The Wire Fox Terrier is believed to have originated in the British Isles during the 1600s, having descended from the rough coated, black and tan, and other common working terrier type dogs of the day in Wales, Derbyshire, Durham, and other areas of England. These early terriers were bred to “go to ground” meaning chase their prey underground into their dens and then “bolt” them back out. They were used for chasing and killing small animals such as rats or hares that could cause damage to a farmer’s crops and during the 1800’s for the exceptionally popular pastime of fox-hunting. These scrappy little dogs were found in Britain by the Romans when they invaded in 54 B.C. and are mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s encyclopedia of Natural History, written between 77 and 79 A.D.
British author Gilpin wrote of a Hampshire squire in the 1600s who kept hounds, Spaniels, and Terriers that were clearly part of a country gentleman's sporting group in that century. Paintings from the 1700s depict dogs that resemble the Smooth and the Wire Fox Terriers. In the early part of the 1700s a Dutch painter named Hamilton created a likeness of a white wire haired Terrier that looks almost exactly like the modern day Wire Fox Terrier, except for the nose, which was pink rather than black.
The early Wire Fox Terriers were originally known as the Rough-haired Terrier. Initially Smooth and Wire Fox Terriers were considered two varieties of the same breed. Exactly which breeds mixed to create the modern version of the breed—or even to generate the show dog version of the late 1800s—is uncertain. Beagles, Greyhounds, Bull-terriers, and even Mastiffs have commonly been cited as being part of the mix, but no one knows for sure. Author Vero Shaw vigorously denounces any such possibilities, writing in “The Illustrated Dog Book “(1881): “The show Fox Terrier (when good) owes his origin, not, as some would have us believe, to ingeniously-welded crosses of Bull-terrier, Beagle, etc., but to the old kennel Terrier of thirty years back.” However, we do know that for a period of time in the 1800s, the Wire Fox Terrier was crossed with the Smooth version of the breed in order to obtain more white in the coat color, cleaner lines for the head, and a more classical figure. But by the early 1900s, the two breeds were no longer mixed.
Possibly as long as a century before the breed was officially recognized by the Kennel Club, various regions of England had pockets of huntsmen and country gentlemen who bred and valued their own high quality strains. These strains gained popularity and were generally known only within their own region. In The Sportsman's Cabinet, published 1803, author Taplin asserts that Fox Terriers were carefully bred, with some strains in particular being very highly valued, indicated by the recorded prices paid for the dogs at the end of the 1700s (which Vero Shaw contends were still good prices, even in the late 1800s). Taplin describes the essential duties of the hunt of the Wire and Smooth Fox Terriers. He makes it clear the Wire Fox Terrier was the more essential of the two types to the hunt. The Smooth, smaller in size, was a backup in case the Wire Fox Terrier was too big to fit in the hole; the Smooth would go in first, paving the way, then retreat to let the Wire Fox Terrier do his work. Both however, were important enough that one of each always accompanied a pack of hounds on the hunt.
As to the origin of the show dog version of the Wire Fox Terrier, it is known that before the mid 1800s, there was a breed of white rough-haired terrier similar in appearance to Dandie Dinmont Terriers or Bedlington Terriers, but with harder coats. Also in Shropshire, a well known breed of rough-haired Terrier existed that was black and tan with short legs and weighed about ten or twelve pounds. They had long heads and were extraordinary workers. Also in existence were sandy colored Terriers that resembled the present day Irish Terrier. Either of those crossed with Smooth Fox Terriers could have resulted in the development of the Wire Fox Terrier present in the show ring during the late 1800s.
In the 1860s, Smooth Fox Terriers began to appear in dog shows, starting with the British cities of Birmingham, Leeds, and Manchester. The Fox Terrier Club of the U.K. (FTC) was formed in 1876 for both Wire and Smooth Fox Terriers. The breed standard drawn up by the club that year has not changed much, except for the weight for male show dogs, which was reduced from 20 to 18 pounds. When Fox Terriers first began to be shown, anything resembling a terrier was admitted, but over time, breeders and exhibitors became more knowledgeable and more selective. Looking back on the early days of Fox Terrier show dogs, Rawden B. Lee, author of “A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland” (1894) wrote of that time, “Any kind of rubbish almost could have been palmed off as the genuine article twenty five years since; but a difference prevails now.”
