It’s not every day that a Terrier of one of the lesser-known breeds passes you by on the street. But this is not a particularly unusual occurrence in the town where I live. On any given day, I am apt to cross paths with a Kerry Blue, a Bedlington, a Dandie Dinmont, a Wire Fox, and several well-bred Norfolk and Norwich. A few weeks ago I met another Terrier walking with its owner along the bike path, and the handsome black and tan was the first Welsh Terrier I’d ever encountered outside of the show ring.

The Welsh Terrier, known originally as the Old English Terrier or Black-and-Tan Wire Haired Terrier, is likely one of the oldest, if not the oldest of Britain’s Terrier breeds. Depicted in early 18th-century sporting paintings, long-legged Terriers with black and tan wiry coats were known of in the Welsh districts by this time, and were used to go to ground and deliver badger, otter and fox for pack hounds to chase.

According to the Welsh Terrier Club of America’s breed information, “All written history of Wales includes dogs as to their type, their merit and their monetary worth. Dogs were listed in the laws of the land 1,000 years ago. In 1450, a Welsh bard (poet) referred specifically to ‘a good black and red terrier.’ However, it was not until 1850 that pedigrees were kept, and five years later the breed was named Welsh Terriers.”

Since its earliest recognition, the Welsh has been admired for being a game little hunter with a steady, if determined, disposition. Little changed through the years in form or function, and the breed remains a distinctively two-toned companion with a propensity for enjoying work and play in equal measure.

In 1885, the first recorded exhibition of Welsh Terriers took place at Caernarfon in Gwynedd in the north of Wales. Prescott Lawrence is said to have brought the breed to America at this time, and entered a dog and a bitch at one of the early Westminster Kennel Club dog shows. Recognized by the AKC in 1888, supporters formed a parent club in 1900, and the breed’s popularity steadily began to grow on these shores.

Though a courageous and capable “earth dog,” the Welsh Terrier’s smart looks and spirited charm have contributed to the breed’s success in the show ring. In 1944, Ch. Flornell-Rare Bit of Twin Ponds became the first (and only) Welsh to go Best in Show at the Garden, and more than half a century later, another Welsh, Eng. Ch. Saredon Forever Young, was awarded Best in Show at the 1998 Crufts dog show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England.

The breed has enjoyed greater fortune at Montgomery County, with five different dogs going Best at this Terrier breeds-only show a total of six times. The last win by a Welsh at this storied event took place in 1996 when Ch. Anasazi Billy The Kid was awarded Best from a total entry of 2,301.

The Welsh Terrier may not be a common companion today in America’s towns and cities, but it ought to be. The red dog with the black jacket is certainly deserving of admiration from those seeking a companion that is “a wonderful sport, and a wonderful friend,” according to the AKC’s Complete Dog Book, published in 1941.

Registrations in 2011 placed the breed in the comfortable position of 99th out of the 173 AKC-recognized breeds.

The Welsh Terrier is a sturdy and compact dog with a wiry black and tan jacket, and an outgoing disposition that shows spirit and courage. Photo by Dan Sayers.

A Rugged Dog

“The Welsh Terrier is a sturdy, compact, rugged dog of medium size,” according to the General Appearance section of the AKC breed standard. The overall construction indicates strength, and a complete lack of exaggeration should be evident.

Solid in appearance and with good substance, the breed standard indicates that dogs weigh, on average, 20 pounds. They are ideally 15 inches tall at the withers, “with an acceptable range between 15 and 15½.” Bitches “may be proportionally smaller.”

A moderately long and thick neck is “slightly arched” and slopes gracefully into the shoulders. A level topline supports a body that is “well ribbed up,” with “good depth of brisket and moderate width of chest.” A tail “set well up on the back” and a “strong and moderately short” loin help to create a profile that is sturdy and square.

The standard for the Welsh Terrier emphasizes “good substance” by suggesting that the weight of a dog will vary “depending on the height of the dog and the density of bone.”

If the Wire Fox is the Terrier world’s Thoroughbred, the Welsh is its Quarter Horse.

A ‘Welsh Terrier Expression’

The breed standard describes a typical “Welsh Terrier expression” that is created by the set, color and position of the eyes as well as the dog’s use of its “V”-shaped ears.

The breed’s rectangular head is without exaggeration. The flat backskull and muzzle with its “vice-like” jaws are on parallel planes, with evidence of only a slight stop. The overall impression made is one of strength and power.

The Welsh Terrier is a confident hunter with a steady gaze. Its small, dark brown eyes are almond-shaped and “well set in the skull.” Their size and position under wiry brows create an expression that is always alert, indicative of the breed’s hunting prowess as well as its gregarious nature.

Expression in the breed is enhanced greatly by small, “V”-shaped ears. The ear leather folds “just above the topline of the skull” and is “not too thin.” The fold carries the ears forward, “close to the cheek with the tips falling to, or toward, the outside corners of the eyes when the dog is at rest.” The standard also indicates that the ears have a definite mobility that allows them to move “slightly up and forward” when the dog is at attention.

The Welsh Terrier’s expression is indicative of its friendly and confident nature, not in the least bit shy, nor overly aggressive.

Black (or Grizzle) and Tan

Black and tan are the colors of some of Britain’s earliest Terriers, and this coloration marks most Welsh Terriers today as a breed all their own.

The coat of the Welsh is comprised of two coats: a hard, wiry and dense jacket that is close fitting and a short, soft undercoat. The outer coat is thick and waterproof while the undercoat provides essential insulation. Furnishings on the muzzle, legs and quarters are to be “dense and wiry,” according to the standard’s section on coat.

According to the parent club’s breed information, the breed is “basically a tan dog with a black ‘jacket!’” The breed standard describes the jacket as “spreading up onto the neck, down onto the tail and into the upper thighs.” It also allows the jacket to be “grizzle” in coloration. Grizzle is defined by the AKC Glossary as “a mixture of black or red hairs with white hairs. Frequently, a bluish-gray or iron-gray color.”

The breed’s tan color is defined by the standard’s section on color as “a deep reddish color, with slightly lighter shades acceptable.” The striking combination of both black and tan always creates a distinctive impression on any dog, perhaps nowhere more so than on a strong and sturdy Terrier.

In a 1989 AKC Gazette breed column titled, “Pertinent Remarks,” Barbi McLennan provides a word of caution when she quotes one of the early supporters of the Welsh Terrier in the United States, the well-known animal artist Edwin Megargee: “…It would be a great pity if the breed should ever lose its essential character, its pluck, its compact power, its ruggedness or, to coin a word, its Welshness. To me it would seem a calamity if the breed ever were permitted to drift into becoming merely a black and tan Fox Terrier.”