Saturday, June 24, 2006
Skye Terriers: The Dog's Been Dead a Long Time
The Scotsman reports that the Skye Terrier is on it last legs as a breed in the U.K. Apparently only 30 Skye terriers were born last year in the U.K. and only 89 Dandie Dinmont terriers -- another breed (supposedly) teetering on the edge.
But so what if these breeds do disappear? Neither breed is remotely like the original working dog from which it is descended.
Today's Dandie Dinmont is that breed in name only -- the original working dog as described by Sir Walter Scott, has been gone quite a long time.
As for the Skye Terrier, it has always been a put-up job -- a fantasy dog created by hair dressers for the show ring. Even the story of "Greyfriar's Bobby" is a bit of a put up job -- the dog did not lie on his master's grave for 10 years; he was adopted and fed by a local tavern owner and consequently stayed in the general vicinity of the graveyard. At the risk of not sounding very romantic, dogs are not driven by sentiment but by food.
I have described the split between Cairn and Skye terriers in "The Missing Part of a Cairn Terrier", but even before that there was the split of the Scottish Terrier into a dozen-odd breeds at about the time the Kennel Club was created.
What all of these "ancient" working breeds have in common is that none of them has ever been found in the field working, outside of an odd dog or two.
When push comes to shove, all of these terrier breeds are bred for ribbons and companionship. In this regard, they offer nothing distinctive or special.
The demise of the Skye Terrier is logical. If you have too many hamburger stands in an area, some of them are going to go out of business and fail. The mostly likely targets for failure are those that offer slow service, mediocre food and an expensive menu. Is there a better description than this for the Skye Terrier? What has been created by the show ring breeders is a dog that needs its own curling iron and that cannot possibly be allowed to walk off the rug. The breed is not only expensive to buy (it is so rare!) and keep up (it requires ribbon, combs, dematting shampoos, etc.) but it is also no better (and perhaps quite a lot worse) than other breeds of terriers, poodles, and walking fluff balls.
Bottom line: When Skye Terrier breeders forced short-haired Skye terriers to be called "Cairn" terriers, it was a truly Pyrrhic victory, for it turned out that the public much prefered the rough-and-ready (if rarely ever seen working) Cairn terrier. As for the Skye, I doubt it will actually disappear. There will always be hair dressers.