Bedlington Terrier: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

bedlington terrier

O.T.W. / Getty Images

Often described as a dog in sheep’s clothing, Bedlington Terriers are named for the mining town in England where they first originated. Today, these unique English dogs make charming family companions, but while they are lovable (and cuddly!) they are also alert watchdogs and versatile athletes that are fiercely protective of their loved ones.The Bedlington makes an ideal dog for an active family seeking a non-shedding, playful, and loyal companion.

Breed Overview

Group: Terrier

Weight: 17 to 23 pounds

Height: 15.5 to 17.5 inches

Coat: Mixture of hard and soft hair, crisp but not wiry

Coat Color: Blue, sandy, or liver, sometimes combined with tan

Life Expectancy: 11 to 16 years

Characteristics of the Bedlington Terrier

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability Medium
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Bedlington Terrier

A one-of-a-kind, lamb-like breed, the Bedlington Terrier is said to have been bred from sighthounds like the Whippet due to its arched back (not to mention its speed and agility), but it is also believed to share common ancestry with breeds such as the Dandie Dinmont, Kerry Blue, and Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers. They move with a graceful, springy step, but can run incredibly fast when the situation warrants.

Though they resemble gentle lambs, the Bedlington has actually been responsible for performing some tough-- and often deadly--work throughout its history. Bred in the 1800s, these brave, energetic dogs were created in the Northumberland mining shire of Bedlington as a working man’s dog. The Bedlington was a prized hunting dog of animals such as foxes, hares, and badgers, and they were also expected to be a vermin hunter by the miners of Bedlington.

The very first Bedlington Terrier was a dog named Piper. Bred in 1825, it has been said that Piper was still hunting badgers at age 14, even though he was nearly blind and had no teeth. At that time, the Bedlington was considered to be the smartest and fastest of all terrier breeds. In fact, the breed acquired the nickname “Gypsy Dog” because it was often used by the wandering Romanies as a sneaky partner in their poaching activities. The “Gypsy Dog” was recognized by Lord Rothbury of Bedlington, and he became such an enthusiast of the breed that the terriers were often called Rothbury’s Terrier—and, sometimes, even Rothbury’s Lamb.

The nail makers of Bedlington also took a fancy to the breed, and it wasn't long before the shire’s miners and nailers began betting their salaries in dogfights, in which they would pit their terriers against each other. They discovered that despite their lamb-like appearance, the Bedlington Terrier would become ferocious fighters and would not back down when challenged...and, sadly, they would fight to the death when forced into these circumstances. While miners exploited its gameness as a fighting dog, hunters were relying on Bedlingtons as retrievers.

The good news is that Bedlingtons turned out to be more of a lover than a fighter. These charming dogs eventually rose from coalmines and nail factories to become welcomed into manor houses, where British elites would raise their Bedlingtons to be both lovable companions as well as attractive decorations as part of their lavish, stylish lifestyles.

England’s National Bedlington Terrier Club was formed in 1877, and less than 10 years later, the American Kennel Club (AKC) registered its first Bedlington. Those who live in of Bedlington, England are still proud of this famous export; Bedlington’s Northern League soccer team is called the Terriers, and the town actually installed park benches shaped like the breed.

bedlington terrier show
Matthew Eisman / Contributor / Getty Images
bedlington terrier getting groomed in 1952
Ernst Haas / Getty Images
bedlington terrier playing guitar
 

Bedlington Terrier Care

Bedlingtons are lithe, energetic dogs with a curly coat and and fleecy, pear-shaped head. The crisp hair of their coat is a mix of both soft and harsh (but not wiry) hair, and many Bedlington owners are pleasantly surprised to learn that these dogs don’t shed very much, if at all. However, their hair does grow very quickly, and will thus need to be groomed approximately every two months—they can be groomed at home with the help of both electric clippers and scissors, or taken to a professional groomer. Their coat will also need to be brushed and/or combed once or twice a week, and as with all dogs, their nails should be trimmed often, teeth brushed daily, and ears checked on a regular basis.

Since they are terriers, the Bedlington possesses a great deal of energy and will require regular exercise for the benefit of both their physical and mental well-being—this breed will love to play a round of fetch or go on a long walk or run, but afterwards they are more than happy to curl up on the couch with their family. They do tend to bark a lot and can become high-strung without ample exercise and mental stimulation.

While this breed is energetic, they are not particularly rambunctious or mischievous. Like most terriers, the Bedlington Terrier can be stubborn and yet intelligent and eager to please, so early training and socialization is recommended. This breed will not respond to harsh training methods or physical correction, as it is more likely to lead to a battle of wills with their owner. Instead, training should be performed by owners who are not passive and are willing to remain firm and consistent while relying on positive-reinforcement techniques, such as offering praise and food as rewards.

Though they resemble a lamb, Bedlingtons were actually bred to chase small animals. As such, this breed will require a fenced-in yard and should always be walked on a leash because they are likely to take off in pursuit of another animal, and it's also best to introduce these dogs to other family pets like cats when they are puppies. Many of these dogs enjoy participating in sports and competitions such as agility, tracking, and obedience.

Overall, these charming dogs are lots of fun, and love nothing more than to be their family’s center of attention. These well-balanced, gentle dogs are great with kids and known to be fiercely protective of their loved ones; that's why they make great watchdogs, though they are generally fairly friendly with strangers.

Common Health Problems

Although they are a generally healthy breed, the Bedlington Terrier has been associated with conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia, thrombopathia, hypothyroidism, von Willebrand’s disease, and some eye issues.

Diet and Nutrition

The Bedlington Terrier should thrive on either a commercially-prepared or home-prepared (with veterinary supervision), high-quality dog food. Like many dogs, they can become overweight, so calorie consumption and weight should always be closely monitored by a veterinarian. It’s also important that this active dog has access to clean, fresh water at all times.

Pros
  • Family-friendly

  • Gentle and great with kids

  • Great watchdogs

Cons
  • Require a lot of exercise

  • Not suited for apartments

Where to Adopt or Buy a Bedlington Terrier

Be sure to check your local animal shelters and rescue groups for Bedlington Terriers that are in need of a forever home. The national rescue group for Bedlington Terriers, the Bedlington Terrier Club of America, can also provide online resources to help you find your new best friend.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Be sure to do your homework when choosing a dog breed. Talk to other Bedlington Terrier owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more about this particular breed and their care. There's a variety of dog breeds, and with a little research, you can be sure you'll find the right dog to bring home.

If you’re interested in learning more about similar dogs, consider these other similar breeds: