Bedlington Terrier

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Bedlington Terrier

Don’t let its appearance fool you: the Bedlington Terrier is more lion than lamb. Though a gentle, fun-loving pet, this dog is also every inch a terrier. The Bedlington will relentlessly pursue vermin, digging and scrambling to chase its quarry into nooks and crannies. It is also a dog that is not afraid of a fight: though it is not argumentative, it will also never back down from a challenge, and mixing a Bedlington with another strong-willed or dominant dog is a recipe for a battle. This plucky little character originated in the northwest of England as a miner’s dog, and was never intended to be as delicate as its woolly appearance suggests. It is an energetic breed that needs regular exercise, and because of its prey drive, it benefits from access to a garden. But be warned – the flower beds will never be the same again.

The unique wool-like coat owes its distinctive look to a mixture of coarse and soft hairs that make maintaining it in show condition a laborious task, and owners will certainly need the help of a professional groomer unless they want to devote hours at a time to clipping and washing. Despite the breed being particularly predisposed to an unusual defect in copper metabolism and storage, it is generally healthy, with an average life expectancy of 13–15 years.

About & History

The Bedlington originated in the village of the same name, in a mining community near Newcastle. It is believed to have first been bred in the mid to late 1700s, primarily as a dog to hunt rodents, foxes, and even badgers – an intimidating range of foes for such a small dog. Although no records of the breed’s earliest development exist, various terrier breeds, including the Dandie Dinmount, the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, and the Kerry Blue, were likely crossed with Whippets (based on the Bedlington’s slender build and characteristic top line) to produce a dog with speed, tenacity, and a strong hunting instinct. The first good, “pure” specimen of the breed on record was a male dog named Young Piper, who was bred by Joseph Ansley in 1828. It was Ansley who christened the breed, and Young Piper went on to become a legend in the Bedlington fraternity (see Famous Examples below).

Nowadays, this breed is something of a rarity, with an average of around 500 pups registered each year with the kennel club. Figures for the last two years, show an unusual dip in registrations to around 400. However, it was one of the most popular dogs to be entered into the early dog shows of the late 1800s. It seems people at this time were less worried about the dog’s peculiar appearance than its hunting ability, but many of these early entries were bleached and dyed to enhance their lamb-like appearance with a white coat.

Appearance

Bedlington Terrier Large Photo

The general appearance of the Bedlington resembles that of a lamb. It has a narrow, rounded skull with a distinctive, abundant top-knot of silky hair. At the end of the slender muzzle the tip of the nose is black, and thin, clean lips cover a scissor- or pincer-type bite. The ears are set low and hang flat to the cheek, and carry a fringe on their margins. The eyes are small, sunken, and somewhat triangular in shape. The colour ranges from amber to hazel.

The body shape follows a convex outline that begins at the tip of the nose, extends along the skull, and continues unbroken along the back to a tapering tail, with a curve at the tip. The belly is tightly tucked up. The hind legs are noticeably longer than the forelimbs, and the breed has large, hare-like feet. Adding to the Bedlington’s unique appearance is its appropriately lamb-like gait, which is skipping and light-footed, but also apparently effortless.

The coat is thick, reminiscent of lint, and tends to twist around itself. It may be solid in colour or combinations of :

  • Blue
  • Tan
  • Liver
  • Sandy

Male Bedlingtons are 41–43 cm (16–17 in) tall, with females being just slightly smaller at 39–41 cm (15–16 in). Average weights for both males and females are 8–10 kg (18–22 lb).

Character & Temperament

The Bedlington Terrier is a loyal and affectionate companion that enjoys fuss and attention. It is playful, and gets along well with older children, but is stubborn and terrier-like enough to resent youngsters that are less predictable. It is confident and plucky, and unafraid of strange people or other dogs. Although it is not aggressive, it does not back down from a fight, and can land itself in trouble when faced with a larger aggressor.

True to its heritage, it remains an avid hunter, and will spend much of its time sniffing around and patrolling the home and garden for vermin. As part of this pursuit, many Bedlingtons can be quite destructive, especially in flowerbeds and lawns. They make excellent guard dogs, being extremely vigilant and willing to bark when needed.

Trainability

Photo of Bedlington Terrier puppy

This is an intelligent breed, but displays the stubbornness typical of almost all terriers. Owners need to introduce and persist with training from puppyhood, and to have firm and consistent rules.

Anyone falling for the Bedlington’s benign appearance and making the mistake of babying their little lamb is likely to find themselves having to deal with a monster – this is a strong-willed little dog that needs to be treated as such.

Health

Most Bedlington Terriers are hardy, healthy dogs. However, there is a reasonably high incidence of some unusual disorders that are rarely seen in other breeds.

  • Cataracts – Bedlingtons are prone to congenital and early onset cataract development, which can affect vision if severe.
  • Chronic progressive hepatitis – Severe liver disease due to a toxic build-up of copper (see below).
  • Copper accumulation – Although similar problems are seen in other breeds (e.g. West Highland White Terrier, Doberman Pinscher), the Bedlington is uniquely susceptible to disorders of copper metabolism, resulting in accumulation of the metal in bodily tissues, particularly the liver. Other organs affected include the skin, resulting in bronzing and hair discoloration, and the eyes, which may also take on an unusual hue.
  • Distichiasis – Growth of eyelashes in abnormal locations around the eye causing irritation and damage to the eye’s surface.
  • Entropion – Malformation of the eyelids allowing hair to abrade the sensitive corneal surface. Noticed as sticky, sore eyes in pups.
  • Microphthalmia – Bedlington pups are occasionally born with malformed, abnormally small and blind eyes.
  • Osteogenesis imperfecta – A rare inherited disorder that leaves bones inadequately mineralised, and thus easily fractured.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy – An inherited cause of blindness. Signs not seen until adulthood, when vision progressively worsens.
  • Retinal dysplasia – Impaired development of the light-sensing part of the eye resulting in the birth of visually impaired pups.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Bedlington is certainly no couch potato, and needs a minimum of 45 minutes walking every day. It is happiest when provided access to a garden, but this must be securely fenced, as this keen hunter will quickly disappear in pursuit of any novel scents or sounds.

Grooming

Grooming can be a laborious task, especially for those wanting to maintain the neat and tidy classical look seen in the show ring. The tangled coat must be brushed and combed several times a week, and bathing may be needed monthly, depending on the dog’s living conditions. Clipping is awkward because of the twisted hairs of different textures, and almost certainly needs to be done by a professional at least every two months.

Many Bedlingtons suffer tear staining of the face, and need to be wiped clean at least once a day to prevent skin sores from developing. Like all other dogs, this breed benefits from daily tooth brushing to maintain dental health, and occasional nail clipping may be needed – with practice, care, and a good set of clippers, this is something that can be done by most owners at home.

Famous Bedlington Terriers

Young Piper, mentioned earlier as one of the founding fathers of the breed, was trained to hunt badgers at the tender age of just eight months, and continued to work until he became blind in his old age. As well as being remembered for his prowess in the field, he was also credited with once saving a young child that was being attacked by a pig.

Cross-Breeds

Apart from being crossed with Whippets to produce small Lurchers, the Bedlington is rarely used for designer dog breeding, with perhaps just one exception:

  • Clumberton –Cross between a Bedlington Terrier and a Clumber Spaniel

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