from which breed the Lancashire Heeler is thought to be descended, one of the Pembrokeshire variety
- MacDonald Daly 1982
reproduced with kind permission of 'Our Dogs' newspaper
Not since the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Welsh Corgi, each some 30 years ago, received Kennel Club recognition as pure-bred old British breeds has any other new kind of dog, indigenous to these islands, found himself elevated to a place in the August registrations at 84 Piccadilly.
Newcomers from overseas we have had a-plenty. But natives no! So now I press for the Lancashire Heeler, a small dog of Corgi type whose antecedents and claims to purity of strain I have been investigating recently.
My attention was first drawn to Heelers when during one of my judging visits to Lancashire, Mr Robert Martin, a fellow judge from Southport, produced for my inspection a short legged, pricked eared, foxy faced, little black and tan fellow, which did something to whet my curiosity regarding this breed, which is found in considerable numbers around Preston, Ormskirk, the Fylde and District.
The Lancashire Heeler looks more like a miniature, smooth-coated, black and tan Corgi than anything else and there seems to be little doubt that he is descended from Welsh ancestors. His expression greatly resembles the sharp, intelligent look of the Pembroke Corgi. His forelegs are normally bowed, and his tail is left undocked. His ears are usually upright, but tipped-eared specimens do occur, and are regarded as acceptable. Just like the Corgi, he was (and remains) a cattle dog, taking the name from his Corgi-like practice of nipping a stubborn beast in the heels, and then darting away on his short legs from the retaliatory kick.
Welsh herdsman and cattle dealers, in the days before mechanical transport, used to drive cattle to the markets of Lancashire, and their Heelers acted as chief aids on the roads. One legend has it that some of these Welsh dealers would provide themselves each with a large flock of sheep, a pony, a Welsh collie and a Heeler. Riding the pony, the shepherd would travel slowly north, selling sheep on the way. By the time he reached Lancashire, his flock had been greatly reduced so he sold the Heeler. Still further North, with all his sheep gone, he sold his Collie, and finally the pony. Then he set off home to start all over again.
Though black and tan is the most usual combination of colour in the Heeler, sometimes with white on chest and feet, I am told tricolour, brindled, sable and terrier marked specimens do exist. Both Mr James G Ward of Preston (who has kept Heelers for 30 years) and Dr T H Rigg of Parbold (famous as a breeder of Dachshunds) have given me accurate data on the breed and both believe that Dachshund blood has been introduced at some time or other. Another experienced dog breeder who has made considerable study of the Heeler, ever since his father used one as a foster-mother for a litter of Schipperkes, is Major J L Houghton, the St Helens exhibitor of Irish setters. "No matter how the Heeler's colour may vary," says Major Houghton "the typical body and leg conformation is always there."
Mr Ward (who says " As I write, I have a 10 year old Heeler bitch at my feet") tells of a considerable number of puppies sold in recent times, and Miss Patricia Fish of Longton goes so far as to say that no other breed is better known or more popular in the Preston area.
In character, and working zeal, Heelers appear to have considerable merit, for various informants pay tribute to their cattle-herding, their ratting, and their ability as watchdogs. A most important general characteristics in the Heeler is size. The true Heeler is only half the size of the 24lb Corgi, the most sought after specimens are no more than 12lbs in weight, and smallness is frequently advertised as a virtue when a dog is offered at stud around Preston or Ormskirk. Several of my correspondents have expressed the view that since the Heeler is "undoubtedly as ancient in lineage as the Corgi," there is no reason why once accepted by the Kennel Club, he should not soar to equal heights of popularity. To that I would sound a warning that while the Pembroke Corgi, the one which enjoyed royal favour and example, last year stood fifth in the popularity lists, with 5,794 registrations, his long tailed cousin from Cardiganshire languished near the bottom, with only 294.
A YOUNG HEELER BITCH Macdonald Daly has seen
authenticating the claims of purity of strain in this breed.
Occasionally Tri colours also occur. Some say they herald from the Corgi heritage