Border Terrier

Border TerrierBorder Terrier

From the 1700s both the Lakeland and the Border Terrier shared the common purpose of fox hunting. A century later, their working heritage is reflected by the opening words written into their respective the Breed Standards. Today, the general appearance of the Border Terrier still states 'essentially a working terrier capable of following a horse'.

The History of the Border Terrier

Border Terriers c 1900Border Terriers c 1900

Terriers of the district where England meets Scotland were first given the generic name 'Border Terriers' meaning 'Terriers of the Border Region'. Their work of bolting foxes from their dens required no other description! Some two decades before they were recognized as a pure breed, they were described:

Border Terriers c 1920Border Terriers c 1920These Border Terriers have been running up and down Northumberland and other of the more northern counties since time immemorial almost. Of later years they have been taken in hand by some of the 'hunting men' on the Borders as more useful for their purpose than any of what may be called, without prejudice, fancy or fashionable varieties[1].

The Border Terrier becomes a Pure Breed

Border TerriersBorder Terriers

In 1920 the Border Terrier's fame was bolstered when the first breed Standard was written by Jacob Robson. Like his father before him, Jacob Robson had always kept forerunners of today's Border Terriers that ran with packs of Foxhounds. With nothing to guide these early breeders, the head was described in the first Breed Standard as having an 'an otter expression'. Additionally, because some of the original Border Terriers were a little larger than even today's Border Terrier Breed Standard requires, Jacob Robson stated:

when bigger they cannot follow their fox underground so well, and a little terrier that is thoroughly game is always best.[1] 

History of Border Terriers in Australia

Border Terrier NZ late 1970'sBorder Terrier NZ late 1970's

The Border Terrier did not become established in Australia until well into the 1970's with foundation stock coming from Rosemary Williamson's famous 'Patterdale' kennels in New Zealand. In particular, Robert Bartram from Queanbeyan, NSW near Canberra began with 'Brigit of Patterdale', then importing 'Rhozzum Venture' from UK who produced several Champions. These did much to put the Border Terrier on the map in Australia.

The Border Terrier Today

Today the Border Terrier should have a racy build with a deep, narrow, fairly long body historically allowed him to turn easily when in a fox's den. He should weigh around 5-7 kilos (11-15.5 lbs) with no height specified. He comes in red, wheaten, grizzle and tan and blue and tan, somewhat akin to his Lakeland Terrier cousin.

Among its unique features, the head of a Border Terrier is described 'like that of an otter', which was an animal familiar to Border Region huntsmen when the Breed Standard was first written. The following chart makes sense of this comparison:

Border Terrier Similarities Otter
Border TerrierBorder Terrier Front view similarities:
  • the shape and placement of the eyes
  • the square shape of the skull
  • the flatness of skull
  • the set of ears
Otter Otter
Border TerrierBorder Terrier Side view similarities:
  • the lack of definite stop
  • the short muzzle
  • the strength of the muzzle
  • the width and depth of the underjaw
  • the size of the nose
Otter Head Profile

Judging a Border Terrier

Spanning a TerrierSpanning a Terrier

There are two unique procedures that should be followed when judging a Border Terrier.

1. Spanning a terrier. The 'fairly long' body must be built so the dog is capable of following the fox underground to its den. Like the Parson Russell Terrier (pictured) the Border Terrier must have a chest sufficiently small it can enter the fox's den and then wriggle through confined spaces to bolt the fox. The ability of the dog to do so is tested by spanning. As demonstrated, this means that when the fingers of an average sized man meet at the sternum, the thumbs should also be able to touch each other behind the withers of the dog.

Checking the PeltChecking the Pelt

2. Examining the skin or pelt. This should be grasped across the dog's back with both hands as shown. Then exceptionally thick, flexible skin is easily assessed. This specialized skin protects the dog so it can safely wriggle past the jagged edges of tree roots and rocks encountered within the confines of fox dens. The skin or pelt is covered by a rough coat.

Because the Border Terrier had to dig its way into the denss where the foxes lived, he has a Terrier front. Combined with this 'fairly long' body, his hindquarters are described as 'racy'. But this racy build must also have the strength required to be 'capable of following a horse'.

Border Terrier (Blue and Tan)Border Terrier (Blue and Tan)

The tail of the Border Terrier is described as 'fairly thick and the base and tapering'. Most working terriers should  have tails which are thick at the base, so hunters could use the tail as a handle to pull the terrier out of a burrow or den, should the necessity arise. Hence the common saying among terrier folk 'no tail no terrier'. The photo below is of a Border Terrier taking part in the discipline of 'Earthdog' where he is entering an artificial den.

Border Terrier entering artificial Earthdog denBorder Terrier entering artificial Earthdog den

Although the Standard calls for the tail to be 'set high' and 'carried gaily' the Border Terrier's tail set-on and carriage should not be as high set as those terriers whose Breed Standards have similar wording but also require the back to be short. Combined with the lower set tail, the Border Terrier's body is described as 'fairly long'.  So the Border Terrier's tail should not come vertically off the topline like that of the shorter backed terriers. Instead the correct tail set-on and carriage should be comparatively lower as ideally pictured.


We have now published a unique Terrier book 'Terriers Unveiled' Available at our sister site:

References and Further Reading

[1] Rawdon B. Lee, "Modern Dogs" of Great Britain and Ireland (Third Edition) London:Horace Cox, "Field" Office, Windsor House, Bream's Buildings, E.C. 1903 Chapter XV1, Pages 451 - 455

See also Jane Harvey DVD "Terriers Then & Now" Published Rangeaire Vision 2002-2004 ISBN 978-0-9804296-4-0