The wonderful Welsh terrier: Half the size, triple the fun

Headstrong little characters that turn heads wherever they go, Welsh terriers might look like miniature Airedales, but they have a personality entirely of their own, finds Katy Birchall. Photographs by Joe Bailey.

On a trip to Manorbier in Wales earlier this year, Norm and Lorrie Dupuis were warmly welcomed by local residents on entering a pub — but neither received as enthusiastic a greeting as that offered to their companion: their Welsh terrier, George.

‘Everyone said goodbye to him as we were leaving,’ Mrs Dupuis recalls.

‘When we returned to the same pub two nights later, we walked in and they all looked up and said: “Hello, George.” They were so happy to see him again. He was a hit.’

Mr and Mrs Dupuis began looking for a dog when they moved to London in 2019 and, during their research, came across the Welsh terrier. ‘We read that they had great personalities and loved the outdoors, so we got in touch with a breeder and went to meet George — it was love at first sight,’ enthuses Mrs Dupuis.

©Joe Bailey / Fivesixphotography for Country Life

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‘Welsh terriers are spirited, inquisitive, loving and happy dogs. George is such a character. We love living in London, but we like to get out into the countryside and he adores long country walks, no matter the weather. When we’re hiking along coastal paths in Cornwall and Wales, he’s in his element. We do get a lot of people asking what breed he is — he’s often mistaken for a puppy Airedale.’

Mr Dupuis adds that it seems to be the older generation who are drawn to the breed: ‘We’ve met a lot of people who, on seeing George, reminisce about their childhoods, saying that they don’t see as many Welsh terriers as they used to. It’s really interesting to talk to people about them. George is always making friends — we’ll be out walking and people will spot him and stop what they’re doing to come over. Even our postman knocks on the door to say hello to him. There really is something special about this breed.’

Never too old for a cuddle: Chris Williams with and five-year-old Nia. ©Joe Bailey / Fivesixphotography for Country Life

A wiry-coated, cobby black-and-tan dog with expressive dark eyes and V-shaped ears, the Welsh terrier is steeped in history, its roots stretching back hundreds of years. Bred for power and endurance, rather than speed, tough little terriers have long been valued as daring workers, controlling vermin on farms and joining packs of hounds, trained to enter the earth after the fox had gone to ground, bolting the quarry into the open once more. These resourceful and lively working dogs were known under the general term of ‘terriers’ in the English language and ‘daeargi’ in Welsh; when dog shows were later established in the 1800s, they were entered into the all-inclusive classes for ‘working terriers’.

How the breed officially claimed the name of Welsh terrier is a contentious affair: in the 1850s, claims were made by the English about what they billed as the ‘original’ version, the Old English, broken-haired black-and-tan terrier (OEBHBTT) or the wire-haired black-and-tan terrier. The Welsh stood their ground that it was, in fact, the Welsh terrier, taking action by founding the Welsh Terrier Club in 1886. The Kennel Club (KC) trod a diplomatic path at first, providing classes for both the Welsh terrier and the OEBHBTT, but the move caused chaos as owners struggled to decide in which group their terrier belonged. In 1887, the KC dropped the Old English version and the Welsh terrier became the recognised breed.

Five facts about the wonderful Welsh terrier

  • The Welsh terrier is currently on the KC’s ‘at watch’ list, with only 412 puppies registered in 2020
  • A description of a dog fitting that of a Welsh terrier appears in a thank-you note written in 1450, describing a black-and-red terrier bitch that was ‘to throttle the brown polecat’
  • The breed once caught the eye of royalty — Edward, Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, owned a Welsh terrier named Gwen
  • This dog is no stranger to British politics: Clement Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, owned one and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has a Welsh terrier named Rex, which has its own Instagram account
  • Across the pond, Welsh terrier Charlie made it to the White House as the cherished pet of President Kennedy

Having never heard of Welsh terriers before, Isabella Bennett noticed them at the Discover Dogs event at ExCeL London in 2013. ‘I was conscious that I wanted a historic, heritage breed and I’d always wanted an Airedale, but was worried about its size. When I spotted the Welsh terrier, I thought it was a miniature version — that was my first mistake,’ she admits. ‘They may be half the size, but they have triple the concentration of energy.’

Now secretary of the Welsh Terrier Club, Mrs Bennett has two, both of which enjoy pottering around the boarding houses of the school at which she works and taking strolls with the pupils. ‘For a breed that is so independent, they are very child-friendly and miss the children greatly during the holidays,’ she says. ‘They’re fun and resilient dogs and I love that they think for themselves.’

Mrs Bennett has discovered from experience that training Welsh terriers is all about negotiation. ‘They need to think that everything they do is their idea,’ she laughs. ‘We once got the eldest, Chuck, one of those bells to ring to alert us when he needed to go outside. In only a few hours, he’d worked out that if he rang the bell, we came running — he happily sat there by the door with no intention whatsoever of going out, repeatedly ringing it to get our attention. The bell was quickly binned.’

Surf’s up: one of Isabella Bennett’s two Welsh terriers has found its sea legs. ©Joe Bailey / Fivesixphotography for Country Life

Sophie Hannah concurs that Welsh terriers have a knack for getting what they want: ‘My dog, Brewster, is clever, funny and such a colourful character. He knows how he wants things to be and enthusiastically pursues his goals — he also has strong views and knows how to communicate them forcefully.’

A bestselling author of crime fiction, Mrs Hannah has discovered that her pet is curiously particular about where she relaxes with a book. ‘He hates it when I read in the bath and barks at me until I stop,’ she explains. ‘If I want a nice long bubble bath with a book, I have to ask my husband or the children to take Brewster elsewhere.’ Fond of his eccentric streak, Mrs Hannah also highlights the dog’s affectionate and loyal nature: ‘He adores all of us and is always coming for cuddles. He is such a devoted family member — if anyone is ever really upset, he’ll sit by them and stroke them with his paw.’

The Welsh terrier’s loving, cheerful spirit makes it a fantastic family dog, believes Welsh Terrier Club chairman Carol Dorking: ‘They are wonderful companions. Easy-going, totally faithful, sociable and good with (well-behaved) children. They are also extremely handsome and they know it.’

These terriers require an active lifestyle and are not without a sense of mischief, Mrs Dorking adds. ‘You must be prepared to put in the work with a Welsh. By that, I mean keeping them well groomed, being firm, but not harsh and giving them plenty of exercise — they are not dogs who can be let out of the door unattended and simply be expected to come back when you want them to.’

According to Chris Williams, proud owner of three Welsh terriers — ‘a little team with a big attitude’ — having a presence at game fairs is a brilliant way of promoting the breed. ‘We always have a busy stand, because people aren’t used to seeing them,’ he reflects. ‘When I’m out walking, they get so much attention — they’re so striking and few and far between, people are always asking what the breed is.’

The no-nonsense attitude of his eldest terrier, Max, has become so renowned on the game-fair circuit over the years that he has been affectionately dubbed ‘Mad Max’ and, at 14 years old, he is still living up to his reputation. ‘He’s a beautiful little dog, but he’ll go nuts if another dog gets in his space,’ Mr Williams admits, noting that Mad Max is not in the least bit intimidated by bigger dogs — if they overstep the mark, he will brazenly tell them so.

The breed’s headstrong character gets you hooked, Mr Williams concludes and, the longer you have one, the more you fall in love: ‘Once you’ve had a Welsh terrier, you soon realise that nothing else will compare. Ours go everywhere with us — whenever we head out in the car, all three hop into the back and off we go.’

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