CHAPTER XLI. THE SKYE, AND CLYDESDALE TERRIERS
That the Skye Terrier should be called “the Heavenly Breed” is a tribute to the favour in which he is held by his admirers. Certainly when he is seen in perfection he is an exceedingly beautiful dog. As certainly there is no breed more affectionate, more faithful, or more lovable. Among his characteristics are a long-enduring patience, a prompt obedience, and a deep-hearted tenderness, combined with fearless courage. He is more sensitive to rebuke and punishment than most dogs, and will nurse resentment to those who are unjust to him; not viciously, but with an almost human plaintiveness which demands an immediate reconciliation. He is staunch and firm as his native hills to those who are kind to him, and for entering into battle with an enemy there is no dog more recklessly daring and resolute.
Visitors to dog shows are disposed to believe that the Skye Terrier, with its well-groomed coat that falls in smooth cascades down its sides, and its veil of thick hair that obscures the tender softness of its dark and thoughtful eyes, is meant only to look beautiful upon the bench or to recline in comfortable indolence on silken cushions. This is a mistake. See a team of Skyes racing up a hillside after a fugitive rabbit, tirelessly burrowing after a rat, or displaying their terrier strategy around a fox's earth or an otter's holt, and you will admit that they are meant for sport, and are demons at it. Even their peculiarity of build is a proof that they are born to follow vermin underground. They are long of body, with short, strong legs, adapted for burrowing. With the Dachshund they approximate more closely than any other breeds to the shape of the badger, the weasel, and the otter, and so many animals which Nature has made long and low in order that they may inhabit earths and insinuate themselves into narrow passages in the moorland cairns.
There can be no question that these dogs, which are so typically Highland in character and appearance, as well as the Clydesdale, the Scottish, the Dandie Dinmont, and the White Poltalloch terriers, are all the descendants of a purely native Scottish original. They are all inter-related; but which was the parent breed it is impossible to determine.
It is even difficult to discover which of the two distinct types of the Skye Terrier was the earlier—the variety whose ears stand alertly erect or its near relative whose ears are pendulous. Perhaps it does not matter. The differences between the prick-eared Skye and the drop-eared are so slight, and the characteristics which they have in common are so many, that a dual classification was hardly necessary. The earliest descriptions and engravings of the breed present a terrier considerably smaller than the type of to-day, carrying a fairly profuse, hard coat, with short legs, a body long in proportion to its height, and with ears that were neither erect nor drooping, but semi-erect and capable of being raised to alertness in excitement. It is the case that drop-eared puppies often occur in the litters of prick-eared parents, andvice versa.
As its name implies, this terrier had its early home in the misty island of Skye; which is not to say that it was not also to be found in Lewis, Oronsay, Colonsay and others of the Hebrides, as well as on the mainland of Scotland. Dr. Johnson, who visited these islands with Boswell in 1773, noticed these terriers and observed that otters and weasels were plentiful in Skye, that the foxes were numerous, and that they were hunted by small dogs. He was so accurate an observer that one regrets he did not describe the Macleod's terriers and their work. They were at that time of many colours, varying from pure white to fawn and brown, blue-grey and black. The lighter coloured ones had black muzzles, ears, and tails. Their tails were carried more gaily than would be permitted by a modern judge of the breed.
In those days the Highlander cared less for the appearance than he did for the sporting proclivities of his dogs, whose business it was to oust the tod from the earth in which it had taken refuge; and for this purpose certain qualities were imperative. First and foremost the terrier needed to be small, short of leg, long and lithe in body, with ample face fringe to protect his eyes from injury, and possessed of unlimited pluck and dash.
The Skye Terrier of to-day does not answer to each and every one of these requirements. He is too big—decidedly he is too big—especially in regard to the head. A noble-looking skull, with large, well-feathered ears may be admirable as ornament, but would assuredly debar its possessor from following into a fox's lair among the boulders. Then, again, his long coat would militate against the activity necessary for his legitimate calling.
It was not until about 1860 that the Skye Terrier attracted much notice among dog lovers south of the Border, but Queen Victoria's admiration of the breed, of which from 1842 onwards she always owned favourite specimens, and Sir Edwin Landseer's paintings in which the Skye was introduced, had already drawn public attention to the decorative and useful qualities of this terrier. The breed was included in the first volume of the Kennel Club Stud Book, and the best among the early dogs were such as Mr. Pratt's Gillie and Dunvegan, Mr. D. W. Fyfe's Novelty, Mr. John Bowman's Dandie, and Mr. Macdona's Rook. These were mostly of the drop-eared variety, and were bred small.