Dandie Dinmont

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This is the dog that was invented by Sir Walter Scott. Well, that’s not strictly true. Scott was responsible for the ‘invention’ of many Scottish myths, as well as the global popularisation of many Scottish truths. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell where fact ends and where fiction begins. But when, in his 1815 novel Guy Mannering, Scott invented the dog-loving farmer character Dandie Dinmont, he coined a suitably colourful and comical name for what is probably the oldest breed of dog in Scotland; a proper terrier that had been catching rats, roaming the heather, and digging holes in the Scottish Borders for centuries.

The Dandie Dinmont is a mixter-maxter. The long body is reminiscent of a Dachshund (Dandies were known to have been put to ground to dig out large quarry such as badgers). The tail of a happy Dandie rotates like a hound’s tail. The head is heavy, not unlike the head of a Skye Terrier or a Scottie, and is topped with a silky ‘topknot’ of fine hair. The eyes are large, lustrous, and soulful. For a small dog, the Dandie has disproportionately large, powerful front legs and paws, designed for digging. The bark is deep and throaty – suggestive of a much larger animal.

Our family have been the privileged owners of two Dandie Dinmont terriers. Archie, pictured above, was a ‘pepper’ coloured dog, while Fara (pictured bottom) is a ‘mustard’ bitch.

Between them, Archie and Fara produced ten pups. We are very proud of their contribution, because the Dandie Dinmont is now a critically vulnerable breed, with only 130 pups being born in the UK last year. (By comparison, there were 35,000 Labrador pups, and 30,000 French Bulldogs.) In 2011, Fara delivered us a Christmas gift of six pups, which made for a lively holiday season. Some of the owners of these pups have become friends, and we keep in touch with people in Glasgow, the Scottish Borders, and in the Netherlands who have our Dandies.

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I can say with complete impartiality that Fara is beyond doubt the finest and best-behaved dog that I have ever had the good fortune to own. She is sweet-natured, loyal and loving. She is impeccably well behaved. She sheds no hair. As I write this on a cold November afternoon, she sleeps at my feet between the sofa and the wood burner. When I ask her whether she agrees with my views on Brexit, her tail rotates accordingly.

The Brisknortherly blog is falling into a bit of a pattern of lamenting the loss, in the face of global standardisation and conformity, of things that are culturally unique. I offer no apology. There are breeds of lovely dogs like the Labrador or the French Bulldog that are hugely fashionable, and which whelp in their tens of thousands each year, and then there are the vulnerable breeds. I wish more folk would consider the endangered dogs. There is literally nothing like them. Sir Walter Scott’s invention, like so many other wonderful things, is on the verge of endless extinction.

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