But the popularity of the Wire Fox Terrier would lag behind that of the Smooth Fox Terrier. Wire Fox Terriers did not have a class at dog shows until 1872—nine years after the Smooth Fox Terriers. They were first given one at Birmingham, but very few were shown between 1872 and 1880. Rawden Lee attributed the breed’s lack of progress in gaining popularity to the ignorance of judges. 1875 marked the beginning of a steady increase in Fox Terriers at K.C. dog shows. In 1881, Vero Shaw noted that Fox Terriers (which at that time included Wire and Smooth Fox Terriers) had “become fashionable, amongst the fair sex especially”. He attributed their popularity to their good looks and to the possession of a better disposition than that of the Bull Terrier.
As Fox Terriers became more established on the dog show circuit, competition among patrons increased. This competition fueled research into breed history in search of “royal” lineages. Wire Fox Terriers were featured on sporting prints and before long magazines and journals emerged, such as the “Fox Terrier Chronicle”, which were devoted exclusively to the breed. Prominent and well-to-do men founded associations to continue the lineage and improve the type.
In 1884 at the Cambridge Dog Show, Mr. Glynn’s Wire Fox Terrier Chesterton Tom won first prize. In 1889 Mr. Harry Jones bred Ch. Jack St. Leger, whom Jones ran with the Essex Union Hounds on a regular basis. His Wire Fox Terrier beat all the champions on the bench at the time. Mr. Thornton, a Yorkshire squire who lived near Pickering, had tan and black Wire Fox Terriers weighing about 16 pounds, with long Terrier heads, and drop ears--just like the show Wire Fox Terriers, except for color. One of those dogs was crossed with a Smooth, producing a strain of white Wire Fox Terriers. The most famous of them was Kendall's Old Tip, a kennel Terrier from Sinnington Hounds.
Old Tip, born in 1866, is considered the source of the modern Wire Fox Terrier. White with one marked ear, he was 16 lbs and an amazing working dog. Old Tip was never entered in dog shows, but used strictly for work. Most prize winners since then have some bit of his strain in them. He sired one of the best of the breed, Carrick's Venture. Old Tip also sired three champions, all male: Pincher, born in 1869; Old Jester, born in 1875; and Young Jester, born 1880. The latter sired Knavesmire Jest in 1886 who in turn, sired Meersbrook Bristles in 1892. Meersbrook Bristles, who had the much valued hound markings still favored today, sired many champions. He was sold to Mr. Keys in Boston for what was considered at the time to be a considerable sum. Meersbrook Bristles marked the beginning of reliable record keeping for the breed.
One of Bristles’ sons was Meersbrook Ben, born 1894, grandfather of Cackler of Notts, born 1898. Cackler’s son was Caesar of Notts, beloved dog of King Edward VII in the early 1900s. Caesar wore a collar inscribed: “I am Caesar. I belong to the King.” King Edward VII’s Caesar helped popularize the breed. When the king died in 1910, Caesar followed his casket in the funeral procession. Another famous owner was Charles Darwin, whose Wire Fox Terrier Polly was his constant companion until his death April 19, 1882. Polly died the day after he did.
Shaw points out that Wire Fox Terrier coats were one of the biggest concerns in breeding and showing. The coats "should be short, hard, dense, and feel like a wire brush when touched.” He wrote that the coats were too often long, soft, and easily exposed the skin, not offering the protection they need. A proper coat repels rain; the other absorbs it. A too soft, thin coat, after a working Terrier’s day, would end up looking more like “sloppy seaweed."
The rougher, denser, and harder the coat on the Wire Fox Terrier, the better and, according to The Kennel Club History, published 1905, some dog show exhibitors would go to great lengths to attain it. In 1885 the club historian writes that the K.C. Committee’s work load was increasing as it grew, and new issues were cropping up. One new problem concerned exhibitors of Wire Fox Terriers attempting to create the illusion of denser, rougher coats. Alum and magnesia were two substances applied to show dogs’ coats to make them appear stiffer. At the Kennel Club Show held in October 1894, a kennel man actually singed the coat of one Wire Fox Terrier to make it rougher. Initially both the exhibitor and kennel man were accused of tampering with the dog’s coat, but after hearing testimony, the Committee determined the exhibitor was unaware of what happened; the kennel man was suspended for six months.
In 1895 an exhibitor’s Wire Fox Terriers were disqualified at the Fox Terrier’s Club Show in Derby, for “having their coats artificially stiffened”. The exhibitor admitted he used a preparation of magnesia “for cleaning purposes” only, when appealing the decision to the K.C. Committee, but they upheld the decision to disqualify his dogs. In another incident which occurred in1902 at the Cambridge Dog Show, the first prize winner, a Wire Fox Terrier, was found to have a foreign substance on its coat. When an objection was raised, The Cambridge Show Committee acknowledged that the dog’s coat contained a hard substance, which was against K.C. rules, but decided the substance was for whitening the coat. They allowed the dog to retain first prize. Major de Castro objected to their ruling and appealed to the K.C. Committee. He insisted, quite rightly, that the hard substance made the dog’s coat denser and rougher to the touch, giving an unfair advantage. The K.C. Committee agreed and reversed the Cambridge Show Committee’s decision.
