Life With Manchesters

manchester terrier running on grass

Like a lot of older breeds, histories differ on the origin and evolution of the Manchester. It’s (probably) safe for me to say that they are generally considered one of the foundation breeds behind many modern terriers. We know they did originate in England. They are recognizable in paintings from the 1700s as a small, smooth-coated, black and tan terrier. It seems likely they were used in the development of the Doberman Pinscher. Beyond that, opinions differ greatly, and since I am not quite old enough to have witnessed any of the above, I will stop here.

Like most terriers, they started out as hunters of vermin; probably first on farms, later in towns and, finally, in homes. They are still great hunters, and that prey drive allows them to do well in everything from Earthdog and Barn Hunt to Agility and Coursing. We even have some that have completed Tracking titles with no trouble. Obedience and Rally are also on the Manchester menu of THINGS I CAN DO WELL. One did a Freestyle dance routine with his owner at our 2013 National Specialty. With the right partner, they can pretty much do anything you want them to. Keeping laps and feet warm are other specialties.

In America, the breed is divided into two varieties: Toys and Standards. Toys must be under twelve pounds; Standards between twelve and twenty-two pounds. Our written Breed Standard calls for Toys to be a diminutive version of the Standard Manchester, but they must have a naturally upright ear. The Standard dogs may have a naturally upright ear, a button ear or a cropped ear. In this country, most are cropped. I believe America is the only country where the two are not considered separate breeds.

I was asked to mention why people would buy a Manchester and why I love having them. I had to stop and think about both these questions. The very first Manchester I ever met (a Standard) impressed me with her beauty, fierce loyalty to her owner, her regal mien, and her determination to check on my infant son every time she heard him cry. I believe she would have taken him home to raise if she’d been able. I’d never met a dog like her before and I never forgot her.

That was 1967 and I got my first Manchester (a Toy) in 1982. During the intervening years, we had become involved in showing Saint Bernards in Obedience and Breed, so I’d had some opportunity to see Manchesters at shows. I was flabbergasted when I saw several at a local show and learned that a woman I knew slightly had decided to “get into” the breed. She called me the first time she had a litter. We got our first bitch and have had them ever since. “Skeeter” got her name because my not overly enthused husband insisted the pups were “smaller than the skeeters.”

I loved that she marched into the house, looked around, and immediately started arranging things to suit herself. My skeptical husband was first on her list. It may have taken her half an hour to make him understand that his life had not been complete till she got there. I loved that she was not afraid of the Saints. Not stupid about it either—if she wasn’t up on a couch or a lap, she was always close to hidey hole and we did our part by making sure there were no unsupervised visits ’till the Saints realized she was actually a dog. I loved the way she approached the cats—very, very respectfully. I expect ours were not the first cats she had known.

I loved that she was quick to learn the rules, easy to house-train, and didn’t hold grudges. I loved that wiping her down with a damp towel, keeping her toenails back and her teeth clean was all the grooming needed to keep us both happy.

Thirty some years later, I still love all those things about the breed.

Nobody is perfect. Manchesters are terriers. Maxwell Riddle described terriers as being born with more Original Sin than other dogs. They are quick to use all that intelligence to manipulate their owners. It can be very hard to convince new owners that the lovely, dewy-eyed, tiny puppy asleep in their lap is dreaming of world domination, but, believe me, it is never far from their mind. Owners must be every bit as smart and just as stubborn as their dog is or they will end up living their own lives around what the dog wants—and wondering how it happened.

Why would someone want to buy one? They are striking animals. The combination of size and elegance makes them eye catchers. Their size makes them attractive to people living a modern lifestyle. It is nice to have a dog athletic enough to go running with you and small enough to pick up and carry as it grows up and can match your distance. They are playful in and out of the house and will quickly learn your likes and dislikes. They are generally healthy and the puppy you buy for your kid when he starts to school is often around to see him off to college. Then they will be there to comfort you.

Manchesters are dogs that demand a lot of their owners in the way of attention and training, but they give it all back in love, empathy, and fun. After all these years of living with them, I find it hard to figure out why anyone wouldn’t want one.