Dandie Dinmont terriers: The adorable dogs with the soulful eyes who are bright, sparky and can’t help but make you smile

The numbers of Dandie Dinmont terriers has recovered since a worrying dip a few years ago, and an anniversary year in 2020 could see the popularity of these irresistibly friendly dogs grow further.

If you can’t stop yourself grinning at the pictures on this page of Dandie Dinmonts, you’re not alone.

‘They’re an affectionate breed of dogs with soulful eyes,’ says Shona Allan, who together with her husband Kenny has been keeping Dandies for 12 years. ‘You cannot help smiling.’

Prospective owners of this ancient Scottish breed should be aware that they can have strong personalities, as the Kennel Club’s Bill Lambert explains: ‘Like many Terriers, Dandie Dinmonts are intelligent and can be determined and persistent,’ he says.  But they are also sensitive and affectionate, and can make a great fit for many potential dog owners who look beyond the obvious and popular choices.’

While they have no particular health issues to be aware of, they do need weekly brushing and a proper grooming every few months. But the rewards are worth it, adds Shona, for dogs which get on well with people — and usually other pets too, even including cats.

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These lovely, happy little dogs also have a fascinating tale to tell, a story which begins in 1764, with the birth of boy named James Davidson. He grew up to become a farmer in the Borders, tending his livestock and his land, and passing away peacefully some 56 years later. It’s something of a miracle that he is remembered beyond his family and the parish records; and the fact that he is comes down to a chance encounter with the novelist, Walter Scott, who was utterly enchanted by Davidson’s terriers.

So taken was Scott — the JK Rowling of his day, in terms of popularity and influence  — with the dogs and their owner that he used them in his 1815 novel Guy Mannering. Scott gave the thinly-disguised Davidson character the marvellously colourful name of Dandie Dinmont, and he and his small army of dogs — then known as ‘Mustard and Pepper’ terriers — became hugely popular.

Dandie Dinmont terriers in an 1878 engraving.

The dogs had been around for the best part of a century before Davidson reached manhood, but while the Allan family are believed to have kept the originals, it was Davidson who properly recorded their breeding, and is credited as the originator of this fun-loving, affectionate and determined breed.

In the wake of the hugely-successful novel, the memorable dogs — quickly dubbed Dandie Dinmont terriers — enjoyed massive popularity. Throughout society they became highly-prized. Queen Victoria and King Louis Philippe of France both kept them, while Scott himself bought a pair of Dandie Dinmonts from Davidson himself.  Two years after the foundation of the Kennel Club in 1873, the Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club was established; it’s the third-oldest dog breed club in the world.

So what’s the appeal? Well, they’re no longer working dogs, but they’re superbly clever and friendly little companions. ‘They are hardy, intelligent, friendly, gentle with children and a good watchdog,’ explain the Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club.

‘They are not too excitable – like some breeds of terrier — but they have very much a mind of their own.’

Scott himself praised them, ‘for intelligence and fidelity,’ adding that, ‘those who, like the author, possess a brace of them, consider them as very desirable companions.’

A mustard Dandie Dinmont Terrier.

Sadly, however — and in common with so many of our other native breeds — numbers have dwindled. ‘It’s such a pity such a charming, lovely natured, effervescent dog is almost at risk of extinction,’ adds Shona.

Yet there is cause for optimism: five years ago, registrations of new Dandie Dinmonts dipped below 100; by 2018, they had recovered to the extent that 145 puppies were registered.

‘They’re considered vulnerable in the UK,’ adds Bill Lambert. ‘Although fortunately we’ve seen a small rise in popularity since 2016.

‘The breed has a wonderful character with particularly expressive eyes, but we have a public that has become more and more influenced by the dogs that they commonly see in the media, with many other breeds getting overlooked or even forgotten.’

A further boost should have come in 2020, however, since it marks an anniversary of sorts which should help the breed’s profile: it’s 200 years since Davidson died, and various Dandie Dinmont appreciation clubs and societies were expected to hold events to mark the occasion. These have now, for the most part, been moved to 2021. The website dedicated to the annual Dandie Derby (www.dandiederby.com) has all the details.

Find out more about Dandie Dinmont Terriers at the Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club’s website, www.ddtc.co.uk, and about the ‘Dandie Derby’ at www.dandiederby.com