On January 22, 1913, The Wire Fox Terrier Association (WFTA) in Britain was organized, not because of discord within the FTC, but rather because the founders believed the establishment of an exclusively Wire Fox Terrier club would benefit the breed. Once the WFTA was formed, the Wire and Smooth Fox Terrier’s genetic registries were separated.
Mr. Harding Fox owned many dogs of various breeds and was active in the Kennel Club. He was elected to the K.C. Committee in 1877 and continued to be involved in the early 1900s. Of the many breeds he owned, Wire Fox Terriers were one of his most successful. Some of his best were: Ch. Thorn, Ch. Oakleigh Topper (winner of the first Fox Terrier Derby), Ch. New boy, Ch. Timothy Foiler, Ch. Birch, Ch. Gladys Broom, and Ch. Violet Broom.
Kathleen, Duchess of Newcastle, was a famous breeder, exhibitor, and judge of Wire Fox Terriers. In 1899 the Kennel Club created the Ladies’ Branch of the K.C.; the Duchess of Newcastle was elected to be its first Chairperson. She also served as President of the WFTA from 1916 to 1919, remaining a member until she died in 1955. Her dogs were of the suffix “of Notts”, a strain that played a major role in the development of the Wire Fox Terrier. Her dogs formed the foundation of some of the early 1900s’ most successful pedigrees, including Comedian of Notts, Ch. Chunky of Notts, Int. Ch. Welwire Barrington Bridegroom, and Ch. Talavera Simon. In 1916 Ch. Common Scamp of Notts won his first Challenge Certificate at the WFTA Championship Show and Ch. Cocoatina of Notts won the WFTA Grand Challenge Cup. For their centenary calendar, the WFTA used Comedian of Notts’ picture to show one of the leading dogs of the breed from the early 1900s when the club was first organized.
The Duchess sold Ch. Talavera Simon, born 1924, to Colonel H.R. Phipps. Bob Barlow was Simon’s handler. Col. Phipps joined the WFTA in 1923, adopting the prefix Talavera for his stock. Most Wire Fox Terriers in existence today have blood from either Ch. Talavera Simon or his son Romulus. Phipps owned or bred fifteen champion Wire Fox Terriers. These champions included: Simon, Talavera Marcus, Gamester, Margaret, Ethel, Bishop’s Neglected, Newmarket Brandy Snap, Paul, Cynthia, Romulus, Priscilla, Jupiter, David, Nigel, and Ch. Stocksmoor Sportsman.
Colonel Phipps served in World War I and World War II. He earned the Military Cross in the First World War, after being wounded three times. When not serving his country, he devoted himself to canine matters. He sat on three committees in the Kennel Club, served as President of the Kensington Canine Society, and bore the title Master of Foxhounds through his association with three foxhunting packs. After the Second World War, he was in demand as a judge of terrier breeds.
Mr. J.A. Brearley from Elland, West Yorkshire, bought Ch. Talavera Romulus and Ch Talavera Nigel, shortly before WWII. He started a breeding program with his female Wire Fox Terrier Wyredene Fashion Queen, who eventually became his first Wire Fox Terrier champion. Brearley began breeding and showing them after winning over 7,000 awards for exhibiting his stock of rough coated St. Bernards. Nigel won nine consecutive Challenge Certificates in 1935. Both Romulus and Nigel were famous stud dogs, sought after into the mid1940s. Romulus produced so many winners he was considered the best stud in the country at the time. He is considered the father of the modern Wire Fox Terrier.
The Zeloy strain of Wire Fox Terriers greatly influenced the breed after WWII. Ernest “Robby” Robinson bred Ch. Zeloy Emperor in March 1960. Emperor sired twenty two British champions, thirty three U.S. champions, and many more in Europe, Japan, and Australia. Robinson bred Wire Fox Terriers for twenty years before Emperor was born. He conditioned and handled his Zeloy dogs himself, an unusual practice in the 1960s and 1970s. While Emperor was the most influential champion from the Zeloy Kennel, other great Zeloy Wire Fox Terriers included: Zeloy Crusader, Zeloy Select, Meritor Zeloy Sunflower, Zeloy Mooremaides Magic, and Gosmore Kirkmoor Storm. Emperor, known as Billy, was first shown at Cruft’s in 1961. After Robby died in 1972, he went to live as a house pet with the Van der Hoevens of Holland, who ran Pickwick Kennels. The Van der Hoevens had two other Zeloy dogs, Ch. Zeloy Select and Ch. Zeloy Escort. When Emperor (Billy) died, Mrs. Van der Hoeven built a mausoleum for him.
Cyril Whitham was a friend of Robby Robinson’s and a fellow breeder. He and Robinson attended many dog shows together. Whitham and his wife Edith also left their mark on the breed history. They bred many champion Wire Fox Terriers (as well as Smooth Fox Terriers and Lakeland Terriers). Their Townville Kennels produced twenty-six champions in the U.K. and more champions were produced overseas, bred from their stock. Whitham had served as a President of the WFTA and was also on the committee and board of trustees for the FTC.
The first Wire Fox Terriers arrived in the U.S. in the early 1880s, a few years after the Smooth Fox Terriers. In 1885 both the Smooth and Wire Fox Terriers were recognized by the AKC and the parent club, the American Fox Terrier Club (AFTC), was formed. In 1888 the AFTC became the first breed club recognized by the AKC. In 1985 the AKC recognized the two distinct breeds, the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Wire Fox Terrier. The standards, however, are still maintained at the AFTC.
In ‘The American Hunting Dog’ by Warren Hastings (1925), the author recommends the Wire Fox Terrier as the ideal house pet for a man seeking a dog for his wife and daughter, that would be clean and able to learn tricks. Hastings says the “wire-haired foxy is an exceedingly intelligent little dog and has not the nervousness and fussiness that made the smooth fox terrier so unpopular.”
The 1930s showed an upsurge in the popularity of the Wire Fox Terrier as a family pet in the United States, thanks to the feature films, The Thin Man, which included a Wire Fox Terrier named Asta in the Charles Family. Also, a Wire Fox Terrier named Milou in the comic strip The Adventures of Tintin helped familiarize the public with the breed. Other TV and movie appearance of the breed included: George, who played alongside Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby (1938); Mr. Smith in The Awful Truth (1937) starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant; Mr. Atlas in Topper Takes a Trip (1938); Scruffy in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (the TV series, 1968-1970). In fact, Asta, George, Mr. Smith, and Skippy were all played by the same dog (whose real name happened to be Skippy).
But by the late 1900s the Wire Fox Terrier’s popularity as a pet declined, in part because of the challenge of keeping this breed in suburbs or cities with their strong hunting instincts. Another factor was no doubt the change in lifestyle of American families. In most homes, people were (and are) gone for most of the day and into the evening. Such a situation leaves the Wire Fox Terrier without needed social interaction, and possibly deprived of adequate mental and physical exercise. However, as a show dog, the Wire Fox Terrier is doing quite well. In 2010, the breed received more Best in Show titles (thirteen) at Westminster Kennel Club than any other breed.
A movie, Moonrise Kingdom, slated to open in 2012, will feature a Wire Fox Terrier (the only dog in the movie). The dog will star alongside such well known actors as Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Frances McDormand, and Owen Wilson. The director, Wes Anderson, was nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001. The canine star in real life is Bella, the ten year old pride and joy of owner Lucia K. Hackett. When Ms. Hackett acquired her, Bella was already a retired champion AKC show dog at the ripe old age of three and a half. Not new to acting, Bella played in Animal Planet’s Dogs 101 in 2008. She also had a role in Fetch with Ruff Ruffman, an educational PBS children’s show, in 2009.
The Wire Fox Terrier has shown a steady decrease in popularity over the last ten years, according to the AKC breed survey. In 2000 the Wire Fox Terrier ranked 68th, while in the latest 2010 survey, its popularity ranking has fallen to 97th out of 167 breeds. Today’s Wire Fox Terriers excel at hunting, tracking, agility, and obedience competitions. These dogs are also used for search and rescue operations, drug detection, and as service animals for the disabled.
The Wire Fox Terrier is a small to medium sized dog. Their height and weight standards are not stringent because they are working dogs. Generally, a male Wire Fox Terrier should weigh 18 pounds for show purposes; a female should weigh a couple of pounds less. The male should not be any taller than 15 ½ inches (measured from ground to withers) and the females should be slightly shorter than the males. The length of the back, from withers to the root of the tails, should be no more than 12 inches.
Their coats are mostly white. The remainder is usually black and tan or brown, but may be almost any color with the exceptions of brindle, red, liver, or slate blue. Their dense outer coats are wiry in texture. It should be so dense that you cannot see the skin when you part the hair with your fingers. The hairs are twisted, similar to the outside covering on a coconut. Coat hair may be wavy or crinkled, but not curly. Length of hair depends on climate and season, so the following is offered only as guidelines. The average length of hair on the shoulders and neck is three-quarters to one inch; one and one-half inches on withers, back, ribs, and quarters. They do have an undercoat of shorter, softer hair.
