In the first half of the 20th century, the Sealyham Terrier was a widely recognizable dog thanks to some high-wattage ownership among celebrities and British royals. These days, this attractive and dynamic creature is – unjustly – a more obscure breed, so dramatically declined in its British Isles homeland as to be classified as endangered by the U.K. Kennel Club.
The Sealyham Terrier dog breed
Captain John Edwardes is credited with creating, in the mid-1800s, the Sealyham Terrier, which came to be named for his estate in southwestern Wales: Sealy Ham. Edwardes wanted a scrappy, ground-hugging hunting dog with the grit, energy, and proportions to go after otters, badgers, and other country “vermin” – plus the sort of agreeable personality to make for a pleasant fireside companion as well. To achieve the right scale and temperament, he mixed such breeds as the Corgi, the Whitehaired Fox Terrier, the Dandie Dinmont, and likely others. Edwardes favored a white coat, it’s said, because that way the dog would be less likely to be mistaken for wild quarry and end up in the crosshairs itself.
The Sealyham gained renown fairly steadily, being recognized by the English Kennel Club in 1910 and arriving in the United States the following year. As the American Kennel Club notes, the breed’s popularity reached its stateside zenith between the First and Second World War, when a whole passel of Hollywood A-listers – including Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, and Gary Cooper – cherished Sealyhams as pets. Alfred Hitchcock owned a pair of them – Geoffrey and Stanley – which actually appeared onscreen with him during his walk-on in his 1963 horror classic The Birds. Across the pond, Princess Margaret was another famous Sealyham devotee.
As we’ve already mentioned, the Sealyham’s popularity has taken something of a nosedive since those gilded days, but that’s no reflection on the all-around winningness of the breed: “one of the best-kept secrets in dogs,” the American Kennel Club quotes a Sealyham owner boldly proposing.
The Sealyham Terrier, which today appears in a slightly bigger (and slightly less tenacious) version of its 19th-century Welsh original, stands a foot or less at the withers and weighs roughly 18 to 20 pounds.
It has a broad, long, wedge-shaped head with a luxurious moustache and beard and folded ears. The body is squat, supported on short, powerful legs mostly hidden by a curtain of long belly feathering. The tail is stubby and held erect. The long, wiry, weatherproof, and snowy-white topcoat overlies a dense inner coat.
Personality and temperament
Sealyham Terriers make good housepets in both city and country environments. They’re friendly, affectionate, and loyal without being needy; they’ve got a stubborn streak and no small amount of emotional self-reliance. If socialized in early puppyhood, they can integrate well with other dogs as well as cats and other pets.
Keen-eyed, keen-eared, and armed with a strong bark, Sealyhams make good watchdogs as well.
Shedding and grooming
Sealyham Terriers aren’t shedders, but the coat does require hand-stripping (for show dogs) or clipping (for non-show pets), the latter a good option for lower-maintenance grooming. Keep that white coat free of mats with brushing and combing several times a week.
Health and lifespan
Sealyham Terriers occasionally develop eye troubles, including the genetic condition known as lens luxation as well as infections and tearing resulting from the lavish eyebrows; keeping the latter cut short can ward against some of that irritation.
A healthy Sealyham Terrier’s lifespan is generally from 12 to 14 years of age.
Unsurprisingly given its background as a rural hunter, the Sealyham Terrier does need daily exercise, though in warmer weather you should closely monitor yours during walks or play sessions to make sure it doesn’t overheat.
Training and intelligence
The intelligence and focus of the Sealyham makes the terrier an ace learner, while its stubbornness can complicate training. Be consistent, firm, and creative in your exercises while always stressing positive reinforcement. The American Kennel Club advises nipping in the bud any early signs of the Sealyham’s tendency to guard its food.