Officially recognized by The Kennel Club in Great Britain in 1920, and by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1930, the Border Terrier shares its ancestry with both the Dandie Dinmont Terrier and Bedlington Terrier. It’s name originating from the Scottish Borders, the Border Terrier was believed to have originated sometime during the 14th century and though the breed is many hundreds of generations removed from its original ancestors it has maintained its original hunting abilities more so than many other comparably old breeds. Accordingly Border Terriers have earned more American Kennel Club (AKC) Earthdog titles than any other breed of terrier. Though sometimes considered to be stubborn or strong willed, border terriers are, for the most part a very even tempered, friendly and rarely aggressive breed. They are typically good with children, but may chase cats and any other small pets.
The Border Terrier is a small rough coated breed originally developed as a fox and vermin hunter in and around the Cheviot Hills between England and Scotland. This region, which included what is now Northumberland (located in the far north of England) is known as the Border Country. It was once a barbarous no man’s land, the bloody ground of frequent wars between the Scots and the English. A slice of its violent history was portrayed in the movie “Braveheart” (1995). The frequent battles left the people who lived there starving and without resources and subject to senseless attacks from whichever army decided to plow through their land. After centuries of such pillaging and destruction, the land was so ravaged that those who did remain struggled to eke out their existence farming and sheepherding. Any lines of people or strains of dogs who managed to survive generation after generation in this forsaken territory, had to be tough as nails.
In the thirteenth century the people who lived in this territory took matters into their own hands. From the mid1200s into the 1600s, it was every clan for themselves, stealing sheep and cattle from each other. Raids, feuds, kidnapping, and murder were the stuff of everyday life. The ancestors of the Border Terrier survived in this milieu as well, and over time developed into three distinct Terrier breeds, through the judicious breeding of gentried sportsmen, farmers, and shepherds.
The first evidence of the Border Terriers’ ancestors comes from as early as 1219, when fox hunting had become a popular sport among the gentry. Sportsmen kept their own strains of hounds and Terriers. At this time forest land was owned by the King as his personal hunting grounds; history tells us that Sir John Fitz-Roberts, Sheriff of Northumberland, received permission from His Majesty King Henry III to keep his own Terriers for fox hunting in Northumberland’s forest. These dogs were the ancestors of the Dandie Dinmont, the Bedlington, and the Border Terrier and of the three Terrier breeds descended from dogs, the Border Terrier is believed to be the oldest, it having retained most of its original working Terrier traits.
For sportsmen’s purposes, the Terriers not only needed to be small to hunt underground, they also needed to be able to keep up with the horses and be pack oriented enough to get along with the pack of foxhounds. Therefore, they bred them to have longer legs and less dog-aggressive temperaments. Those traits, along with their otter shaped heads, differentiated them from other Terrier breeds then, as well as today.
The breed was also made hardy by the farmers and sheepherders who struggled to survive in the wild and rugged Border Country and who depended on their Terriers to protect their food and livestock from being decimated by foxes, rats, rabbits, and other vermin. A common practice among farmers in the 1700s, was to deprive their Border Terriers of food. This deprivation forced the dogs to fend for themselves, toughening them up and causing them to go after their prey more ferociously. Like the Border Country people, these Terriers needed to have the endurance to withstand long periods of time in physically harsh environments with limited food.
The Border Terrier’s hardiness is also attested to in their ability to not only navigate dangerous rocky areas, but the equally treacherous peat moss bogs of Northumberland. These bogs required the Terrier to swim underground after its prey, who might have found a dry spot in which to hide. It was not uncommon for Border Terriers to die in these bogs or even, after being rescued, die later from the physical stress.
By the 1700s, evidence of the Border Terrier being recognized as a distinct breed can be found in The Dogs of the British Isles (1872). In it John Walsh wrote that in the late 1700s, “another race of terriers, analogous to the real pepper-and-mustard was common on the Border…it was nearly like a Dandy on long legs, but with a shorter body, and in general, a [smaller] head…” Also, a portrait painted in the mid1700s, shows a man named Arthur Wentworth with his pack of foxhounds and Terriers, the latter very much resembling the Border Terrier.
Names of Border Country clans include the Robsons, Dodds, and Hedleys, with the Robsons being one of the most well known. By the 1800s, these three families kept some of the earliest known strains of Border Terriers; the Robson family, again, playing a lead role, this time in developing and establishing these Terriers as a distinct breed. In 1857, John Robson and John Dodd of Catcleugh, founded the Border Hunt in Northumberland. In those early days of the Border Hunts, these Terriers were considered at an ideal weight when fifteen to eighteen pounds. Mr. Robson and Mr. Dodd preferred the Border Terriers (not yet known by that name) above any other because of their keen noses, their gameness, and their superior ability to bolt foxes. Some of these early dogs had red noses; both John Robson and his son Jacob subscribed to the belief that red nosed Borders had the keener sense of smell than black nosed dogs.
