A Brief History of the Patterdale Terrier
It’s amazing how mixed up and convoluted a breed history can become, and even more amazing that it can be confounded so quickly.
Consider, for example, the Patterdale.
First, there is the question of whether it is a breed at all, or simply a black smooth-coated Fell Terrier.
If one wants to argue that a Patterdale is simply a smooth coated black Fell Terrier, that’s fine. We could also say that a Jack Russell is a white Fell Terrier, couldn’t we? In any case, people who know Patterdales know one when they see one. Is there any other meaningful definition of a terrier breed ?
The use of the Patterdale name for a type of terrier goes back to at least the 1930s. Jocelyn Lucas notes that the United Hunt said it preferred to use Lakeland Terriers and “Patterdales from J. Boroman’s strain at the Ullswater Kennels”.
The characteristics of these 1930s Patterdales is not known, but it is worth noting that the Ullswater Kennels were famous for Border Terriers and the Patterdale breed, as we know it today, first sprang up in the 1950s in the breeding program of Cyril Breay who had been a Border Terrier breeder.
While the 1930s Patterdales are reported to have been shaggy black Fells, Breay’s early dogs are described as slape-coated black-ticked dogs with massive heads. Could these “Patterdale Terriers” have been genetic sports descended from a “blue and tan” Border Terrier? We will never know, as Cyril Breay kept no records, though he swore there was no Bull Terrier in his dogs.
Breay was a slight man and did not work his dogs himself, leaving that part of the job to his friend Frank Buck. Buck’s own line of dogs were descended from the Ullswater terriers kept by Joe Bowman (no doubt the “J. Boroman” noted by Lucas), and the dogs of the two men began to devolve to a type as lines were crossed and condensed.
Whatever their origin, the dog that showed up in the field in the 1960s, and continuing today, is a smooth, hard-coated dog of variable size and looks, and with a good track record of honest work. Patterdales have a reputation as being enthusiastic self-starters.
Though still a pure working dog, the future of the Patterdale is precarious. On one side are the show ring pretenders who value looks over utility, while on the other side are young fools crossing Patterdales with Bull Terriers and Pit Bulls, resulting in dogs that are too big and overly hard.
The good news is that there are a handful of breeders trying to keep the dogs right-sized and well-balanced between the ears. Some of these breeders have been breeding good dogs for decades, but it is a tough job and it is not clear that the next generation of terriermen is up to the task. Time will surely tell.