This section is from the book "The Terriers. A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland", by Rawdon B. Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: The Terriers.
The question which is now agitating those who are most concerned in the welfare and well-being of the Skye terrier is a peculiar one. "What is it? Is it to be a toy or a sporting dog?" is the question for discussion, and, as usual where a controversy is concerned, there are at least two parties who seemingly hold different opinions.
We all know that of late years at any rate, the Skye terrier has been produced to such perfection, so far as length of coat is concerned, that it would be actually impossible for him to perform the proper duties of a terrier. Then, too, the coat is soft, not so hard and wiry as it ought to be, and, of course, more suitable for carrying wet and dirt than for getting rid of it. Strangely, there are modern writers who have identified the description of the "Iseland" dogges mentioned by Caius as identical with the Skye terrier. I am pretty well certain that the hardy, warlike, matter-of-fact Scots who lived and fought and robbed before and during Caius's time never owned a dog of any kind that could not be made useful. This could never be the case with the modern Skye terrier, with his long coat and shaggy head. In the sixteenth century, and earlier, there was, no doubt, a Scottish terrier, but he was the "die hard" of the present day rather than the Skye. In proof of this one of the leading writers on dogs so recently as 1881 confounds the two varieties, so far as to give us an excellent illustration of a hard-haired Scottish terrier which he is fain to call a Skye terrier. Perhaps the learned writer, Hugh Dalziel, is not so much to blame for this as the person who led him into the error, which was, of course, rectified in later editions. I mention this in order to show that even in modern times it were possible for confusion to be caused between the Skye terrier, which is quite a recently manufactured variety, and the Scottish terrier, which I have said in an earlier chapter is probably the oldest of all varieties of Scotia's dogs.
Between 1870 and 1880 a number of letters appeared in the Field newspaper, in which interested writers, as they did later on, tried to make out that there were several strains of these Skye terriers; but again they mixed up the die hards, and the more they wrote the more confusion was caused. Nor did "Stonehenge," in his "Dogs of the British Isles," simplify matters much. He might have done so for he knew well enough the difference between the two varieties, but his coadjutors in the article followed the line of complication, and we were no better off than before, so far as our knowledge of the Skye terrier was concerned. That its name as such is of comparatively modern origin I have no doubt whatever, but I have doubts as to the truthfulness of the story which ascribes the original Skye terrier as the result of a mesalliance between the native dogs of the Western isles and some "Spanish white dogs which were wrecked on the Island of Skye at the time when the Spanish Armada lost so many ships on the western coast".
Ever since the terrier of which I write has had an identity of its own, the coat which covered it was long, even shaggy, but not to the same extent as is seen on the bench winners of the present day. How he first came to have that coat there is not a particle of reliable evidence to be found. Maybe it was natural, as the mountains and lochs are to the island the name of which it bears; maybe it, like Topsy, "growed." Anyhow, here is the strain which is as distinct from that of the ordinary hard-haired Scottish terrier as a Pekin duck is from a Rouen. That they were able to hunt and kill rats, and possessed unusually good noses I know, but careful tending to the coat, nursing and petting, and the sacrifice of every useful point for a long coat have wrought a complete change in the animal, and he is now nothing more than a toy or pet dog. And his long, trailing jacket does not prove a recommendation when he goes into the house from the streets on a dirty day and rests in the drawing or dining room. I am told that an attempt is being made to place the modern Skye terrier on his proper footing, and that in future he will have to be first of all a terrier and a long-coated ladies' dog afterwards.
Mr. Thomson Gray, in his "Dogs of Scotland," gives particulars of an interview he had with George Clark, who had for fifty years been head gamekeeper on the Mull Estate of the Duke of Argyll. Mr. Gray writes: "When Mr. Clark left the duke's Mull Estate for Inverary he took with him three of these terriers to infuse fresh blood into the Inverary kennel, where the old Skye had been carefully bred from time immemorial, and on leaving there twenty years later for Roseneath he brought this breed of terrier with him, and by constantly introducing dogs unrelated to his own has kept the blood pure, and of exactly the same type from that day till now. They were kept for the purpose of bolting from cairns and burrows the foxes, polecats, and numerous vermin which infested the wilds of the Argyllshire highlands.
"Mr. Clark states that such was the condition of the districts with which he was associated, that even within his own knowledge sheep could not be kept at large on the hills, until the landlords and farmers clubbed together in each district and appointed a man as foxhunter, who was paid a sum by each farmer according, to the number of sheep kept. This functionary kept a pack of small terriers of from 12lb. to 161b. weight, and a couple of luath-choin (swift dogs), either staghounds or foxhounds.
"The foxhunter and his terriers were constantly on the move over his district, and when a shepherd found a dead lamb, supposed to have been destroyed by a fox, he at once set out for this nomadic individual, and by daylight next morning the foxhunter and shepherds were on the ground with the dogs. On the hounds finding the scent they were uncoupled, and on "starting" the fox went off in full cry. The fox generally sought refuge in a burrow or cairn. The services of the terriers were then brought into requisition, and when let loose they rushed in to do battle, cheered on by the hunter's "Staigh sin!" Many a good terrier has met his coup de grace while engaged in these subterranean fights, and many more have come forth to carry for the remainder of their restless days the scars of battle. If reynard did not sell his life dearly under cover, his fate was sealed on making from his stronghold.