Jacob Robson recalled a Border Terrier the family owned in the 1850s, a small mustard colored dog, Flint, who he believed was the best fox bolter he had ever seen. The dog lived for twenty years. He wrote of how he had witnessed Flint roust a fox from its hole without any “manning” (encouraging words from the hunters) after six or seven other good quality game Terriers had failed. Mr. Robson had such a high opinion of Flint that if the dog passed by a hole, he trusted that it did not have a fox in it; he claimed that Flint had gone underground as long as three days after his prey and came out virtually unscathed.
Jacob Robson named outstanding specimens of the breed he knew of in the mid 1800s, such as Nailer and Tanner, owned by Mr. Dodd of Catcleugh; Flint, Bess, Rap Dick, and Pep of Byrness (probably owned by the Robson family); Rock, Flint’s son who belonged to Mr. Hedley of Burnfoot; Tanner owned by Mr. R. Olivier; Bob, owned by Mr. Elliott of Hindhope; and Ben, who belonged to Mr. Robson of Newton. Other outstanding strains of Border Terriers of that era included those of the Sistersons of Yarrow Moor in North Tyne, Mr. Hedley of Bewshaugh, the Scotts and the Ballantynes, both of Lidderdale, and Ned Dunn of Whitelee, Reedwater.
In these early days of the breed’s development, they were often named after the locale in which a strain was kept, such as the Coquetdale Terriers and Reedwater Terriers. But by 1870, the breed was given the permanent nomenclature of Border Terrier, after the Border Hunt and the Border Foxhounds with which they worked. The 1870s were also the decade when large numbers of Border Terriers were shown in Agricultural Shows throughout the region. In 1878, William Hedley showed his Border Terrier, Border Bacchus at the Bellingham dog show. This show at Bellingham was considered one of the most important ones for the breed. Still, the Border Terrier, while becoming increasingly popular in its region, remained virtually unknown outside of it.
Jacob Robson and E.L. and Simon Dodd, offspring of the founders of the Border Hunt, became the joint masters of the Border Foxhounds in 1879 (a role they retained for fifty-four years). These men continued to promote the Border Terrier breed and eventually helped start its first breed club ‘The Border Terrier Club’ in 1920. But success did not come overnight. The Moss Trooper, born in 1912, sired by Jacob Robson’s dog Chip, was the first Border Terrier registered with the Kennel Club in 1913. Unfortunately it was under the category “Any Breed or Variety of British, Colonial, or Foreign Dog—Not Classified”. Between 1912 and 1919 forty-one Border Terriers were registered under this non-classification category. In 1914, the Kennel Club rejected Border Terrier breeders’ and owners’ application to recognize them as a distinct breed. Mr. Morris, from the Tyne area, and others, used the columns of “Our Dog” as a forum to push for the KC’s recognition of the breed. Their efforts came to fruition at long last in 1920.
On June 24th, 1920, The Border Terrier Club (BTC) was officially formed and Jasper Dodd was elected the club’s first president. This clubs formation coming after a group of breed enthusiast met at Harwick, where they argued the merits of forming a club. The main objection to the clubs formation was that the breed could lose its cherished working traits, so long maintained and honed, if the breeding focus was shifted from that of a working terrier to that a dog designed to win in the show ring. Mr. John Dodd of Riccarton argued against the formation of the club, but eventually joined with John and Jacob Robson to draw up a breed standard. After the draft of the standard was read at its Bellingham Show, objections were raised regarding the size standards. This would result in a change to the standard reducing the weight. On September 1st, of that same year application was made to the KC to create a separate register for the breed (giving it official recognition) and to register the name “The Border Terrier Club” (which already had 121 members) as its official parent organization; both applications were accepted by that same month. The BTC and later to come Border Terrier Club of America (BTCA) have made it their mission to keep the Border Terrier as much like the original working dog as possible.
In 1921 Mr. and Mrs. Dodd had the honor of owning the first male Border Terrier to be made up, Ch. Teri; Miss Bell Irving owned the first female Border Terrier Champion, Ch. Liddesdale Bess. In 1922 or 1923 Adam Forster’s Coquetdale Vic won the Cup at the North England Terrier Club dog show. Vic was born in 1916; his parents were Barron Jock and Nailer II, both unregistered Border Terriers.
