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Before dog shows were established, a terrier’s primary credential to earn a place to live and regular meals was its ability to dispatch a wide variety of small vermin for work and sport. While most terriers devel­ oped slowly, some were created at the behest of an individual and assumed their familiar form and function with relative speed. Such a one was the droll, white-coated Welshman we know as the Sealyham Terrier.

The Sealyham Terrier was the creation of a former military officer. When Captain John Edwardes retired from the army in 1848 at the age of 40, he returned to his family’s estate, Sealy Ham, in Haverfordwest, Wales. One of Captain Edwardes’s priorities on his return to civilian life was the development of his own breed of terriers as an adjunct to his pack of Otterhounds. The captain’s requirements for his strain of terriers were simple. First and foremost, the dogs had to be “dead game, capable of taking on the most savage creatures found in the district, particularly the badger and the otter.

This terrier’s performance afield was far more important to the captain than his looks. However, the white color was sought after to avoid the Otterhounds mistaking the terriers for the quarry and worrying them during the hunt. As the breed came closer to its modem form, selective breeding removed the body markings seen in the breed’s early years. Today, Sealyhams that are not solid white will have to mark on the head and ears of tan, lemon, or badger. The effect is quite striking.

Origins and Speculation

Although the Sealyham’s origins are relatively recent, a consider­able amount of discussion has centered on the breeds used to develop the Sealy. The truth is that no one really knows which breeds were ancestors, because Captain Edwardes did not keep detailed records. In this, he was like many other rural sportsmen of his time. The captain may not have bothered because he was only interested in how the dogs worked—it may never have occurred to him that anyone else would ever want to know where his dogs came from.

An excellent chronicle of the Sealyham’s history is to be found in Terriers of the World: Their History and Characteristics by Tom Homer. This admirably detailed review gives rare insight into the genesis of the Sealy, along with its subsequent development.

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At the time of the Sealy’s beginnings, Homer explains, there existed a race of white terriers in south Wales; this proto-breed may have played a part in breed development. Sometimes called Cheshire Terriers, the dogs were white, smooth-coated, and sported many characteristics today associated with Bull Terriers. One can often encounter modem Sealyhams that show incomplete pigment in their eye-rims and pigment spots on the skin, characteristics closely associated with the white variety of the Bull Terrier. If the old Cheshire Terrier was indeed genetically linked to the Bull Terrier and went into the making of the Sealy, the pigment could be taken as reasonable evidence of the commonality of these breeds.

The Dandie Dinmont Terrier has often been mentioned as an important progenitor of the Sealy, but this is questionable. While both breeds are low-stationed and exhibit great substance, one must remember that the Dandie emerged from the Scottish-English border—a long way from Wales.

It is highly unlikely that the Dandie had much of a presence in Sealy country during the last half of the 19th century. Travel was exceedingly difficult during this period and breeds developed in relative isola­tion, cut off from one another by rivers, mountains, and other natural barriers. So Dandies would have had next to no chance to breed in the area. Additionally, Dandies are sufficiently different in coat, head proper­ ties, temperament, color, and body shape to cast serious doubt on any strong link between Captain Edwardes’s breed and Piper Alan’s breed.

In the literature of the dog fancy, references to the Dandie and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi as progenitors of the Sealyham abound. However, it was common­ place for one 19th-century commentator-author to plagiarize the work of his peers, so that if one highly respected Victorian dog writer made an observation, many others echoed his ideas orally and in print. (Independent research did not always happen.) So the number of references to an idea is little indication of its validity. And again, probably the Pembroke Welsh Corgi’s only physical similarities to the Sealy are its short legs and overall size.

There is support for the Sealy’s carrying the inheri­tance of the Wire Fox Terrier and the West Highland White. Some physical similarities of early Wires and Sealys lend credence to this liaison. Homer explains that Captain Edwardes was friendly with the Marquis of Bute, who had considerable land holdings in south Wales at the time. The Marquis was also a friend of Colonel Malcolm, of Poltalloch, credited with being the father of the modem Westie. Breedings to blend the best of both breeds could have been done, notwithstanding the great distance between the home turf of the two breeds.

Suffice it to say that the genesis of the Sealyham Terrier is like an intriguing maze. Many possibilities exist; all have their supporters and naysayers. What is known of the breed’s early history is that Captain Edwardes put many puppies out to “walk” (ran with the pack) and followed up on them as they reached their first year. As unsettling as it may be for us to contemplate, it was the captain’s custom to check up on these young­sters with his rifle at the ready. If any dog showed the least hesi­tancy in going to ground or engaging an opponent, it normally didn’t get a second chance.

While we may abhor the harshness of Captain Edwardes’ methods of preserving terrier attrib­ utes, there is no question that by this method, courage became a proverbial part of the Sealyham’s personality. It is said, however, that in the closing years of his own life, Edwardes softened toward dogs he may have deemed lacking in gameness. Undoubtedly, this amnesty of attrition helped increase the breed’s numbers.

