Paisley Terrier

The Paisley Terrier was either a variety of Skye Terrier or a separate breed descended from that dog depending on which source is to be believed.  Although the breed was apparently occasionally used as a ratter, its primary purpose was to be a companion and show dog.  The Paisley Terrier was most well known for its long, silky coat, which was said to be both very soft and very beautiful.  The Paisley Terrier was used to develop the Yorkshire Terrier, and through that breed also had a substantial influence on the development of Australian and Silky Terriers.  By the end of the 19th Century, the popularity of the Paisley Terrier had begun to fall dramatically as fanciers became considerably more interested in both the Yorkshire Terrier and the Skye Terrier, eventually becoming extinct as a distinct variety.  The Paisley Terrier was also commonly known as the Clydesdale Terrier, Glasgow Terrier, Show Skye Terrier, and Pet Skye Terrier.

Breed Status: 
Extinct Breeds

Breed Information

Breed Basics

Country of Origin: 
Small 8-15 lb
Medium 15-35 lb
Energy Level: 
Protective Ability: 
Space Requirements: 
Compatibility With Other Pets: 
Clydesdale Terrier, Glasgow Terrier, Show Skye Terrier, Pet Skye Terrie


The Paisley Terrier was developed from the Skye Terrier in the 19th Century, but its history in the British Isles can be traced back much farther.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest surviving written usage of the word Terrier comes from 1440, implying that these dogs were already in existence at that time.  The word Terrier is probably descended from the French term, “Chien Terre,” loosely translated as, “Earth Dog.”  As this phrase likely entered the English language during the Norman conquest of 1066, it is safe to assume that Terriers were already known in the 10th Century.  However, most experts believe that these dogs are considerably older than that, possibly thousands of years older.  The oldest strong evidence for the existence of Terriers comes from the 1st Century A.D.  Archaeological sites located just south of Hadrian’s Wall, constructed by the Emperor Hadrian to defend Roman Britain from Pictish and Gaelic barbarians in Scotland, have yielded two types of dogs.  One was a medium-sized coursing dog very similar to a modern Whippet.  The other was a short-legged and long-bodied dog which was probably very similar to a modern Skye Terrier or Dachshund.  These finds indicate two things.  First, Terrier-like dogs (or possibly true Terriers) were present in Northern England and Scotland as early as Roman Times.  Second, these dogs were already being used for their modern purpose.  The coursing dog would have been used to located small game and pursue it to its burrow.  The Terrier would then have been sent down the burrow to kill the creature or drag it out to the surface.


Terriers were first developed long before written records were kept of dog breeding, and in any case were bred by illiterate farmers.  As a result, virtually nothing is known of their ancestry.  Most believe that they were created by Celtic tribes, although some claim that they actually originated with the mysterious peoples who preceded the Celts.  It is generally agreed that they were developed exclusively in the British Isles, as they have only been known outside of Britain and its colonies for the last 200 years.  Terriers were almost certainly developed from native British breeds, although it is entirely clear as to which ones.  It is often suspected that Terriers may be related to the Irish Wolfhound, Scottish Deerhound, and the Canis Segusius, a wire-coated hunting breed kept by the Pre-Roman Gauls of France and Belgium, but no one can say with certainty.


However and whenever the Terriers were first developed, they quickly became invaluable working dogs of British farmers.  Terriers were primarily used for vermin eradication, tasked with killing the rats, mice, rabbits, foxes, and other small mammals that ate crops and killed livestock.  By doing so, Terriers helped stave off starvation, increase profits, and prevented the spread of rodent-born disease.  Terriers were also sometimes used for hunting on the rare occasions when the farmers found free time, providing sport, pelts, and welcome additions to the stew pot.  Before the modern era, a farmer’s life was very challenging in Britain.  The line between survival and starvation was very thin, and such men and women could not afford to keep a dog that would not substantially aid them, even one as small as a Terrier.  As a result, Terriers were bred almost exclusively for working ability, and to a much lesser extent temperament.  Appearance only mattered to the extent that it impacted working ability, such as a weather-resistant coat and legs short enough to pursue a rabbit down its burrow.  Life in the Scottish Highlands was even more difficult than it was further south, requiring farmers to be even more careful about which dogs they kept.  It became a common Scottish practice to seal a young Terrier in a barrel with an otter or badger, both known for their extreme ferocity in a confrontation.  A battle to the death would invariably ensue between the dog and the beast.  If the Terrier came out victorious, it was considered worthy of being kept.  If the Terrier was killed, the problem had solved itself.  Because Terriers were bred with little regard for appearance, they were extremely variable in appearance throughout the British Isles.  Until very recently there were very few true Terrier breeds, although there were dozens of semi-distinct varieties and landraces.  In general Terriers from Scotland were long-bodied, short-legged, and wire-coated.  There was however at least one distinct breed of Terrier in Scotland since the 1500’s, the Skye Terrier.


