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Norwich Bulletin - 2/15/2009

The Skye Terrier

In 1858, John Gray of Edinburgh died and left behind a young Skye Terrier named Bobby. For the next 14 years Bobby kept vigil at his master’s grave in Greyfriars churchyard, causing him to be known as Grayfriar’s Bobby. Bobby earned the keys to the city and an honorary license from the Lord Provost of England. Bobby was buried next to his master in 1972. His gravestone reads “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.” This is the gist of the loyal little Scottish dog known as the Skye Terrier.

The most popular legend as to the origin of the Skye Terrier is that after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, shipwrecked Spanish dogs took refuge on the Hebrides Islands. These long coated terriers interbred with the local short haired terriers to eventually produce the long coated breed.

At first they were all called Scottish Terriers, but in the early 19th century, long coated dog fanciers began to write that the long coated Terriers were from the Isle of Skye. Queen Victoria acquired the first of several Skyes in 1842. Her patronage of the breed caused a surge of popularity (kind of like our movie dogs and cats do now). By the late 1890’s, any duchess worth her salt wouldn’t be caught in the park unaccompanied by her Skye terrier.

It is thought that this is about the time the breed fell from popularity as a farm dog. Originally bred to rid the farms of vermin, its territory consisted of water, rock, burrow and dens. Strong legs on a low, set, long body, with strong jaws, the Skye Terrier was almost weasel like in its maneuverability. The double coat protected the dog from the weather. But the newer, fashionable Skye Terrier was a larger dog with a very primped coat that would end up sweeping the ground. A truly elegant little dog, but no longer a “peasant farm dog.”

There is little doubt that this is a high maintenance pooch. Besides the coat care, you must also understand the Skye Terrier’s temperament. They are not a breed for everyone. The coat must be kept clean and brushed, which is not done with a once a week light brushing. And this little dog is so sensitive and intelligent that it is imperative that the owners know what they are doing. Do it wrong, and the Skye’s incredible memory can make them quite unforgiving.

The Skye Terrier has no inkling that it is a small dog. It has the strength and mentality of a much bigger dog and needs a lot of socialization if it is to have the wonderful pleasant Skye temperament the breed is known for. They need to meet a lot of people and experience a lot of different situations. It is essential for both owner and dog to successfully complete obedience training. And that training should only be based on the positive reinforcement method of training, as rough handling will usually result in a stubborn refusal to cooperate. If you have to be the unconditional master of a dog, the Skye is not for you.

The life expectancy of the breed is 12 to 14 years with the males at a maximum of 30 to 35 pounds and the females, less. They have a moderate activity level but a very high intelligence level. They are very social, both with kids and other pets, when raised properly and when the children are trained properly as to pet kindness. They can life anywhere, but do require daily exercise and attention. They are very outgoing and happy go lucky with their family, but they are reserved and cautious around strangers, making them good little watchdogs.

One nice thing about the breed is that, in general, they are a remarkably healthy breed, although there is a liver disease that has been linked to the Skye. When purchasing a purebred puppy, no matter what the breed, it is good to go to the breeder’s kennel and meet the parents, look at medical records and pedigrees, etc. Ask questions and really familiarize yourself with the breed before you buy.

The Skye Terrier is a loving, independent, loyal, intelligent, sensitive and opinionated little dog. If it is the right breed for you, you will never be without one; but it needs to be the right breed.

Outside the churchyard in Edinburg there is a life sized statue of Grayfriar’s Bobby. He sits atop a fountain, which supplies drinking water at two levels, one for humans and one for canines. The statue stands as a constant reminder of the Skye Terrier’s complete loyalty and the bond created between one man and one little dog.

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