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From Field to Show Bench

Long before the introduction of contemporary Earthdog trials, the American Sealyham Terrier Club (ASTC) had a well-developed program to preserve the working qualities of the breed. During the first half of the 20th century, the ASTC mounted trials and awarded working certificates for dogs who met the trial requirements. The rules required dogs to face and draw quarry (and nothing in the rules allowed for caged rats-in those days it was all up close and personal).

In John Marvin’s The Book of All Terriers, a photo shows a Sealy facing a very hostile opossum. It was a great matter of pride for a dog from show ring breeding to be able to prove itself in the breed’s traditional work. The ASTC deserves full marks for having promoted this program before Earthdog events gained widespread popularity.

The breed’s first appearance in the show ring came in October 1903, in (appropriately enough) Haverfordwest. It didn’t take long for interest to spread beyond the confines of south Wales, and in 1908 the Sealyham Terrier Club was formed. Just two years later, Sealys made their debut at The Kennel Club’s championship show at the Crystal Palace in south London. Full recognition followed a year later.

As often happens, the breed has changed physically since its days as a working terrier. With its now smartened-up appearance and infectious charm, the Sealy quickly earned a loyal following of dog lovers and serious fanciers. The breed’s fame soon crossed the ocean, and eventually circled the world. Sealys first reached the United States in 1911 and earned AKC recognition almost immediately. Also in 1911, the Sealy made its initial appearance in an American show ring in San Mateo, California. On May 15, 1913, the American Sealyham Terrier Club was formed in New York City.

As with his introduction to English dog lovers, the Sealyham met with great popularity in America soon after its debut. The breed’s g heyday came during the 1920s and ’30s. Top awards at the AKC Sesquicentennial, Westminster, and Morris & Essex put Captain Edwardes’s breed into a glittering spotlight. Four of the breed captured the ultimate prize at Westminster, including Ch. Barberryhill Boodegger (1924), Ch. Pinegrade Perfection (1927, also BIS at the AKC Sesquicentennial in 1926), Ch. St. Margaret Magnificent of Clairedale (1936), and Ch. Dersade Bobby’s Girl (1977).

This acclaim, combined with the patronage of famous owners such as Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Richard Burton, and Alfred Hitchcock, whose own Sealyham Terriers sometimes appeared in his films, added to the breed’s evolving success story.

Sealys Today

It is a great credit to this breed that it has reached the heights of show ring success in spite of modest numbers. Sealyhams of quality excel in the show ring, often topping the highly competitive Terrier Group and going on to many all­ breed Bests in Show.

While the Sealyham retains his beauty and personality, the breed has slipped in popularity since those early days. Breed popularity, like fashion, is both fickle and cyclical. In 1932, there were 369 dogs registered-not even the breed’s most popular year. Registrations dropped off over time, but jumped a bit in the late 1970s, after Sealys should move well, with surprisingly big, long, powerful strides, with elastic movement that is strong, yet not rigid. Ch. Dersade Bobby’s Girl won Westminster.

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Many who would enjoy having a Sealyham in their lives deny themselves the pleasure because of a reluctance to tackle the breed’s grooming requirements. Like other double-coated terriers, Sealyhams are properly trimmed with finger and thumb for best results, and brushed and combed regu­larly. Rather than considering this need a liability, it should be regarded as a time of wonderful bonding between owner and dog and the path to great pride of ownership in a well-presented animal.

Breeder, trainer, professional handler, and peerless ambas­sador for the breed, Margery Good believes that regular grooming is an important factor in good health care. Developing ear infections or skin condi­tions can be caught during routine grooming, and treated before they become serious problems.

Of course, there will always be the pet owner who just won’t tackle a Sealy’s grooming needs. For them, there is always pet clipping. The results are not as handsome as for a show dog, but a pleasing appearance can result—and for a pet, it might be all that some owners require. But either way, a consistent grooming schedule is essential to the dog’s health.

Good reminds handlers and groomers that Sealys are not the hardest dogs to condition. Just pick a good-coated one, do your homework, and enjoy the pleasure of a job well done, because if you can present a Sealy well, you can do anything!

And a note for judges: With the eyebrows and fall combed beauti­ fully forward for the ring, a Sealy’s forward vision is limited. Therefore, kindly alert him to your presence, requesting his attention. Sealys are happy to give you what you want if they understand.

So this is the Sealyham Terrier, a breed that deserves a return to at least some of its earlier acclaim. This breed is a marvelous companion, a terrier that can still work, and very often a peerless performer in the demanding environment of the show ring. To those fortunate enough to have Sealyhams in their lives, no other breed could be nearly as satisfying. For those who have yet to make the acquaintance of these unique charmers, what are you waiting for?

Related article: Norwegian Elkhound History: The Silver Viking
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