Beloved pet of Queen Victoria, Sir Edwin Landseer, and later Agatha Christie and Sir Alec Guinness, today the Dandie is the only breed of dog named after a fictional character, as featured in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Guy Mannering. In the novel, Dandie Dinmont is a rough but friendly farmer from the Liddesdale hills, who owns a number of terriers. An upland sheep-raiser of Scott’s acquaintance named Willie Elliot, of Millburnholm, is thought to have been the model for the character.
Unlike other terriers, the Dandie Dinmont has a softly curved, rather than angular, body, with large eyes, a long body, short legs, and a large, domed head crowned by a silky topknot.
At an auction to raise funds to renovate the Haining Palladian mansion, bequeathed to the people of Selkirkshire in 2009, one of the lots was a landscape titled “Dandy Dinmonts by the Haining Loch”. Signed by Scottish artist Robert Smellie in 1888, it was bought by canine art dealer Paul Keevil, who wondered if the four males, bitch and puppy depicted in the scene were studs from the breed’s history.
Mr. Keevil’s research discovered that one of the pedigree’s founding fathers, Old Ginger, belonged to Robert Pringle, owner of the Haining estate in the 1840s. After Pringle’s death, Old Ginger passed to Eaglesfield Bradshaw-Smith of Blackwood House, Dumfriesshire, who used Old Ginger as a stud.
Eaglesfield’s records uncovered Old Ginger’s father to be a wee dog called Old Pepper, of unknown pedigree, because he was caught in a poachers’ trap by the gamekeeper to the 5th Duke of Buccleuch on Bowhill estate near Selkirk, in 1839. Additionally, Mr Keevil tracked down Old Ginger’s mother Vixen, and his grandmother Wasp, who also belonged to Robert Pringle and his sister at the Haining – establishing Selkirk as the cradle of the Dandie Dinmont pedigree. Finally Mr Keevil unearthed one last detail : Vixen’s father, The Mertoun Dandie, was bred by Sir Walter Scott himself, so not only did Scott name the breed, but he helped create it too.
At the Fleece Hotel in Selkirk, on 17 November 1875, the Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club (DDTC) was formed, becoming the third oldest breed club for dogs in the world. Sadly, the fortunes of the Dandie Dinmont have declined so much that for the past 10 years The Kennel Club has listed it as a Vulnerable Native Breed. Britain produces about 100 puppies a year, while only around 300 are born annually worldwide.