A fully grown male Wire Fox Terrier’s head should be seven or seven and one half inches from the back of the occipital to the nostrils. The female’s head should be slightly shorter. The length of the head from the skull to the foreface should be approximately the same. The skull’s topline slopes slightly, but is nearly flat, narrowing gradually from the top toward the eyes. A full grown male dog’s skull should be no wider than three and a half inches at the widest part; the female’s should be slightly narrower.
The Wire Fox Terrier’s small “V” shaped ears are of medium thickness and flap over, falling toward their cheeks. The topline of the fold easily shows above the level of the skull. Their small, round eyes are deep set and dark; the nose is black. The jaws are muscular and strong; the teeth clamp shut like a vise. The bottom canine teeth lock in front of the upper ones. The upper incisors overlap the lower ones at the points.
The muscular neck shows a graceful curve in profile. The Wire Fox Terrier’s back is short and level, not slack. Loins have a slight arch and are muscular. Their deep chests are never broad. Their shoulders slope down when seen from the front and appear long and laid back from the side. Elbows are perpendicular to the body. Legs are straight when looked at from any direction. The dog’s feet are round with well cushioned pads; the arched toes point straight forward. The Wire Fox Terrier’s hindquarters are muscular with long thighs and well curved stifles that point forward. Hocks are near to the ground, and look parallel to each other when viewed from the rear. When the dog moves, the legs should go straight forward, the main source of power coming from the dog’s hind legs.
The tail is set high, but does not curl across the back; Wire Fox Terriers make active use of their tails. Tails should not be docked more than one quarter of the length. (Please note that docking tails is illegal in much of Europe.)
The Wire Fox Terrier’s most distinctive traits are their high energy and intelligence. Although they love to be near you, they are not lap dogs. They are bred to be brave, bold, and loyal. These dogs are curious, cheerful, playful, friendly, affectionate, and enjoy their family’s company. They enjoy playing with children, making them a good fit for families. They make good watch dogs and will react protectively if they perceive a member of their family is in danger or threatened.
They must be socialized early in life to get along with cats and other household pets. They tend to dig and bark, so they need to be trained to stop these behaviors on command. You will need to socialize your Wire Fox Terrier puppy with other dogs as they do try to dominate. This breed will try to hunt and kill small animals, other than dogs. Keep leashed or in enclosed area. They like to explore and, even when well trained, may take off to chase a small animal.
Wire Fox Terriers are dominant, high energy dogs that require mental and physical exercise, as well as social stimulation, otherwise they become bored and frustrated. They need an hour of exercise every day, including a walk. Wire Fox Terriers can do well in an apartment, provided they get enough exercise, as they are active indoors.
This breed is easy to train because of their intelligence, but obedience training can be challenging because they are also independent and stubborn. They will try to take over so you must be a firm, consistent leader. If you are not a strong leader with your Wire Fox Terrier, the dog will run your home and display destructive behaviors. Always provide consistent rules to follow, firmly reinforce them. Provide your pet with limits regarding what they may or may not do. Every day, make sure you give them a pack walk (where you are clearly in charge).
A note of caution, however, these dogs are not for everyone. Many are abandoned or given away because they may run away instead of coming on command; they may chase cars or people on bikes, attack other animals, including other dogs and household cats. They are bred to be fearless hunters, so these are not abnormal behaviors; it takes an owner or owners with firm control and the willingness to provide enough stimulation and exercise to keep these dogs happy and obedient.
These active dogs excel in agility events. Wire Fox Terriers exhibit drive and determination; they dig “tirelessly” for underground vermin. On Corin’s breed intelligence test, this breed ranks fifty-one, falling soundly in the average category for working and obedience.
If the Wire Fox Terrier is a family pet and not a show dog, brushing once or twice a week with a bristle brush will do. These dogs are light shedders. Coats should be professionally stripped at least a few times a year. If you have a show dog, more frequent stripping is required, along with professional grooming. Cutting a Wire Fox Terrier’s hair is not recommended because it ruins the wiry texture and fades the colors of the coat. Bathe when needed.
Wire Fox Terriers are hardy and long lived, therefore no breed testing exists for hereditary or clinical defects. A genetic predisposition to epilepsy is the main health concern for Wire Fox Terriers. You can expect your Wire Fox Terrier to live twelve to fifteen years or more.
Other health concerns for this breed are: