by Doris Donnerman
(last updated August 17, 2009)
Although the show influence had a great deal to do with the eventual refinements and improvements that occurred in the Sealyham Terrier, the breed was developed as a class of working dogs. It was an eccentric old Captain who originated the breed and whose country place in Pembrokeshire bore the name given to his Terriers. He seems to have devoted the latter part of his life to the hunting of fox, badgers, otters, rats, rabbits, and even polecats that abounded on his acreage. It became an obsession with him to develop a Terrier that would be a size to go into the earth and that would fearlessly tackle any of these creatures and fight to the death, if necessary.
The country was rich in Terriers but those in his territory are said to have been a sort of mongrel type with which he was quite dissatisfied, so he proceeded to make his own breed. That a dog as true and beautiful as the Sealyham Terrier emerged from the Captain's various experiments hardly seems possible in the light of all the many ingredients attributed to the process. It must be added that the Captain, besides following a strong line of survival of the fittest, must have done a considerable amount of studied and careful breeding.
He carried out a rigid regime in his breeding program and, from all accounts, he deviated only once from his fast rule of destroying all pups that showed the slightest timidity. Pups were started early in a training curriculum and by the time they were a year old, they had had considerable experience in ratting. Then, at that age, they were given the acid test. Polecats were plentiful in the forests near Sealyham, and it was the Captain's aim to have his Terriers as adept on them as on other game. A trail was laid by dragging a polecat across a field, then securing it in a pit, with only a small opening. The animal was tied but in such a way that he could put up a fair fight. Then the dog was set on the trail which, as can be imagined by the odoriferous nature of the polecat, it had no trouble in following. If, when the pit was reached, the dog showed reluctance to dig in and fight, if he minced about or shirked, he was considered too cowardly to be kept at Sealyham, and was dispatched.
A story is told about one dog that was a fine hunter in every other respect, but when it came to the polecat test, he refused to go in. Every inducement was given but the dog hedged, so his doom was sealed. However, the man who took care of him was so attached to the dog that he begged the Captain to allow him to keep him because he was such a good ratter, and the Captain finally consented. Before the dog was two years old he became one of the gamest dogs on the place and achieved such fame that the Captain eventually bought him back from the farmer.
Although the Sealyham Terrier had many ardent adherents who carried on a careful breeding program to keep the strain pure long after the Captain's demise, it was some time before the breed was seen at a dog show. They had been entered at local shows and undoubtedly were brought before the public in contests held by badger-digging clubs. Weasels were hunted with small packs and sportsmen were very much aware of the breed's merits. In 1911 Sealyham Terriers were imported to the United States.
The Sealyham should be the embodiment of power and determination, ever keen and alert, of extraordinary substance, yet free from clumsiness. They stand about 10-1/2 inches at the withers. The weight for the male dog is about 21 pounds, while the female weighs 20 pounds. For the Sealyham Terrier the size is more important than the weight.
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