Sealyham terriers: The dogs that are small, friendly, full of character and great for families

We meet the courageous and cheerful Sealyham terrier and find out how what was once one of our rarest native breeds of dog has made a very welcome comeback.

Back in 2011, Country Life’s cover featured a white terrier puppy with a slightly mournful expression and one black eye-patch.

The coverline was ‘SOS: Save Our Sealyhams’, and the feature inside detailed the decline of these cheerful, companionable and hard-working little dogs.

Country Life’s front cover on October 26, 2011, photographed for Country Life by Charles Sainsbury-Plaice.

At the time, the warning was well-placed: annual registrations of Sealyhams dropped below 50 in both 2009 and 2010, despite the fact the grand champion of Crufts in 2009 was a Sealyham.

Since then, however, things have changed. Years of steady increase have seen the numbers of Sealyham puppies grow, and for the last four years in a row there have been well over 100 — including a high of 167 in 2017.

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‘The breed experienced historically low numbers in 2009, but has thankfully seen some growth in the last 10 years,’ says Kennel Club spokesman Bill Lambert, who goes on to pay tribute to ‘those who love the breed and their promotion of it’ for a rise which has kept Sealyham numbers a sustainable level.

Sealyham terrier

©Charles Sainsbury-Plaice/Country Life

With the breed’s future safe for the forseeable future, Mr Lambert adds that he ‘wouldn’t want to see a popularity explosion, with people buying dogs that are a bad fit for their lifestyle’.

Instead, he suggests those looking for a dog should think about what would suit them and their family best.

‘We always urge prospective owners to look beyond the most obvious choices,’ he says.

‘There are 221 breeds, all of which you can meet at Kennel Club events like Crufts, and they are all very different, suited to different people and lifestyles.’

The delightful Sealyham terrier. ©Charles Sainsbury-Plaice/Country Life

So who should look for a Sealyham? ‘They’re small, friendly dogs, full of character and great for families,’ says Mr Lambert.

But who are these appealing little dogs, and where did they come from?

Charmin the Sealyham Terrier stands next to the trophy after winning ‘Best in Show’ at the 2009 Crufts dog show. Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty

The Sealyham story began in the mid 1800s, at the Sealyham estate in Pembrokeshire. There, Captain John Tucker-Edwardes, a quintessentially Victorian country gentleman, decided to try to breed a terrier that would make the perfect sporting companion: fearless in the face of badgers, otters and rats.

It needed to be white, because he didn’t want to run the risk of it being mistaken for its quarry. It’s believed that he crossed Dandie Dinmont terriers, fox terriers, West Highland terriers and corgis, among others, to create a small, sturdy dog with masses of energy.

The delightful Sealyham terrier

©Charles Sainsbury-Plaice/Country Life

The resulting terrier was finally registered with the Kennel Club in 1910, and found fame thanks to sportsman, MP and breeder Sir Jocelyn Lucas, who used his pack of Sealyhams to flush pheasants and rabbits. Immediately after the Second World War, a Sealyham puppy named Dusty and his owner, a lovable scamp called Dave, captured the nation’s hearts in a series of British Pathé newsreel films.

Sir Jocelyn Lucas, former MP for Portsmouth, with three miniature Sealyham puppies at the Ilmer Kennels in Watford, Herts, where he bred the dogs. (Photo by Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

For a period in the middle of the 20th century, they were the must-have canine accessories for the jet set: Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock all had Sealyhams. Even the Royal Family were admirers – particularly Princess Margaret.

Sealyham terrier

©Charles Sainsbury-Plaice/Country Life

Working Sealyham terriers, of which there are increasing numbers, are a joy to watch in a pack. They’re efficient ratters, and can even be trained to retrieve. Although Sealyhams thrive in a busy family environment, they’re one of the more self-contained breeds of terrier, very happy amusing themselves if necessary.

Sealyham terrier

©Charles Sainsbury-Plaice/Country Life

They love having plenty of space to romp about it, but will adjust well to life in the town, as long as they’re kept busy with plenty of games and walks. They have non-shedding coats, but their short-legs and low-slung bodies make them magnets for mud and outdoor debris.