BY ROCHELLE BLAKEMAN
The Kennel Club’s Vulnerable Native Breeds list comprises over 30 breeds of dogs native to the British Isles that are at risk of dying out. Their original countryside purposes may be diminished, they may not be considered ‘cool’, but these good-natured breeds deserve greater fame. So, in the spirit of the recent Crufts 2022, if you are thinking about a new four-legged friend, I invite you to consider my top 10 dogs from the vulnerable native breeds list!
For all-round countrysiders:
The otterhound is a handsome, shaggy breed with a gentle expression and a melodious bark to match. The rarest of all, only seven were registered in 2020 and world-wide there are fewer individuals than the white rhino. Born for countryside, he has the strength and stamina for his original (and outlawed) otter-hunting purpose, perfectly suited to those who don’t bat an eyelid at traversing through mud and muck. His even temperament makes his scarcity as a family dog wholly undeserved.
The (Scottish) Deerhound is a shaggy yet elegant dog. Often mistaken for his stockier cousin the Irish Wolfhound, dogs of his ilk have been hunting deer in Scotland since ancient times. Deerhounds have all the grace of a greyhound with added grit, gruff and stamina, making them perfect for coursing rough terrain in all weathers. Gentle and restful at home, he would make a loyal, dignified companion to the countryfied, whether stalking deer or curled up by the fire on a winter’s night.
The Old English Sheepdog’s mischievous smile and inquisitive ‘head tilt’ is infectious! The distinctive coat may be high maintenance but, vis-à-vis his hillside roots, is fully weather proof. If you are the type that refuses to do things by halves, the demanding grooming and exercise regime required for this fluffy beast could be your calling. Exuberant and cheerful, the Old English Sheepdog would suit active, fun-loving humans whom he would repay with great kindness and loyalty.
For sporting shooters:
My childhood dog, the English Setter is a gorgeous, characterful and supremely loving breed, blessed with a silky coat, elegant neck, expressive eyes and noble nose.Born to methodically ‘quarter’ fields to set on game, he has a wild, freedom loving streak that manifests without an atom of malice. Not one for biddability, his look says “Darling, I fetch for no one”; but, if you appreciate the open outdoors, his daft humour and his huge heart, the English Setter will be the friend of a lifetime.
The Curly Coated Retriever may be the ultimate dark horse of the dog world. Like his popular blonde cousin, the Golden Retriever, a ‘Curlie’ is trainable, energetic and an excellent swimmer, but with an independent, discerning streak. His tight, neat curls make him suitably water proof and enthusiasts swear by his eerie intelligence, earning him a reputation as the ‘thinking man’s retriever’. If you want a family friendly retriever with an alternative ‘edge’, then the Curly Coat might be your dog.
It is impossible not to include the Sussex Spaniel on account of those doleful eyes! Sporting a rich russet coat and short legs, this sweet, active and kind little man is the rarest of the land spaniels, bred to follow scents in dense undergrowth. This leaves him with a quirky talkativeness, alerting his master to his whereabouts as he burrows along. If you want a mellow family dog with a spaniel’s zest for life nonetheless, the Sussex Spaniel is a merry choice.
The energetic Lancashire Heeler is a cattle herder and pest controller in one compact dog. His name derives from his boldness in moving stubborn cows by nipping at the heels. Grooming his short coat will not be burdensome for busy farmers and his small stature is handy for rides in the tractor cab. The Lancashire Heeler’s motto could be summed as ‘work hard, play hard’ with a game, affectionate nature making him a suitable family playmate.
For the dapper country gentleman:
With his balanced frame, neat ears and retro patches, the Smooth Fox Terrier is a sharp dressed dog. His intelligence, energy and high trainability hark back to his fox hunting days, matching the huntsman’s smart red jacket in looks and mind. If an aptitude for tricks wasn’t attractive enough, he claims fame in the original HMV dog’s breeding. If you are sharp, strong willed and need a partner in crime, the Smooth Fox Terrier will be a loyal, courageous counterpart to his master’s voice.
For those with allergies:
The Irish Water Spaniel is a dog of uniqueness. In addition to his hypoallergenic, liver-coloured coat, he sports a whip-like tail and webbed feet for swimming, and even grows a handsome beard with sideburns. The oldest of the water spaniels, he has a suitably jolly Irish disposition, a welcoming heart and humour by the bucketload. The intelligence in those brown eyes is plain to see. He would make an ideal playmate for the active and would be chuffed if you happen to live by the sea or a large lake.
The Manchester Terrier is one of few dogs in the terrier group whose roots lie in the urban jungle. Streetwise, alert and taking no prisoners, he is a slick dog with an outline of whippet in his makeup. His sleek black coat with tan features is low maintenance and, so long as he has company and sufficient daily exercise, is well adapted to city life. Game yet independent, this breed makes a bright companion. The rats of Manchester had better watch their backs!
- The Kennel Club, Vulnerable Native Breeds: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/getting-a-dog/are-you-ready/vulnerable-native-breeds/
- Dr Peter Larkin and Mike Stockman, The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Dogs, Dog Breeds and Dog Care, Lorenz Books, first published 2001.