The last of my poultry winged their way off to their new homes a few weeks back. I was sad to see them go and the field is now very quiet but the one good thing that has come out of it is that I am now free to attend dog shows again and last weekend I managed to get to Welsh Kennel Club championship show at Builth Wells, a particular favourite of mine.

Jim, male, c1850, Champion of England and Gypsy, female, died 1853, from the collection at the Natural History Museum, Tring. Also known as the black and tan, or miniature Manchester terrier, these are early examples of a breed that became popular in the late 1800s. It was bred down to weigh as little as one kilogramme. They are no longer fashionable and so demand for them has dropped. Fewer than 300 puppies are born each year.

I immediately headed over to watch the Griffon judging. It’s a breed I’ve long adored and one that I’m considering taking up. The judge was our very own Jane Lilley. Now, it’s no secret that I am a huge fan of this lady having avidly read her articles since my teenage years. And as a judge she also excels; it’s her gentleness when going over the dogs and the personal interaction with each and every exhibitor. Win or lose, you really feel that you and your dog has received 100 per cent of the judge’s attention. There is simply no need for the icy stares, complete non-communication and the handling that in some cases borders on rough that is sadly becoming more commonplace with some of our judges.

‘Some of the smartest Black-and-Tan Miniatures (and could anything be smarter) were bred by Mrs Robiolio. Watercan Junior is a very nearly perfect dog.’

There has been a lot of talk of cloning in the press recently; now, if only we could clone the likes of Jane Lilley – put one in each and every ring and watch the number of happy, satisfied exhibitors rise again!

And while I was watching the Griffons my eye kept getting drawn to the neighbouring ring where the English Toy Terriers were being judged. What a smart little breed this is. With the rise in popularity of the small smooth coated breeds it’s hard to understand why they aren’t more popular. We commonly see certain people holding up sepia images of dogs from the past proclaiming that they were far superior to today’s dogs but, once again, here we have a breed that has been dramatically improvedover the years.

Rawdon B Lee wrote candidly about the breed back in 1903.

Following the Yorkshire terrier, the most popular toy terriers are the black and tan variety. It is to be regretted that the Kennel Club early in 1903 decided to drop the old and distinctive title of smooth-coated or black and tan toy terrier, and in future this bonny little dog is to be known as the ‘black and tan terrier (miniature). A good specimen of the black and tan toy terrier should not exceed 6lb in weight and ought to be an exact counterpart, barring size, of the black and tan or Manchester terrier.

‘The smaller Black-and-Tan Miniatures are the greater their value as long as they remain sound in body and limb, and healthy. Mrs Robiolio’s Watercan Teddy Tail shows how healthy such a dog can be.’

Some of the very best of this breed have been produced from fully sized parents, but its best to breed from a dog as small as possible, mated with a bitch 8lb, 10lb or 12lb in weight. When such is done there is less risk of the puppies dying, and they are more easily reared, as they are brought up by a strong, robust mother. It is seldom we see a really good black and tan toy terrier nowadays.

  The late Mr A George, London; Miss B Wimbush, with Mrs M A Foster of Bradford; Mr J Barnes, Portsmouth, Mr K E Twist, Birmingham have owned good specimens and both the London and Birmingham ‘fancy’ once upon a time prided themselves on these little dogs. However, they were always more or less delicate, and continuous in-breeding caused them to be produced with round skulls – ‘apple headed’ they were called – full eyes, narrow pinched muzzles, and long hare feet, the latter suggesting that an endeavour had been made to strengthen the strain by interbreeding with the Italian Greyhound.

  A really good, cobbily built little black and tan terrier is a really pretty creature; but the apple headed greyhound shaped animals commonly seen are not worth keeping. The difficulty of producing the former has no doubt conduced to their downfall, of which there is no doubt whatever; and the recent action of the Kennel Club dealing with their nomenclature is likely to further weaken their position.

The delicacy of the toy black and tan terrier makes it particularly liable to attacks of skin disease, pretty near all the hair falling away, and when such is the case it is nothing unusual for the little dog to go through life without any hair at all on his chest, breast and throat, and no more hair on his tail than is found on the common rat.

‘Ch Flybird – this remarkable little Black-and-Tan, one of Mrs Blondin Robiolio’s champions, shows clearly the healthy, thrifty appearance of the breed, which lives to a great age, and are as healthy as the largest of the canine race.’

From these black and tan toy terriers, blue or blue and tan or chocolate-coloured specimens are often produced, even to such an extent as to be an excuse for the belief prevalent in some quarters that such form a variety in themselves. The latter is, however, not the case, although there were occasions when special classes had been provided for them at the London and larger provincial shows. Of course now, with the Kennel Club’s change of name, little dogs of these colours and toy English white terriers will not have any kind of classification, unless special arrangements are made for grouping them as a section of their own, called ‘smooth coated terriers (miniature) other than black and tan’.

  The writer will, however, remain contented to retain the old name of ‘toys’. These so called ‘blues’ may either be entirely devoid of tan or marked with the latter just as the Manchester Terrier ought to be. There is, however, less hair or coat about them, and some I have seen could boast as meagre a growth of hair on the body as some of the Mexican dogs, or as the so called ‘African Sand Dogs.’ Such toys are not desirable or pleasant creatures to cultivate, for at the best they are but shivering little quadrupeds, and when taken out when the sun does not shine and when the wind blows, so frequently the case in this variable climate of ours, require sheeting to keep them thoroughly warm and comfortable and so prevent them catching cold.

The sleek, compact, bold, flat skulled little terriers confidently trotting around the ring were a million miles away from the apple-headed, bulgy eyed quivering tots described by Mr Lee and amply demonstrate what breeders can achieve when they steer clear of over exaggeration. The early breeders wanted them as small as possible… ridiculous weights of 3-4lb. However the great difficulty in breeding such dwarfs (in any form of livestock) is a loss of symmetry and substance. The general result being a reduction in the size of the body and an enlargement in the size of the head, just as Rawdon Lee described. Modern breeders realised this and in my opinion have created a cracking little dog that certainly deserves much wider recognition and popularity.