The Dandie Dinmont

A picture of a cute Dandie Dinmont dog in a garden.

The Dandie Dinmont is among the most distinctive-looking of the terriers: curvy instead of straight-edged, with a great fluffy head and a soulful gaze. They’re also among the less commonly seen of their kind, but make fabulous city, suburb, or countryside companions – well-mannered, sturdy, and alert, far from the high-strung and wilting image some presume for little dogs.

The Dandi Dinmont breed

History

The Dandie Dinmont hails from the borderlands of Scotland and England. It was apparently a recognizable breed by about 1700, when, according to the American Kennel Club’s profile, this squat and tough-as-nails earthdog was summed up as a “rough native terrier owned by border hunters in the Cheviot Hills between England and Scotland.”

Locally coveted for its tenacious skills wrangling badgers, otters, and other wild critters, the Dandie Dinmont saw a major boost in fame in 1814, when Sir Walter Scott wrote about a farmer who bred them in his novel Guy Mannering. Many contend that Scott’s farmer character, whom he called Dandie Dinmont, was based on one James Davidson, who owned a sextet of the terriers with a limited but charming nomenclatural scope: He called them Old Mustard, Old Pepper, Young Mustard, Young Pepper, and Little Pepper. It’s said that all modern Dandie Dinmonts descend from one of Old Pepper’s offspring: Old Ginger (whose name at least mixed up the spices).

Because of Scott’s novel, people came to call this borderland scrapper “Dandie Dinmont’s Terrier,” with the possessive form ultimately dropped. The American Kennel Club, which recognized the Dandie Dinmont in 1886 – about a decade after the Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club was established in England – notes that these terriers “remain the only AKC breed named for a fictional character.”

Dandie Dinmont Terriers have never been enormously popular, and in fact these days are recognized by the U.K.’s Kennel Club as a “Vulnerable Native Breed.” Those who have one or two in their lives, however, tend to be completely and utterly devoted.

Appearance

The Dandie Dinmont Terrier is a low-slung beastie with a proportionately big, fluffy head and a long, curving body whose arcing topline continues through the scimitar-shaped tail. The hind legs are longer than the fore legs, though “long” in the Dandie Dinmont’s case is most definitely a relative term.

A typical Dandie Dinmont Terrier stands some 8 to 11 inches high and weighs between 18 and 24 pounds.

Dandie Dinmonts come in two main colors: the blue-grayish “pepper” phase and the rufous-to-fawn-toned “mustard” version.

The terrier’s head comes crowned with a silky-haired topknot and framed by tasseled ears. Petfinder reports a Scottish saying about the breed’s expression: “A Dandie looks at you as though he’s forgotten more than you ever knew.”

The thick neck suggests the Dandie Dinmont’s breeding as a fighter of feisty furbearers, and reflects a common descriptor of the breed, despite its small dimensions: “rough and tumble.”

Personality and temperament

The Dandie Dinmont Terrier has an appealing personality that well fulfills Sir Walter Scott’s description of it as a “big little dog.” It has a confident bearing and a hunter’s heart – enough so that an improperly socialized Dandie may boldly confront even much larger dogs.

Affectionate and dignified, active and sturdy, the Dandie Dinmont belies any stereotype about small dogs being fragile and helpless. It’s a fantastic companion that shows plenty of love but isn’t needy, and has the toughness to do well around playful children.

A good, full-throated watchdog, Dandie Dinmonts are generally a bit leery of strangers.

With careful training a Dandie Dinmont Terrier can live alongside housecats, but keep in mind any small animal – from outdoor cats and rabbits to your hamster or gerbil (generally speaking not a good mix with this terrier) – is vulnerable to its blood-deep hunting instincts.

Shedding / grooming

Dandie Dinmonts don’t shed, and when you’re not maintaining them as showdogs their grooming needs are only moderate. You should brush yours daily if possible, comb the coat a couple of times a week, and have it stripped professionally once or twice a year.

Health and lifespan

Dandie Dinmonts are a quite healthy breed: Aside from some rare cancers, they aren’t particularly known for any major medical issues. Some dogs suffer from intervertebral disk disease, and you should have their eyes checked for signs of glaucoma and other problems.

Dandies have a life expectancy of 11 to 15 years or so.

Exercise needs

As their heritage chasing down badgers and keeping down the farm’s varmint population would suggest, Dandy Dinmont Terriers aren’t layabouts. They have moderate exercise needs, usually satisfied with a couple of hearty walks a day or perhaps a walk and a generous ballgame. Remember, keep your Dandy Dinmont on a leash when you’re strolling, or any passing squirrel or cat is liable to lure it into chase, and let it loose only in a well-fenced yard.

Training and intelligence

The Dandie Dinmont is a smart and highly trainable dog, though like more than a few terrier breeds it’s got a strong-willed and independent streak. Positive reinforcement and a commitment to consistent training should produce an obedient, eager-to-please, and well-rounded Dandie.

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