If you’re a fan of terriers, you probably know that they come in all shapes and sizes, from the statuesque airedale to the stocky, well-muscled AmStaff to that petite powerhouse, the Yorkie. Each one has a distinct set of physical attributes that make the breed unique. Nonetheless, they all share one overarching personality trait — a feisty, assertive, courageous streak. And there’s no breed that embodies this attribute more than the sturdy little dog with Scottish roots, the Dandie Dinmont terrier.
Dandie Dinmont terriers are known for their long, low-slung bodied and silky top knots. These dogs display the two accepted Dandie Dinmont colors, mustard and pepper. Pleple2000, CC BY SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Popular in the U.K. since the mid-1800s, Dandie Dinmonts were bred to “go to ground” in pursuit of vermin such as mice, rats, otters and badgers. Small in stature, they stand only about 8 to 11 inches tall, with short legs and long bodies, and typically weigh between 18 and 24 pounds. Dubbed “the big little dog” by Sir Walter Scott, they are as tenacious and fearless as their larger terrier cousins and often surprise visitors with their deep, baritone bark.
Although their exact origins are a bit murky, Dandie Dinmont terriers are believed to hail back to around 1700, where they were kept by farmers to chase away vermin and guard the family home. Some historians believe they are descended from the dachshund or basset hound because of their long bodies and short legs. However, they may also be related to the Skye terrier and rough-coated working terriers like the Border terrier and Cairn terrier, who were also popular at the time. Today, they are prized by a small group of breeders in Scotland and Great Britain, but less popular in the U.S., where the breed ranks 176 out of 197 in popularity, according to the AKC.
Popularity notwithstanding, the Dandie Dinmont is a tough, energetic and lovable breed that’s as comfortable in an apartment as it is on a farm. Keep reading to learn more about this adorable little dog.
Table of Contents
No. 1. They’re named for a fictional character.
The Dandie Dinmont breed wasn’t always called “Dandie Dinmont.” In fact, their ancestors are believed to be a group of rough-coated terriers with no particular name. But then the author and poet Sir Walter Scott met a breeder named James Davidson, who owned a pack of six working terriers with distinctive low-slung bodies, short legs and large heads covered with soft, white hair. Scott was so taken by Davidson and his crew of oddly-shaped, mustard and pepper-colored dogs (aptly named Old Mustard, Young Pepper, Young Mustard, Little Pepper, Little Mustard, and Old Pepper) that he fashioned a character in the novel “Guy Mannering” after Davidson, naming him Dandie Dinmont. Davidson and his fellow breeders were so thankful for the exposure that they began to refer to their terriers as Dandie Dinmonts. The name stuck, and in 1875 in England, the first Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club was formed.
Sir Walter Scott’s character Dandie Dinmont from the novel “Guy Mannering” was the namesake for the Dandie Dinmont shown here. Dandie Dinmont Terrier / Sannse / CC BY 3.0
No. 2. They are a rare breed
Although still prized by terrier aficionados, the Dandie Dinmont breed has fallen from favor in recent years. According to the British Kennel Club, only about 100 Dandie Dinmont puppies are registered each year, a trend they are trying to reverse. In 2016, a group of Dandie Dinmont owners joined forces with the Kennel Club educational trust to create a discovery center to reintroduce the public to the breed. The center is located in the Haining Kennels in Selkirk, where the modern day father of the Dandie Dinmont, Old Ginger, was born in 1842. According to co-founder Paul Keevil, the goal of the effort is to revitalize interest in Dandie Dinmonts and other endangered native breeds. In the U.S., breeding of healthy, pedigreed Dandies is encouraged by the Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club of America.
No. 3. They were a favorite of royalty
After being introduced in the U.K. in the mid-19th century, the Dandie Dinmont terrier became a favorite of the European aristocracy for a time. Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom owned a Dandie Dinmont that was given to her by the royal consort Prince Philip as a birthday gift in 1842. The dog was a beloved companion of the Queen until its death at the age of 19 in 1858. He is immortalized in a painting by Sir Edwin Landseer, which is still part of the Royal Collection today.
Another royal Dandie fancier was King of France Louis Philippe, who was known to travel with at least two of the terriers as part of the royal entourage. Phillipe’s fondness for the dogs was well known, and spurred other members of the French aristocracy to follow suit.
A photo of a Dandie Dinmont circa 1915. The breed was a favorite of British Royals and the French aristocracy during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
No. 4. They make good watch dogs
Despite their rather diminutive size, Dandie Dinmont terriers make surprisingly good watch dogs. Like the Jack Russel terrier and other working terrier breeds, they tend to display a high level of gameness — that is, a willingness to assert themselves against much larger prey, even when the threat of injury exists. This trait, plus a startlingly deep bark that sounds like it’s coming from a much larger dog, is a great deterrent to intruders of all kinds.
No. 5. Their hairdo is natural!
One of the most distinctive and endearing traits of the Dandie Dinmont breed is their unique hairdo. Sporting a coat that’s about two-thirds rough hair and one-third soft, they have a silky topknot of soft white fur that sits atop a large, well-proportioned head. Unlike poodles, whose fur must be clipped to achieve their ready-for-the-show-ring pompadour, Dandie Dinmonts maintain their “pouf” naturally. That being said, they still require daily brushing, and their mixed rough and soft coat (known as a pily or pencilled) must be stripped a couple of times a year to remove dead fur. (You can usually accomplish this at home using a deshedding tool such as the Furminator or SleekEZ ).
The Dandie Dinmont’s silky white top-knot occurs naturally and is one of the breed’s most distinctive traits. Pleple2000, CC BY SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
No. 6. They are good family dogs
Unlike some terrier breeds, the Dandie Dinmont terrier is a calm, dignified little dog who is good with both children and adults. The dogs bond readily with people,usually forming close ties with one caretaker but staying friendly and loyal to everyone in their “pack”.They’re also not “yappy” dogs and don’t bark much except to sound an alarm. One important point to keep in mind, however, is that Dandie Dinmonts don’t like being left alone, and may become destructive if they are left to their own devices for too long. Some Dandies may even develop separation anxiety, a serious condition in which the dog suffers extreme distress very similar to a panic attack when his caretakers leave. To help prevent this from happening, crate train your dog as early as possible (most dogs feel safest in a small, contained space), and make sure he gets enough exercise, especially right before you leave for any period of time. If the problem continues, you may want to try dressing him in a ThunderShirt, –a snug-fitting little jacket that helps calm anxiety in many dogs. Or talk to your vet about adding medication to help him calm down.
To help prevent separation anxiety in your Dandie Dinmont terrier, take him out to play right before you go out, and make sure he has adequate exercise every day. Bonfirebuddy / CC BY SA 3.0 via Wikimedia
No. 7. They’re impressive in the show ring
Sometimes called “the gentleman of the terrier family” Dandie Dinmonts make excellent show dogs. Obedient, smart, elegant and charming, the little guys have walked away with Best in Show numerous times throughout the years. One great example: A three-and-a-half-year-old Dandie Dinmont named Higgins scored six Best in Show ribbons in just the first four months of 2021. Officially named MBIS GCHB King’s Mtn. Henry Higgins, he is the No. 3 all-breed dog in the U.S. and No. 1 Dandie all systems.
Nor is Higgins the most prolific winner of the Dandie Dinmont tribe. Another prize-winning Dandie named Harry (officially NZ/AUST/AM CH Hobergays Fineus Fogg) from Australia earned an astonishing 63 Best in Show awards in just 14 months after coming to the U.S. in 2006. Harry went on to win Best of Breed at the 2006 Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club of America National Specialty and came in first in the Terrier Group at the 2007 Westminster Kennel Club before retiring that same year. Harry was the second Dandie Dinmont to win that honor. The first was a dog named Butler (Ch. Pennywise the Butler Did It) who walked away with first prize at Westminster in 1993.
The Dandie Dinmont Terrier is an excellent performer in the show ring, and never fails to melt hearts with his charming top knot and huge, soulful eyes. Pets Adviser from Brooklyn, USA, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
No. 8. They are “hypoallergenic”
Although no dog is truly hypoallergenic — all dogs have allergens in their saliva and urine that stick to dead skin cells (dander) on their skin — the Dandie Dinmont is a very low-shedding breed, which makes it well-suited to households where someone has allergies. With that being said, these dogs do need regular grooming to stay looking their best. In addition to stripping a couple of times a year, they need frequent haircuts (preferably by a professional groomer) and a good brushing every day. Because the hair on the dog’s head is soft and silky, it also needs to be combed out regularly to prevent tangles and mats.
No. 9. They are a relatively healthy breed
With an average lifespan of 11-13 years, the Dandie Dinmont terrier is a robust, healthy breed. Nonetheless, they are prone to a few health problems, most notably intervertebral disc disease, a problem that plagues many dogs with long backs and short legs. You can help minimize your dog’s chances of developing this issue by not overfeeding him and exercising him regularly, since obesity will almost certainly make his back issues worse. Use a harness rather than a leash to minimize strain on his neck and back, and try to keep him from jumping from any height, such as off your bed or out of an SUV.
Glaucoma is another health problem that is slightly more common in Dandie Dinmont terriers than in other breeds. A painful condition caused by excess pressure inside the eye, glaucoma typically causes bulging of the eyeball, redness and pain. The increased pressure may also damage structures inside the eye, leading to permanent blindness if it’s not treated quickly by a vet. Glaucoma can occur suddenly, but it’s more often a gradual process. The best way to protect your pup is to have his eyes examined by your vet at least once a year.
The Dandie Dinmont terrier has a higher than average chance of developing glaucoma, so make sure to have his eyes checked by your vet at least once a year.
No. 10. They have a strong prey drive
Although generally a somewhat reserved breed, the Dandie Dinmont has a typical terrier prey drive. This means the dog will chase down and even kill small animals, such as squirrels, rabbits, mice, rats, or even the family cat (although it’s more likely to go after a gerbil or a hamster.) If you have other small pets in your household, it’s a good idea to keep them and your Dandie Dinmont separated if you can.
The Dandie Dinmont’s strong prey drive will also lead him to chase almost anything that moves whether he’s out in the yard or playing in a field. For this reason, Dandies should only be allowed off-leash when they are in an area enclosed with a sturdy fence. They also like to dig, so make sure the fence posts are set well into the ground. You may also want to give your pup a designated area in the yard where he can indulge his foraging instinct so he doesn’t demolish your flower beds!
The Bottom Line
Although the Dandie Dinmont terrier has fallen from favor in recent years (replaced, no doubt, by hundreds of designer dog breeds) these rough and tumble little guys make wonderful household pets. As comfortable in an apartment as they are on a sprawling ranch, they are good with children and generally get along well with other dogs. That said, they do need a home where they have a fair amount of human companionship, since they don’t like to be left alone and may develop behavior issues and separation anxiety if they are left to their own devices for too long. For that reason, they may not be the best choice for a busy working couple, but make perfect companions for stay-at-home parents and retirees.