While no one knows for sure, it is thought that the Bedlington Terrier’s ancestors may have included the Rothbury Terrier, Whippet, Kerry Blue Terrier, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Otterhound and/or the Dandie Dinmont Terrier. They were named after the mining shire of Bedlington, which is in the Hannys hills of northern England. Bedlington Terriers were especially popular with miners, who used them to exterminate rats from local mines. Owners of these feisty terriers also enjoyed racing them against the fleet-footed Whippet, because the miners’ Bedlingtons often won the match.
The first dog of the Bedlington ”type” supposedly was called Old Flint and belonged to Squire Trevelyan in the 1780s. However, the first real evidence of a Bedlington Terrier came from a litter bred by a local stone mason, Joseph Ainsley. Mr. Ainsley acquired a bitch named Coates Phoebe in 1820. He bred her to a Rothbury dog named Anderson’s Piper in 1825. One of the offspring of that cross, known as “Ainsley’s Piper”, was the first dog known to be called a Bedlington Terrier. Legend has it that Ainsley’s Piper was successfully set on his first badger at only 8 months of age and became a plucky and persistent hunter for the rest of his life. Piper was reported to draw a badger from its den after he turned fourteen years of age, and after a number of younger terriers were unsuccessful. Piper was toothless and almost blind at the time, but he was completely successful in his efforts.
This game and fearless breed continued to gain popularity among hunters and other sportsmen throughout the Bedlington region due to its superior ratting and badger-flushing skills and its ability to cover wide swaths of terrain without tiring. During the early years of the breed, they also were used to hunt rabbits, otters, polecats and foxes. Some owners used their Bedlington Terriers in the brutal “sport” of pit dog-fighting, where large sums of money were wagered on the fights’ outcome. Never an instigator, Bedlingtons still were tenacious and, once involved in a fight, usually fought to the death. They are aptly described as having the heart of a lion in the body of a lamb – truly the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The breed first entered the show ring in 1870. The National Bedlington Terrier Club of England was formed in 1877. The American Kennel Club recognized the Bedlington Terrier in 1886, as a member of the Terrier Group. The Bedlington Terrier Club of America was founded in 1932 and became a member of the American Kennel Club in 1936. Over time, the breed became prized as a companion dog by all who met him, due to his great heart, adorable appearance and affectionate nature. The Bedlington’s popularity peaked in the United States during the 1960s. The Bedlington Terrier is highly competitive in the conformation ring and also can be seen winning in obedience and other performance disciplines. He is perhaps best known as an affectionate, fun and fuzzy companion.
The average life span of Bedlington Terriers is 11 to 16 years. They have relatively few health problems, but do have a significant risk of developing copper toxicosis, which is a severe copper storage liver disease that affects a substantial proportion of the modern Bedlington Terrier population. Bedlington puppies should be tested for this genetic condition. Bedlingtons also are predisposed to several ocular (eye) disorders, including entropion, cataracts, retinal atrophy and retinal dysplasia. They may also be predisposed to patellar luxation and renal cortical hypoplasia. Their curly coat requires frequent brushing and trimming, and it is best to bathe them on a regular basis as their unique coat tends to attract dust and dirt.