Junior’s size).  The two spend time “herding” the poodle, Harpo Barx, and he is enamored of his new sibling.  [Harpo is still a puppy at six months old.] 

Lotta bouncing around going on.  Máiréad has energy to burn.  She enjoyed her first romp in the snow a day after we got her, and she liked it.  She hangs around her old man, a lot, if I’m in the room.  She is fearless and affectionate (and also a tad pesty as she is still a puppy).

She’ll learn.

***

Author’s Note, update, Jan. 30, 2016: We took Máiréad to our longtime vet this morning for her first post-shelter-life checkup and for a round of puppy shots (rabies, etc.).  Our vet told us she had never seen a dog like Máiréad before.  We also found out that she is between 5 and 6 months old, not the 3½ we had been told by the shelter.  [In their defense, they deal with dodgy details all the time, usually third-hand so they are not to be faulted for this bit of misinformation.]

Regardless, our girl is in fine health.  No longer in a shelter, she plays and is happy in the company of our other dogs.  And to show what just a little care can do for an animal, Máiréad gained almost 5 pounds (a bit over 2 kg) since we got her over two weeks before!

short video starring Máiréad Nutmeg M'Doggel & me

Auxilliary Update, February 1, 2016: The short video I made for inclusion with this article created unnecessary and unwarranted controversy since its upload.  Assertions were made that Máiréad Nutmeg M’Doggel was not a Dandie Dinmont, but some other terrier or terrier mix (unspecified by anyone).  The source of this contention seems to be solely from the British.

To lay this to rest once and for all today it was learned from where Máiréad came and her lineage.  Her parents were registered Dinmonts in a county in the far western part of the state in which my wife and I live.  Their owner was a farmer who bred and raised Dinmonts his whole working life as work animals for his farm and he owned only a male and female recently.  The man is now elderly, and right before he was put into a nursing home in the US in late 2015 his female Dinmont gave birth to one puppy (litters tend to be small).  A grown son of this farmer was put in charge of the farmer’s estate; near relatives wanted the two adult Dinmonts (Máiréad’s mother and father) for themselves as work dogs for their farm.

The son took the puppy prematurely from the mother and had decided to raise her.  However, in short order he found she was a handful and so he turned her over to an animal shelter (with a high euthanasia rate). She spent a couple of months there before being brought from that environment to a “no kill” shelter near where I live (and from where my wife and I adopted her; “Nutmeg” had been in that latter environment for only about a week).

The beef online seems to be that Máiréad doesn’t “look” like a Dandie Dinmont Terrier.  Well, she is.  She has all the characteristics of a Dinmont.  Her coat is scraggly looking (but recovering) because she was not cared for and was under a lot of stress from living in shelters most of her life.  Her nutrition was not that good either, and as a result she is stunted and is behind in developing the longer Dinmont body.  However, we were assured that this will come in time by a long-time Dinmont breeder.

So, all naysayers: Máiréad Nutmeg M’Doggel is a Dandie Dinmont, bred from two AKC registered Dinmonts in the US.

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Comments

Jan 27, 2016 7:26am
Browna86
An adorable dog breed. Reminds me of my little (he's not really little) Pompom. Originally starting out as a large breed his fam was downsized to be lapdogs; he doesn't know this. The video was the icing on the cake.

This is my first exposure to this breed and they have a pretty impressive lineage. Awesome article.
Jan 27, 2016 7:33am
vicdillinger
A number of people, mostly British, have stepped up to advise me our dog is not a Dinmont. I strenuously disagree, but appreciate their interest. And thanks for your interest, and thanks for reading (and I wished I could've gotten more cooperation out of Máiréad in the vid)!
Jan 27, 2016 10:19pm
Browna86
The same goes for my dog. The experts claim he is too "large" to be a Pom yet his dad is certified as a pure breed; same with his mom. Though depending on his hair cut he will either look like a fox or a wolf cub.
Jan 28, 2016 12:25am
vicdillinger
We've had two breedrs tell us she is a true Dinmont.
Jan 27, 2016 9:33am
HLesley
I loved the video, Vic. What a cute little scruffy dog. How does she get along with the bunnies?
Jan 27, 2016 9:42am
vicdillinger
She is fascinated by Regis Philbun (the Flemish Giant, now around 50#). He is in a huge open pen in our home during the day when we can't watch him (along with his two smaller sisters and tiny brother, Christopher Hoppen). On the few occasions we have allowed her to see them she sits and watches Reege and wags her tail. [She is also a tad afraid of him, but she's getting over that, venturing closer to thepewn each time.] My only concenr, as I said would be with the msaller bunnies. Regis can pretty much take care of himslef and is fearless.

Oh, and her scruffy look will smooth out over time (she has been in a shelter most of her 3 months of being alive). Her coat was negleected. She got her first bath a couple days ago which was when we first saw her truer "mustard' coloring. And with good grooming she'll look more and more as she should and less like a ragamuffin. Right now she's just loving all the attention and having other dogs to play with and being able to go outside! Thanks for reading about the Dinmonts.
Jan 28, 2016 10:46am
HLesley
I love the scruffy look. We used to have a scruffy little terrier years ago who looked something like Mairead - maybe he was part DD.
Jan 28, 2016 11:51am
vicdillinger
Her coat will recover from the stresses of being in a shelter nearly all her life, but I kinda liek the scruffy look, too, since that's how I usually look!
Jan 28, 2016 12:01pm
LeighGoessl
What a pretty pup. I'm not familiar with the breed at all, interesting piece and great pics/vid. Her little face is ... ah what a cutie!
Jan 28, 2016 12:17pm
vicdillinger
She is a cutie, that's for sure. It turns out not only the Dandie Dinmonts are going extinct but other terrier breeds are as well, perhaps falling victim to the "designer dog" trend going on now (where some idiot celebrity starts carrying around a certain breed in her purse and the sheeple all have to go out and get one). They are hardy little pooches, and worth preserving if we can. Thanks for reading.
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Bibliography

  1. "passenger pigeon." Britannica Ready Reference 2003. 2002.
  2. "Silphium." en.wikipedia.org. 24/01/2016 <Web >
  3. "Neanderthal." Britannica Ready Reference 2003. 2002.
  4. "Dandie Dinmont: The History." akc.org. 25/01/2016 <Web >
  5. "Guy Mannering." en.wikipedia.org. 25/01/2016 <Web >
  6. "Dandie Dinmont Terrier." dogtime.com. 25/01/2016 <Web >
  7. Michele Welton "Dandie Dinmont Terrier Temperament What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em." yourpurebredpuppy.com. 25/01/2016 <Web >

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