They look like lambs in the show ring, and they’re as gentle as lambs around the house. So, it comes as a bit of shock to discover that Bedlingtons spent most of the 1800s doing dirty, and sometimes deadly, work. Created in the Northumberland mining shire that gave the breed its name, Bedlingtons were a workingman’s dog expected to be versatile enough to be employed as coalmine ratters, varmint killers, and pit fighters. The breed acquired the nickname “Gypsy Dog” because it was used by the wandering Romanies as a stealthy poaching partner. An observer of the breed’s formative years wrote that the Bedlington was the “smartest and quickest of our terriers.”

The first dog identified as a Bedlington Terrier, named Piper, was bred in 1825. It was said that Piper was so game that he was still dispatching badgers at age 14, and nearly blind and toothless. The nail makers of Bedlington took a fancy to the breed and became known for their plucky terriers. The shire’s miners and nailers wagered their salaries on epic dogfights, pitting their terriers against each other. A breed historian noted, “Bedlingtons were never a mischief maker, but once he started fighting, it was to the death.”

Happily for us, Bedlingtons turned out to be even better lovers than fighters. Thanks to their ample charms, Bedlingtons eventually rose from coalmines and nail factories to the manor house. British elites found Bedlingtons to be bighearted, lovable companions, as well as attractive ornaments to their style-conscious lifestyle.

Refinement and consistency in the breed began with the formation of England’s National Bedlington Terrier Club in 1877. Nine years later, the AKC registered its first Bedlington. Today’s citizens of Bedlington, England, are still proud of their most famous export. Bedlington’s Northern League soccer team is called the Terriers, and the town has recently installed park benches shaped like its fleecy mascot breed.