Dandie Dinmont breed sees 'light at end of tunnel'

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Image source, Andy Kennedy

A rare Scots dog breed is seeing a "light at the end of the tunnel" with its puppy numbers on the rise.

The Dandie Dinmont terrier - named after a Sir Walter Scott character - has been described as "Scotland's forgotten breed".

Puppy births in the UK in 2015 and 2016 were the lowest for consecutive years - outside wartime - since records began.

However, breeder Paul Keevil said it now looked like a "long overdue recovery" was under way.

At their lowest ebb, there were just 79 and 80 new puppies registered at the Kennel Club in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Image source, Andy Kennedy
Image caption,
Puppy numbers have increased in the past two years after consecutive low figures in 2015 and 2016

A concerted campaign started around that time to try to boost their profile - and numbers.

It included the unveiling of a statue of Old Ginger - the 19th Century dog all modern day Dandie Dinmonts are descended from - at its birthplace in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders last year.

Mr Keevil is UK co-ordinator for a discovery centre project dedicated to the breed - also located on the Haining estate in the town.

He said efforts seemed to be producing the goods.

Image source, Andy Kennedy
Image caption,
Breeder Andy Kennedy said he hoped others could be encouraged to follow his example

"In 2017 the annual total went up to 123 and for the first nine months of 2018, we had a total of 108 - up on the same period in 2017," he said.

"So it would appear that the breed has started its long overdue recovery.

"However, these numbers are still very small, we are still in the top 10 rarest breeds in the UK and of course there is no guarantee that we will continue to improve, we have to keep working at it."

One recent litter helping to reverse the trend belongs to Andy Kennedy, with family links to Dumfries and Galloway, but now living near Portsmouth.

Factfile: Dandie Dinmont terrier

Image source, Andy Kennedy

A breed of terrier developed in the border country of England and Scotland.

First noted as a distinct breed about 1700, it was later named after a character created by Sir Walter Scott in his novel Guy Mannering (1815).

Unlike other terriers, the Dandie Dinmont has a softly curved, rather than angular, body.

It has large eyes, a long body, short legs, and a large, domed head crowned by a silky topknot. Its crisp-textured coat, a combination of hard and soft hairs, may be pepper (silver-grey to blue-black) or mustard (light fawn to reddish brown) in colour.

The Dandie Dinmont stands 8 to 11 inches (20 to 28 cm) and weighs 18 to 24 pounds (8 to 11 kg).

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Image source, Andy Kennedy
Image caption,
Mr Kennedy said he had been lucky to get "five wonderful puppies"

"One factor is that the breed historically has very small litters, around about three is average, four if you are lucky," explained Mr Keevil.

"Which is one reason that Andy's litter is such good news being five fit and healthy puppies, well above the average litter size.

"I would suggest that we are off the 'critical' list but are still highly endangered."

Mr Kennedy has set up a blog to tell the story of raising the puppies and, hopefully, increase the breed's profile.

He is following in a family tradition as his grandfather used to breed the dogs when he was a vet in Thornhill in southern Scotland.

Image source, Andy Kennedy
Image caption,
Despite the rising puppy numbers the breed is still considered to be at risk

"This is our first litter, we just decided we would try it," said Mr Kennedy.

"We have already got three Dandies - we thought, let's just see how it goes.

"Most people who have gone through it know it is just about taking care of mum and making sure the puppies are well.

"It is a huge relief to have a mum that is healthy and five wonderful puppies."

He said he hoped by putting their story online it could encourage others to follow his example.

"It is showing the puppies' development but it is also about maybe encouraging people who have got Dandies to breed," he said.

Image source, Andy Kennedy
Image caption,
Mr Kennedy said he hoped to find "safe and wonderful homes" for the puppies

He said the dogs were not particularly well known and hoped the blog might help address that.

He intends to keep one of the puppies, but hopes to find new owners for the others.

"It is about raising awareness of the breed and finding them safe and wonderful homes," he said.

'At risk'

However, there remains work to be done for a full recovery to take place.

In order to be listed as a vulnerable native breed by the Kennel Club there have to be fewer than 300 puppies registered a year.

"We have consistently been doing less than 100 per year, and even with our 'recovery' we are still about half of what the Kennel Club considered as being 'at risk'," explained Mr Keevil.

So there is a long road ahead for the Dandie Dinmont but international efforts are also ongoing to increase numbers.

The breed took part in the New York Tartan Day parade this year and is due to participate in the Scottish Walk Parade in Virginia later this week.

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