The Skye Terrier was native to the Hebrides, an island chain located just north of the Highlands.  Because the dog was found on islands, it was allowed to breed in isolation from the Terriers of the mainland.  The Skye Terrier was generally similar to other Terriers from Scotland, but it possessed a very different coat.  Unlike the wiry hair found on its relatives, the Skye Terrier possessed a long, silky coat.  The similarity between the early Skye Terrier and the Cairn/Scottish/West Highland White Terriers was commented on by a number of canine authors, including the renowned Hugh Dalziel.  The breed also had a somewhat longer body than other Terriers, but this difference was initially marginal.  It is widely believed that the Skye Terrier’s body shape was the result of crosses with the Corgis of Wales and possibly the Swedish Valhund, brought to the islands during centuries of Viking domination.  The earliest definitive mention of the Skye Terrier comes from 1576, when Johannes Caius published English Dogges, the first major work written about the dogs of Britain.  He described the dogs of the Hebrides thusly:  “Lap dogs which were brought out of the barbarous borders from the uttermost countries northward, and they by reason of length of their heare, made show neither face nor body and yet these curres forsooth because they are so strange, are greatly set by, esteemed, taken up, and of made of, in room of the spaniell gentle, or comforter.”  This description would seem to indicate that as early as the late 1500’s, the Skye Terrier was being kept as a companion animal as well as a working dog.


There are many myths surrounding the Skye Terrier and how it came by its silky coat.  By far the most common is that it is the result of the Spanish Armada.  Sailing in 1588, the Spanish Armada was sent by Philip II of Spain to end the Protestant rule of Queen Elizabeth.  Storms and superior British tactics sunk most of the Armada’s ships, leaving some of the survivors to flee past the coast of Scotland.  These ships suffered additional weather-related losses off the Scottish coast, with more sinking.  Allegedly, these dogs contained silky-coated Maltese dogs to serve as companions and ratters.  The story goes that some of these dogs managed to swim to shore on the Hebrides, where the Scottish crossed them with their local Terriers.  Although quite romantic, this story is highly unlikely.  Not only is there almost no evidence to support it, but Johannes Caius described the breed a dozen years before the Armada sailed.  It is quite possible that Maltese-type dogs did survive a shipwreck, just not from the Spanish Armada.  It is more likely that either the local nobility imported these lapdogs deliberately or that the Skye Terrier’s coat was a local mutation.


As the centuries wore on, the Skye Terrier became increasingly popular as a companion dog throughout Scotland, although it continued to be bred primarily as a working dog.  Some Skye Terriers were both working Terriers and companion dogs.  By the early 1800’s, the Skye Terrier was almost certainly the most popular companion dog in Scotland, and was in all likelihood the most common breed found in that country.  During the 18th and 19th Centuries, major social changes were occurring throughout Scotland.  The early stages of the Industrial Revolution were drawing more and more Scottish farmers to factory work in urban centers.  Small enough to live in cramped urban conditions, and very useful for killing the rats that plagued early cities, many of these farmers brought their Skye Terriers with them.  Urban dwellers had considerably less use for a rugged hunting Terrier than their ancestors, and they began to breed Skye Terriers primarily for companionship.  Breeders of companion dogs greatly favored those with the most attractive coats.  Such breeders preferred coats that were both as long and as silky as possible.  These breeders also preferred smaller dogs and ones with shorter bodies because such animals were better able to fit into a tiny apartment or flat.  The tenacious Terrier temperament made these dogs tireless slaughterers of small mammals, but also made them less-desirable as companion dogs.  Skye Terriers bred as pets came to have a friendlier and less ferocious temperament.  Some have claimed that the companion Skye Terrier was the result of crosses between Skye Terriers and another Terrier breed or possible another type of dog such as the Maltese, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of this.


The breeding of companion Skye Terriers was centered in two regions, both of which were in the Lowlands.  One was the district of Clydesdale; the other was the town of Paisley, a suburb of the major city of Glasgow.  By the middle of the 19th Century, the small, long-coated Skye Terriers bred for companionship became known as both Clydesdale Terriers and Paisley Terriers after these locations.  Based on surviving documentation, it appears that Paisley Terrier was initially the preferred name, but Clydesdale Terrier had replaced it by the 1880’s.  The term Clydesdale Terrier then went out of favor and was once again replaced by Paisley Terrier.  At the same time that the Paisley Terrier was being developed, British dog fancy was entering a new phase.  In the late 1700’s, breeders of English Foxhounds had begun to keep stud books and form clubs to keep their stock pure and to improve it to the greatest extent possible.  Their efforts were so successful that breeders of many dogs across Britain began following their example.  In order to choose the best breeding examples, dog shows were held to decide the best specimens of each breed.  Paisley Terriers were regularly exhibited at the first dog shows, usually in the same classes as Skye Terriers.  The beautiful coats of Paisley Terriers made them quite popular at early dog shows, and the breed regularly competed very successfully against other Skye Terriers.  Breeding for dog shows had a major impact on the appearance of the Paisley Terrier, and their coats became even longer and silkier.  Their size also seems to have further diminished.  It became a common practice for Paisley Terriers to be placed on a box at dog shows, so that the full length of their coats could be observed.  Although popular in the show ring, the Paisley Terrier remained considerably less popular as a companion dog than its ancestor Skye Terrier outside of Clydesdale, Paisley, and possibly Glasgow.  The Paisley Terrier was considered to be the ideal pet for a woman who wanted a companion dog that was more substantial than a toy breed.


As a result of the Industrial Revolution, a number of English Cities in Yorkshire and Lancashire developed into major industrial centers.  These factories needed more workers than the local population could supply, and substantial numbers of Scottish immigrants arrived.  Many of these immigrants brought along their Terriers with them.  The most common companion dogs in Scotland at the time, Skye and Paisley Terriers were probably the most common Terriers brought by these immigrants.  The local population of English workers became great fanciers of these dogs and began to breed them themselves.  The English breeders favored even smaller and shorter backed dogs than the Paisley Terrier, and the breed’s appearance changed once again.  They also favored those dogs with the longest and sillkiest hair, and those traits were even further heightened.  English breeders almost certainly introduced other Terrier breeds into local Paisley Terrier lines, although exactly which ones have been a matter of intense dispute ever sense.  In around the year 1865, a Terrier was born from primarily Paisley Terrier stock named Huddersfield Ben.  Huddersfield Ben was became one of the winningest show dogs of all time.  He was seen as the ideal example of his breed, and became one of the most influential stud dogs in history.  Partially as a result of the immense popularity of Huddersfield Ben, the dogs of Yorkshire and Lancashire began to be seen as a different breed than the Paisley and Skye Terriers, known as Yorkshire Terriers.  Yorkshire Terriers quickly became extremely popular throughout England.  Immigrants to Australia began to bring their Yorkshire Terriers with them to the Southern Hemisphere, where they played pivotal roles in the development of both the Australian Terrier and the Silky Terrier.  Although popular in both England and Australia, the Yorkshire Terrier is most popular in the United States.  The breed regularly ranks in the top ten in terms of American Kennel Club (AKC) recognitions, and for the last 20 years has regularly placed in the top 5.


The continuing popularity of the Skye Terrier had long limited the popularity of the Paisley Terrier, but the rise of the Yorkshire Terrier all but ended it.  The Yorkshire Terrier increasingly replaced the Paisley Terrier in both the show ring and as a companion animal.  The Paisley Terrier was described as, “Neither fish, fowl, nor good red herring,” meaning that the breed did not have a true niche.  It neither possessed the working ability of the Skye Terrier nor the ideal companion and show nature of the Yorkshire Terrier.  In 1887, the Clydesdale Terrier Club was founded and the Kennel Club began to hold separate classes for the dog, which up until that point had been shown alongside the Skye Terrier.  This division was driven as much by fanciers of the Skye Terrier as much as anyone else, as they disliked having to compete against dogs that they considered to be an entirely separate breed from theirs.  By this point, the Paisley Terrier was already quite rare, and these classes had comparatively few entrants.  The Kennel Club showed little interest in continuing the separate classes, and they disappeared within a few years.  The Clydesdale Terrier Club itself ceased operation after a few years.  It was replaced by the Paisley Terrier Club, for a few years, but that too soon folded.  Paisley Terrier fanciers insisted that the dog retained a substantial amount of rat killing ability, but most outside observers felt that the breed was only suited to life as a companion dog.  In 1894, renowned Terrier man Rawdon B. Lee wrote The Terriers: A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland, in it he included a chapter on the Paisley Terrier, and seemed to take a moderate position. “The Clydesdale or Paisley terrier, though he can kill rats, and maybe other vermin, is essentially a pet dog, and is usually kept as such.”


The Paisley Terrier became increasingly unpopular, and its fanciers began to turn to other breeds.  There were a number of dedicated followers in Glasgow, which eventually grew to overtake Paisley, and Clydesdale.  The breed was still definitely being bred as late as 1903, but was becoming increasingly scarce.  Some of the last Paisley Terriers were almost certainly entered into breeding lines of both the Skye Terrier and the Yorkshire Terrier.  It is unclear exactly when the Paisley Terrier went extinct as a unique variety.  The breed probably survived at least until World War I, but since there do not seem to be any records of the dog after that time, it is very likely that it was a casualty of that conflict.




The Paisley Terrier was midway in appearance between its ancestor the Skye Terrier and its descendant the Yorkshire Terrier.  The breed was quite small, typically weighing about 7kg (approximately 16 pounds).  This weight is about one half the weight of a modern Skye Terrier and between 2 and 5 times the weight of a modern Yorkshire Terrier.  The breed was very short, largely due to the reduced length of its legs.  The dog’s body was quite elongated, although to a lesser extent than that of the Skye Terrier.  This breed was generally slightly less than twice as long from chest to rump as it was tall from floor to shoulder.  The Paisley Terrier’s face was shorter than those of most Terriers, but nowhere near that of a breed such as an English Bulldog.  The jaws of this dog were relatively wide, and had enough power to kill a rat if necessary.  The eyes of this breed were usually obscured by its hair, which was sometimes tied back to allow it to see.  The Paisley Terrier’s ears usually stood straight up like those of the Skye Terrier, although some apparently were semi-drop or full-drop.


The Paisley Terrier was most well known for its coat.  The Paisley Terrier’s coat was very long, often growing so long that it dragged on the floor.  It was also incredibly silky, with a bright sheen.  Breed standards did not call for dogs with soft coats, but towards the end of the breed’s existence many of these dogs did have such coats.  The dog’s coat was found in the greys, blacks, and browns of the Skye Terrier and the Yorkshire Terrier, and it frequently had the saddle markings commonly found on those breeds.  This coat required a substantial amount of care, which allegedly contributed to the dog’s lack of popularity.


1903 Paisley Terrier Breed Standard



The Paisley Terrier was supposedly extremely devoted and affectionate, and the breed was known to make an excellent companion dog.  It appears that this dog was somewhat less dog aggressive than other Terriers, as well as being generally less hard-tempered.  The Paisley Terrier possessed a substantial amount of animal aggression, and was a willing, if not highly-skilled ratter.  The Paisley Terrier was considerably more capable than most toys, but it did not possess the stamina and hardiness necessary for a true working Terrier.


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