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Breeder Buzzwords – The Bedlington Terrier

The distinctive appearance of the Bedlington Terrier sets it apart from every other breed of dog. So unique is this racy ratter’s make and shape that many who meet the breed for the first time think they’re seeing a lamb instead of a dog.

But make no mistake; the Bedlington is no lamb. The breed’s unforgettable facade conceals a devoted and determined spirit that is all Terrier.

Although the breed’s exact origin remains a mystery, the Bedlington Terrier Club of America’s website offers an abbreviated history. Ray Herman, past president of the club, writes of Terriers living in Rothbury Forest in the English county of Northumberland. These natural hunters were owned by people of many different backgrounds and were used to go after vermin and rodents.

The Rothbury Terriers, as these unique and useful dogs were then known, did not precisely fit the modern definition of a breed. Short- and long-legged dogs commonly appeared in the same litter. Herman writes of a Squire Trevelyan who owned a dog, bred in 1782, that’s considered the early progenitor of the modern Bedlington. (Those short-legged Rothbury Terriers eventually became the Dandie Dinmont Terrier.)

In the 19th century, area coal miners wishing to improve the Terrier’s performance experimented with crosses to various breeds brought to the mining communities by immigrants from the south. The Otterhound, Poodle, Bull Terrier and Whippet are mentioned by Herman as possibly contributing to the development of the Bedlington.

Joseph Ainsley, a stone mason from Bedlington, is credited with giving the emerging breed its name. Herman writes that in 1825, a liver-colored dog belonging to James Anderson, Anderson’s Piper, was bred to an almost black bitch named Coates Phoebe to produce Ainsley’s Piper. Young Piper was the first of his kind to be referred to as a Bedlington Terrier, named for the town where these dogs were concentrated.

The National Bedlington Terrier Club was formed in England in 1877 and registered with the Kennel Club in 1898. Recognition of the breed by the American Kennel Club came in 1886.

In 1948, Dr. Samuel Milbank awarded Ch. Rock Ridge Night Rocket, owned by Mr. and Mrs. William A. Rockefeller, Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The only Bedlington to be so distinguished, Night Rocket’s descendant, Ch. Femars’ Cable Car, did much to promote the breed by appearing on the cover of the February 8, 1960, edition of “Sports Illustrated.”

For dog fanciers with a discriminating eye, the Bedlington Terrier remains the perfect cover model of canine style, speed and grace.

In 2011, the breed ranked 134th in terms of registrations of 173 AKC-recognized breeds.

The Bedlington Terrier is a spirited companion with the look of a lamb. Photo by Dan Sayers.

A Crisp Coat

The Bedlington Terrier’s unusual coat gives it its “little lamb” appearance.

The breed standard describes the coat as “a very distinctive mixture of hard and soft hair standing well out from the skin.” Its texture is crisp, but not wiry, with a tendency to curl, “especially on the head and face.”

In her guest column titled “More Standard Thoughts” in the 1986 “AKC Gazette,” Judy Smith suggests that the correctly made coat will be thick enough to allow the hairs to stand, providing protection without the need for chalks and sprays. The coat’s overall thickness adds greatly to the breed’s plush look, according to Smith.

Correct presentation of the Bedlington’s coat requires considerable expertise on the part of the groomer.

The standard states that a coat in show trim “must not exceed one inch on body,” with the hair on the legs only “slightly longer.” That’s the easy part, since a great deal of detailing is required for a Bedlington to look like a Bedlington.

The head is covered with a profuse topknot that tapers “to just the back of the nose” from its highest point over the crown. The throat and lower jaw are shaved, as is the belly. The ears are shaved as well, although a silky tassel of hair remains on the tips.

Clippers are also used to create a rat tail that is blended into the body coat.

Blue Bedlington Terriers are born black, while liver-colored dogs are born dark chocolate brown. As adults, coat color may be blue, sandy, liver, blue and tan, sandy and tan, or liver and tan. Good pigment is important, although topknots are lighter in color than the rest of the coat.

Smith describes the breed’s unique coat as a combination of hard, dark hairs and soft, lighter ones. These enhance the breed’s coat color, as well as its texture. Hard hairs are dark brown in liver-colored Bedlingtons and black in blue-colored dogs, she says. Soft hairs are off-white to bluish gray in blues and off-white to beige in livers. Too much of either type will create a poor texture. Smith states that a sparse coat will result from too many hard hairs, and an excessive amount of soft hair creates a cotton-like coat.

The breed standard’s section on color dictates, “Patches of darker hair from an injury are not objectionable, as these are only temporary. Darker body pigmentation of all colors is to be encouraged.”

A Graceful Outline

Crosses with the Whippet likely produced the Bedlington’s uniquely curved silhouette. “A graceful, lithe, well-balanced dog with no sign of coarseness, weakness or shelliness” is how the AKC breed standard describes this Terrier’s general appearance.

The breed is capable of great speed and agility. Its make and shape allow it to move at a light, springy trot, and its unusual conformation provides for a double suspension gallop similar to that of a sighthound.

Bedlingtons are both well-muscled and flexible. Their extraordinarily nimble bodies, with the characteristic arch over the loins, are surprisingly powerful. Slightly greater in length than in height, this is one breed whose silhouette has no equal.

A Narrow Head

The head of the Bedlington Terrier is narrow, but deep and rounded. The skull is shorter than the jaw, without a stop. Viewed from the side, the head presents a single, unbroken line from crown to nose.

Viewed from the front, the head is neither cheeky nor snipey. Although narrow, the muzzle is “well filled with bone” beneath the eyes.

Pigment of the eye rims, nose and lips is black in blues and blue and tans, and brown in all other colors. Eyes are small and almond-shaped. They are “well sunk with no tendency to tear or water,” according to the standard.

Eye color depends on coat color. “Blues have dark eyes; blues and tans, less dark with amber lights; sandies, sandies and tans, light hazel; livers, livers and tans, slightly darker.” The expression is mild and gentle when the Bedlington is at rest.

The Bedlington’s ears are triangular in shape and low set. Thin and velvety in texture, they hang flat to the cheek in front “with a slight projection at the base.” The standard states that the ear’s greatest width measures approximately three inches. The rounded tips reach to the corners of the mouth and are covered with fine hair that forms the signature tassel.

Strong jaws are long and tapering, with close-fitting lips. Large teeth meet in a scissors or level bite. “Lower canines clasp the outer surface of the gum just in front of the upper canines. Upper premolars and molars lie outside those of the lower jaw,” according to the standard.

A Distinctive Stance

The Bedlington Terrier stands on “lithe and muscular” legs that are longer in the rear than in front. The impression created is that of a quick and agile hunter.

An unconventional front that is “straight and wider apart at the chest than at the feet” is characteristic of the breed. This unique stance is to be expected and is not indicative of a structural fault or careless presentation.

Built for speed and blessed with an alert and captivating nature, the Bedlington Terrier stands firmly as one of the canine world’s most distinctive of all breeds.

Revised to include sources of some information.

Written by

Dan Sayers started “in dogs” through a chance encounter with a Springer Spaniel in 1980. A student of dogs ever since, he’s shown Spaniels and Hounds in the conformation ring and breeds Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix. A dog lover with a passion for the creative arts, Dan has worked as a freelance writer, photographer and illustrator for many years. His feature articles and columns have appeared in Dogs in Review, Dog World and the AKC Gazette, and his design work has appeared in dozens of publications in North America and abroad. An interest in all things “dog” brought Dan to Best In Show Daily, where he gets to work with the most dynamic group of fanciers every day. He lives in Merchantville, New Jersey, with his partner, Rudy Raya, Irish Water Spaniel, Kurre, and the memory of Oscar, a once-in-a-lifetime Sussex Spaniel.
  • dedeselph
    Dede Selph August 12, 2012 at 3:25 PM

    I loved reading this article! When I was a little girl, I dreamed of having one of these dogs that looked like a lamb. I ended up with Irish Water Spaniels, who also have a distinctive rat tail. It was interesting to read that the first of this breed to be named Bedlington Terrier was from “a liver-colored dog belonging to Joseph Anderson”. I wonder if my beloved Irish Water Spaniels have a distant past releative to this lovely terrier??

    Dede Selph

  • Stuart Yearley August 15, 2012 at 3:12 PM

    As an officianado of the Bedlington for over 30 years,during which I have shown, worked and judged them at international level, including Crufts, I would take issue with you on a number of points.
    Firstly, they were not just ratters, but were seriously involved with the extermination of foxes, badgers and otters, all of which were formidable foes for an 18 – 23lb terrier.
    Secondly, The assumption that the Bedlington has whippet blood is unlikely; Quite the converse in fact, as the Bedlington and other North country terriers were instrumental in the production of the early whippets when crossed with Italian Greyhounds.
    Thirdly, if you look at historic and modern pictures of Bedlingtons, from their country of origin, and read their breed standards worldwide you will find that the breed should posess dark coats, not the white, Bichon type coats so often seen in the USA and continental Europe and so favoured by the groomers.
    The only white called for in the UK standard is for the fringe (Not Pompom) of hair on the tips of the ears. Also a near white topknot There is no call for a mane of white coat on the back of the neck either so the representative picture contained in the article is incorrect, as is the excessive white fluff on the legs. The dog in the picture would stick like velcro to the first bramble, gorse bush or thorn it encountered during a day’s work.
    I am a great exponent of a well trimmed and prepared dog but we are in serious danger of losing this seriously sporting breed to the whims of the groomers who are altering it to suit their needs, showing little regard to the breed’s magnificent English heritage .
    I write this not to criticise but to ensure that the breed I have spent half my life sharing my home with is not destroyed by the modern fashion for so called glamour.

    • The K9 Marshal Crew August 16, 2012 at 5:32 AM

      Hear, hear Stuart
      From Sapphire, Jazz and Ian

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