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Lancashire Heeler Breed Feature
This article appeared in the July 2007 edition of Dogs Monthly and appears here by kind permission of Jacky Cutler. *Please see the Health Pages for up to date information on PLL.
With Lancashire Heelers having only been recognised by the Kennel Club since 1981, there is very little in the way of documented history. However, whilst there is no definitive record of their origins, it is generally accepted that a type of Welsh Corgi was used to drive cattle to the north west, where a small black and tan terrier type dog was introduced, resulting in a general purpose farm dog, combining the qualities of both ratting and cattle heeling (which it achieves by nipping the heels and ducking out, earning it the nickname of the 'nip and duck dog'). The Heeler has been known as a purebred in its native county for upwards of one hundred and fifty years, where it is also known as the 'Ormskirk Terrier' or ‘Ormskirk Heeler’.
Gwen Mackintosh from Norfolk (of the famous ‘toffee’ family) took a liking to a Heeler owned by a relative back in the early sixties, and began to breed them, mostly for family and friends. With her interest in the world of showing pedigree dogs she started keeping records and the breed was put on a more formal footing. Together with several enthusiasts Gwen formed the Lancashire Heeler Club in 1978. They formulated a breed standard and began their own register, with dogs being examined to see if they met the criteria for registration, and held shows judged to their own standard. Gwen served as President of the club until her death in 1992.
Negotiations with the Kennel Club followed and in 1981 recognition was granted as a rare breed. Initially, they only accepted dogs registered with the Lancashire Heeler Club, but as these dogs were bred from, their progeny were also accepted. This system continued until 1989, when the Kennel Club announced that the register was to close.
Once accepted they were able to be shown at licensed shows. In 1982, Blackpool Championship Show scheduled classes for the breed, and they also began to appear at Crufts in the ‘Not Separately Classified’ classes. In 1988 they were given their own classes, and Best of Breed was Acremead Biscuit of Kalo, bred by Gwen Mackintosh and owned by Miss Kathie Kidd and her mother Barbara. Kathie held various positions on the committee of the Lancashire Heeler Club, eventually retiring as Chairman in 1992, and is the author of the only book written on the breed to date, ‘The First Book of the Lancashire Heeler’, which was published in 1990 and updated with a second edition in 2002.
Best of Breed at Crufts in 1989 was won by Tushielaw Clyde, owned by Sarah Whybrow. This was a great achievement in itself, but Clyde went on to be Best of Breed at Crufts an incredible six times between 1989 and 1995.
In 1996 the reign of Foxthyme Material Girl began, with the first of her four Crufts Best of Breed awards. Owned by Colin and Denise Russell, Jess won in 1996, 2000, 2001 and again in 2004, at the magnificent age of ten. She became the first British Champion and is the breed record holder on nineteen Challenge Certificates.
Another milestone for the breed was achieved in 1999 when Challenge Certificates were allocated. The first Dog C.C. went to Doddsline Kristen, owned and bred by Norman Johnston, with the Bitch C.C. and Best of Breed going to Laura Martin's Lausteph Waltzing Matilda. The Swanndale Kennels of John and Julie Swann have also had some good wins at Crufts, with Ch Doddsline Lord at Swanndale being awarded Best Dog in 1997, 2000 and 2001, and Ch Swanndale Man in Black taking Best of Breed in 2006.
There have been twenty champions in this country, although the first ever champion was in Sweden, who have the second largest population of Heelers. Enthusiasts in Finland, Holland, Norway and the USA have also discovered this enchanting breed, and we have even seen dogs being imported into this country from abroad.
In 1999 changes were made to the Breed Standard, the most important of which was the acceptance of liver and tans, where previously only black and tans had been accepted. There is one liver and tan Champion, Jestikka Glenord, owned by Colin and Denise Russell.
The size of the breed is what gives it its charm, and the ideal height should be 10 - 12 inches. A more romantic description is that they should be small enough to fit in a ‘poacher’s pocket’. If they are allowed to get too big they will lose the ability to ‘nip in and duck out’ when heeling cattle, and if they become too small they will resemble a toy breed and not be up to the job they were originally bred for. They should be sturdily built and slightly longer than they are high. The head should be flat and broad, tapering towards dark, almond shaped eyes, and the skull should be on parallel planes to the muzzle.
Front legs should be straight but feet may turn out slightly. In the past, some dogs had excessively bowed front legs, giving a ‘Queen Anne’ effect. The Breed Standard gives a good description of colour and markings, although the depth of colour and amount of tan can vary.
Although the majority have pricked ears, some have tipped ears, which are perfectly acceptable. Tails may be carried either up or down, usually coming up in a slight curve over the back on the move.
Registrations have fallen in recent years, with only 173 being registered in 2006, which has led to the breed being classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the Kennel Club. One reason for the decline in numbers is that some people have limited their breeding due to the incidence of Primary Lens Luxation*, an inherited eye condition for which there is no DNA test available at present, and careful study of pedigrees is the only tool available for breeders to use in trying to avoid problems. However, thanks to a grant from the Kennel Club Health Foundation Fund, research is ongoing by the Animal Health Trust and Cambridge University to formulate a test, once they have identified the gene responsible.
Although generally a healthy breed, usually living well into their teens, they can suffer from some eye conditions, and it is important to ensure that parents and pups have all been eye tested.
Apart from their role as a farm worker and show dog, Heelers have also been successful in Working Trials, Obedience, Agility and Flyball, and several have qualified as PAT dogs. Fortunately the breed has not split into ‘working’ and ‘show’ types and have been known to come straight from the farm into the show ring due to their short, sleek coat which requires very little grooming. They moult about twice a year, losing their undercoat over a few days, and with a quick brush they are soon back to their best.
They are placed on a table for the judge to examine them, and shown standing freely and moved on a loose lead. There have been several successful Junior Handlers who have learnt their trade with a Heeler.
Despite being adaptable to many roles, they are not the breed for everyone, and need an owner who will give them firm boundaries. Although they thrive on human company, they are not lap dogs, and require firm handling from a young age and something to keep them occupied, if they are to live happily alongside your family and other pets. They make excellent watchdogs, their loud bark belying their small stature, and some have a tendency to ‘heel’ people and animals. Some have a rather endearing ‘Heeler smile’, curling their top lips back when you talk to them. One thing many owners find is that they are addictive; one is never enough!