No championship dog shows were held from 1940 to 1945 due to WWII; afterwards the KC ruled that championship shows could only be held by breed clubs and Border Terriers were allowed only two shows. By 1950 however, Border Terriers claimed eighty-three champions with 659 annual registrations; they had come a long way from the 111 registrations in 1920.
One of the Border Terrier’s outstanding stud dogs was Dandyhow Brussel Sprout, who was awarded a CC in 1963 and sired ten Champions. One of these Champions was Dandyhow Shady Knight, bred and owned by Mrs. Sullivan. Ch. Shady Knight won twenty-four CCs.
By 1975, the KC had 1,111 registered Border Terriers. At that time Ch. Step A Head was awarded fifteen CCs in one year, a record number of wins in a single year for the breed. Ch. Lyddington Lets Go was another outstanding Border Terrier, who became a Champion in 1981 and went on to sire seven British and three American Champions. His daughter, Nettleby Mullein, held the record for female Border Terriers, with eighteen CCs, until 1996. Today that record is held by Ch Brumberhill Betwixt; she earned twenty-five CCs in 2007. Among male Border Terriers, the record holder is Ch Brannigan of Brumberhill, who has thirty-one CCs; his record remains unbeaten. In 1988 he also won Reserve Best in Show at Crufts.
Even though Border Terriers were recognized by the AKC only a decade after the KC, in 1930, the breed is less popular in the United States than it is in Great Britain. However the Border Terrier Club of America (BTCA), formed in 1949, had only ten members and today continues to grow with 850 members. According to AKC popularity rankings from 2010, Border Terriers are 83rd out of 167 breeds. A much more popular dog in the United Kingdom, the KC’s latest ranking shows the Border Terrier as the 8th most popular breed, with 8,000 registrations, up from 10th most popular in 2006.
Still, Border Terriers are visible in popular culture in America, in movies, on TV, and as pets for the currently famous. Borders have played roles in many movies, such as “There’s Something About Mary” (“Puffy” is the movie name of the Border) and “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”. In the movie “Lassie” (2005), “Toots” is a Border Terrier. “Puffy’s” offspring, Raleigh (female) was a Border Terrier owned by the singer Clay Aiken. Also, in the TV show “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”, the character Mac has a pet Border Terrier named “Poppins”.
Today Border Terriers perform well in Earthdog, Obedience, and Agility competition. In fact, the Border Terrier has won the AKC Earthdog trials more than any other Terrier breed. They enjoy participating in tracking, with their keen sense of smell, and in flyball competitions. Their even-tempered, affectionate natures and gentleness with people also enable them to be used as therapy dogs for children, the elderly, and ailing adults.
Border Terriers are rough coated dogs of medium size, with a narrow, racing build. Male Border Terriers should weigh 13 to 15 ½ pounds and females 11 ½ to 14 pounds. The dog’s height (from ground to withers) should be slightly greater than the dog’s length from withers to tail. For instance, a 14 pound dog might be 1 to 1 ½ inches taller than it is long.
Border Terrier coats may be red, wheaten, blue and tan, or grizzle (dark gray) and tan. They can have a bit of white on their chest; dark muzzles are the norm and considered desirable. They are double coated dogs whose outer coat is wiry and broken but lies close to the body with no curling or waviness. The hair of their under coats is short and dense.
Their medium sized heads are otter shaped, with somewhat broad, flat skulls that are wide between the eyes and ears. They have slightly broad and curved stops which are not pronounced; their muzzles are short and filled-out and usually sporting a few short whiskers. The cheeks are a bit full and their black noses are of a generous size. Their teeth are strong and relatively large for the dog’s size; their mouths close in a scissors bite. Their dark hazel eyes are medium sized, and always have an alert expression that conveys intelligence. They have small, V shaped ears set more on the side of their heads, rather than high, not breaking above the line of the skull. Their moderately thick ears drop forward toward their cheeks.
The Border Terrier’s muscular neck is proportionate to its body, widening toward the shoulders. They have well laid back, long shoulders and chests. The chest is not too deep or narrow and the deep ribs are not overly sprung, but carried well back. Their shoulders, body, and hindquarters are narrow; their backs are straight with no dip behind the shoulders. A spannable body is a non-negotiable requirement for Border Terriers. This means that when a man, standing behind the dog, touches his thumbs right behind the dog’s shoulders, he can stretch his hands around its rib cage, and his middle fingers will meet under the dog’s chest.
On a Border Terrier, the body’s underline is straight and the loin is strong. The dog should have a loose-fitting and thick hide (they are the only Terrier breed with this requirement in their breed standard). Their tails are medium short, thick at the base tapering toward the end. The tail is set moderately high and carried jauntily when the dog is alerted, but not over its back.
The hindquarters are muscular and thighs are long; stifles are well bent, with well let down hocks. Their straight forelegs are wider than those of a Fox Terrier. Their small feet are compact, toes moderately arched, pointing forward, with thick pads. Border Terriers have a straight, rhythmical gait and a long stride with flexible motion of the hock and stifle. They are swift and agile when they move.
Border Terriers make fine family pets, provided they receive plenty of affection from their people. This breed also requires a lot of physical activity, so they will not do well in a sedentary household. Border Terriers are more even-tempered and less aggressive toward other dogs than most Terrier breeds.
While Border Terriers are affectionate they do not always require your attention, but they do desire to be in close proximity to you. They should never be forced to live outside and they do not do well if left alone most of the time. If your pet becomes bored or lonely, he or she may become destructive. If family members are gone most of the week day, owning two will help provide companionship until people arrive home.
They do well with children, but young children should be supervised with any dog breed. They need to be socialized with children, as well as other sized people, from puppyhood. Early socialization helps to prevent your pet from becoming either too timid or too aggressive.
Border Terriers have a loud bark and will alert you to approaching strangers, but will not act as a guard dog because they are friendly toward people. In fact, Borders tend to jump on visitors in their excitement, despite training to keep their feet on the floor.
While Borders are affectionate and gentle toward people, they are predatory toward small animals. If you have small pets such as rabbits or gerbils, you should not get a Border Terrier. Borders may be okay (but no guarantees!) with a cat in their household if the cat was there first, but they will attack non-household cats if given the opportunity. If you own more than one Border Terrier, it is better to have a male and a female to avoid any dominance issues. In the case of other dogs, early socialization is crucial. They are less aggressive toward other dogs than most Terriers, because they were bred to hunt with a pack of foxhounds, rather than on their own. But if they dislike another dog, Border Terriers will not hesitate to get in a fight.
Border Terriers are intelligent and want to please their owners, but they are slower to mature than many other dog breeds. Your pet will fare better with a regular, simple routine and will quickly anticipate your routine as well. Border Terriers are sensitive, even though they retain the Terrier stubbornness, so all training should be firm, consistent, and gentle. They are sensitive to noise, voice, and touch; use hands in a gentle, loving manner toward your dog. Socialize him or her as a puppy to every day noises.
Crate training works well for this breed, although no dog should be kept in a crate for more than four hours at a time during the day. Praise your dog for every good thing he or she does; never use harshness toward your pet. Their desire to please is so strong, that punishment or threats can ruin the happy, cooperative temperament of this dog. Use rewards and positive reinforcement to train your Border Terrier. Be aware that Border Terriers chew more than the average puppy and some of them never outgrow the tendency.
Border Terriers need a lot of exercise, both mental and physical. A daily walk on a leash is essential for mental and physical well being. They love task related games and activities because they are true working dogs. This breed loves to dig and climb, so even in a fenced yard, your dog should be supervised and the fence secured at top and bottom. Border Terriers have an instinct to bolt and chase small animals, with no sense of caution regarding cars. Therefore they should never be off leash outside an area that is not securely enclosed.
Border Terriers are adaptable and can do well in apartments, suburban homes, or in the country, provided they receive enough exercise and attention from their people.
Brush your Border Terrier weekly with a slicker brush in order to remove dead hair and keep your dog’s coat healthy and good looking. Border Terriers’ coats also need to be hand stripped twice a year. Clipping their coats will change both the color and texture of their hair and should be avoided.
Keep your Border Terrier’s nails clipped and teeth checked and cleaned on a regular basis. Bath only as needed; often a rub down with a damp towel will suffice. Too much bathing strips their coats of oils that maintain the health of their skin and the weather-resistant quality of their coat hair.
Border Terriers are a healthy breed with a life span of twelve to fourteen years, possibly longer. They do tend toward pudginess, so it is important to feed them the appropriate amount of food, provide a high quality diet, limit treats, and make sure they get a sufficient amount of physical activity.
Border Terriers often do not exibit signs of sickness or injury, because of their high pain tolerance, therefore it is important to know your dog and pay close attention to your pet’s health care. This breed is also sensitive to anesthesia, making them sometimes difficult to induce.
Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome (CECS), formerly known as Spike’s Disease, has recently been recognized as a health concern for dogs and a specific concern for Border Terriers. This hereditary disease can be mistakenly identified as canine epilepsy.
Some dogs with CECS experience only one or a handful of episodes, making it difficult to identify. Currently no definitive way to diagnose this syndrome exists, but at the University of Missouri, blood samples are being collected for research toward finding a DNA marker for CECS. Even though it is not curable, for many dogs the symptoms can be ameliorated with dietary changes.
Other health issues that may affect this breed include: