Manchester Terrier

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

The Manchester Terrier is a lively and charming dog that exemplifies all that is good about the terrier family. Tasked with keeping inns, stores, and homes free from rats and mice for hundreds of years, this is a job it still takes seriously, and while it will not allow vermin to live in its home, the same might be true for cats and other small pets. The breed’s alertness and willingness to bark makes it a great guard dog, but nuisance barking can be a problem, particularly in dogs left alone for extended periods of time.

Unlike many terriers, the breed was developed for an urban lifestyle, and so it takes well to apartment living, but it does need to be given regular opportunities to stretch its legs, or will develop problematic behaviours, destructiveness being something it has a natural talent for. It is a confident dog that knows what it likes, and is quick to object to pain or annoyance with a bite, so those with young children might be well advised to choose another breed. Serious health problems are not common in the Manchester Terrier, and many live into their late teens, though average life expectancy for the breed is 14–15 years.

About & History

The combination of exploding urban populations and poor sanitation in the nineteenth century led to an exponential growth in the numbers of rats living in close proximity to humans. Terriers had been popular with town dwellers in England since at least the 1600s, but this later problem with rodent infestations provided the stimulus for the development of a breed specifically for the purpose of pest control. Crossings between the extinct Black and Tan Terrier, Whippet, and possibly the Italian Greyhound were used to produce a dog with the ferocity and speed to be an efficient rat killer, while also being small enough to live within the close confines of a narrow terraced house. As its name suggests, it was in the city of Manchester that these early breeding efforts took place, and most inns and hostelries would have had at least one terrier that would be turned loose to roam the premises after closing time.

Apart from its necessity as a hygiene measure, rat baiting was a popular sport among the working class, and the Manchester Terrier was the breed of choice for this pursuit, with a dog named Billy holding a record that stood for almost 40 years of having dispatched 100 rats in just five minutes and thirty seconds. Dogs involved in rat baiting frequently suffered severe injuries, and had their ears cropped in order to keep them from being macerated by their prey.

The banning of this, and other, blood sports later in the nineteenth century, together with a ban on ear cropping, which gave the breed quite a different appearance, led to a decline in popularity around the turn of the twentieth century. As few as 11 pedigree Manchester Terriers remained on the Kennel Club breed register in 1945, at which point concerted efforts to resurrect this dying breed were undertaken. Today, there is a healthy population of Manchester Terriers on both sides of the Atlantic, though the American Kennel Club includes the English Toy Terrier in their numbers, simply recognising Standard and Toy Manchester variations.

Appearance

Manchester Terrier Large Photo

The Manchester Terrier is a small, lean, and athletic dog with an attractive glossy coat. It has a long, wedge-shaped head without the cranial doming seen in some other small breeds. The line of the muzzle follows that of the head as it tapers to the black nose. The eyes are small, oblong in shape, and dark, and are not prominent, being protected by their sockets. Though the carriage of the small V-shaped ears can vary, they are generally held semi-erect from their position high on the head.

The neck is quite long and is arched towards the top, and the back is lean, and arched at the loins. The tail is broad at the base but tapers, and is usually carried below horizontal. The breed has a narrow but deep chest, narrow flanks, and a tucked abdomen. The limbs are not heavily muscled but are well-formed, straight, and allow an easy, brisk gait. The paws are small and oval in shape.

Colouring and markings are considered to be of great importance in the breed. Black and tan is the only combination permitted, with the tan patches being quite dark. The two colours must not overlap, but form distinct and clearly defined patches, with small tan “thumbmarks” over each eye, on each cheek, and above the forelimbs on each side of the chest. Other tan areas are found on the underside of the ears, the lips, and under the tail. The hair is short, close-lying, and smooth.

The “ideal” height for a male Manchester Terrier is 41 cm (16 in) at the withers, and for females is 38 cm (15 in). An average male weighs around 8 kg (18 lb), while females are slightly lighter, at around 7.6 kg (17 lb).

Character & Temperament

The Manchester Terrier is a lively, eager dog with more than a modicum of impetuousness. It is quick to react to strange sights and sounds, and will throw itself wholeheartedly into the pursuit of a rat, a ball or the morning post coming through the letterbox. It is a vocal breed, and will bark at the slightest provocation, meaning burglars are likely to steer clear. Displaying many typical terrier characteristics, it is a feisty, assertive dog, and can become domineering if given the chance. Owners that are slow to assert themselves as the pack leaders are likely to find themselves relegated to the less comfortable sofa, as their four-legged companion occupies pride of place in the armchair. However, with a little direction and leadership this is a loyal and affectionate terrier breed that enjoys time spent with its family.

It does not tolerate isolation, and will cause trouble by means of destructive behaviour or persistent barking if it does not get the attention it deserves. Having discussed the Manchester’s history, it should come as no surprise that it has retained a very strong hunting instinct, and small pets are not safe in its company. If raised with cats, it may learn to accept them as part of the family, but owners should always be cautious about leaving them unattended. This is not an ideal choice of breed for families with young children who do not fully understand how to approach and handle a dog, as if pinched, prodded, or cornered, most Manchester Terriers will defend themselves with their teeth.

Trainability

Photo of Manchester Terrier puppy

Quick-witted and biddable, most Manchesters are quite easy to train, although they may be easily distracted, and training sessions should be short and enthusiastic. Their tendency to bark excessively can sometimes be managed through the teaching of “speak” and “cease” commands – although this can be a difficult skill to master. When young, they can be quite destructive, which is best prevented by plenty of exercise and the provision of a range of chew toys as alternatives to furniture and shoes.

Health

Most Manchester Terriers are extremely healthy. However, like any pedigree dog, they are more prone to developing certain problems.

  • Cataract – Early cataract development is seen in some Manchesters, and is strongly suspected to be an inherited problem. While most breeds do not experience degenerative age-related changes in the lens of the eye until they are quite elderly, the Manchester Terrier may begin to develop milky or crystalline deposits from around five years of age. These often become quite pronounced, severely impairing vision.
  • Ehler-Danlos Syndrome – This is not a common condition, but is associated with the breed. A genetic anomaly results in a dramatic loss of skin elasticity and resilience, meaning affected dogs are easily and frequently wounded. Also known as cutaneous asthenia.
  • Epilepsy – Just like humans, dogs can suffer epileptic seizures. In some, this is a very infrequent occurrence, but individuals experiencing frequent or severe seizure episodes may be medicated to control their symptoms.
  • Hypothyroidism – Middle-aged dogs exhibiting lethargy and unexplained weight gain may have an underactive thyroid gland. This happens as a result of immune-mediated destruction of glandular tissue, and has a range of knock-on effects. Symmetrical hair loss beginning on the flanks is another common feature, and epileptic dogs that develop hypothyroidism may also experience a worsening of their seizure symptoms.
  • Legg-Perthes Disease – Seen in growing pups between 5 and 10 months of age, when the blood vessels supplying the bone of the femoral head fail to provide adequate nourishment, and the “ball” of the hip joint becomes brittle and irregular. This causes severe pain and lameness, and requires surgical intervention to alleviate distress. The procedure performed in most cases is simply to remove this portion of bone, which allows a pseudo-joint to form between the femur and hip that provides adequate function and freedom from pain.
  • Lens Luxation – This is another problem affecting the eye that is common in many terrier breeds. The eye’s lens is suspended in its normal position within a supporting framework of fine ligaments. In some breeds, these ligaments weaken over time, with the result that the lens is held less firmly in place. Relatively minor trauma can then result in these ligaments tearing, allowing the lens to float into either the anterior or posterior chamber of the eye, causing pain and increased pressure within the globe. If identified quickly, surgical removal of the lens may spare the eye and preserve vision, but many affected eyes need to be removed to provide lasting pain relief.
  • Pattern Alopecia – Seen in some female Manchester Terriers, who experience dramatic hair loss on the undersides of the neck, chest, and abdomen; the cause is unknown.
  • von Willebrand’s Disease – This is one of the breeds at risk of inheriting or acquiring this blood clotting disorder. As part of the normal clotting process, tiny white blood cells called platelets are called into action to plug defects in blood vessel walls and to produce chemical signals that encourage further clot development. These functions are dramatically reduced in dogs with this condition, who are likely to suffer heavy and prolonged bleeding after minor injuries.

Exercise and Activity Levels

This is a lively and energetic breed, always on its toes and ready to leap into action. Most Manchester Terriers need around an hour of exercise every day, and the more time the owner can devote to walking, the happier the dog is likely to be. Because of the breed’s sighthound origins, it has speed in abundance, and can do very well in competitive activities, such as flyball. Even with plenty of exercise, it has a strong instinct to dig, and is more likely to excavate flowerbeds than to spend its time sunbathing if left unattended in the garden.

Grooming

The short, glossy coat is easy to manage, needing only a quick brush once a week to keep it in good condition. Occasional baths may be required, but only when the dog has found something particularly odorous to roll in. Light shedding occurs year-round. Most Manchesters need their nails clipped on occasion. Cooperative dogs may allow their owners to do this, but care must be taken not to cut them too short, as catching the sensitive quick within the dark nails is extremely painful. Tooth brushing is very helpful in preventing dental disease, and is best introduced to puppies to ensure their cooperation as they grow.

Famous Manchester Terriers

Billy, the famed rat-killer of the 1820s, was quite a celebrity in his time, receiving attention in the national sporting press. However, his exploits in the baiting arena took a toll, and he spent much of his career with only one eye, few teeth, and tattered ears.

Cross-Breeds

It’s not easy to find a Manchester Terrier cross-breed, but the following sometimes crop up:

  • Manchester Shepherd – Cross between a Manchester Terrier and a German Shepherd
  • Manchihuahua – Cross between a Manchester Terrier and a Chihuahua
  • Manchund – Cross between a Manchester Terrier and a Dachshund

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