Border Terrier

Christine Bernsdorf
Dr Christine Bernsdorf (DVM, University of Queensland)
Photo of adult Border Terrier

Border Terriers are a small, rough-coated, breed of dog that originate from the farming communities of northern England and Scotland, where they were used to hunt foxes and other vermin. The Border Terrier has relatively long legs and a narrow body, which is ideal for running with the hunting pack, and for diving into underground burrows to flush out the animals within.

The Border Terrier has a very agreeable, affectionate, fun-loving nature and is an excellent companion dog for adults and children alike. It does not cope well with being left alone for long periods. Border Terriers are highly likely to chase after small animals, including the pet cat and guinea pig.

About & History

The Border Terrier comes from the rough, hilly, cold countryside of Northern England and Scotland, where it was used by farmers for centuries to hunt vermin. The Border Terrier’s specialty is hunting foxes and rodents, as its small narrow body can access the underground burrows and other small spaces where these animals take refuge.

Early names for the Border Terrier include the Coquetdale Terrier, Redesdale Terrier, and Reedwater Terrier, named after the regions from where it originated. The name Border Terrier was eventually settled on in the late 1800s due to the breeds long association with the traditional Border Hunt (fox hunt) in the Northumberland region. The word Terrier comes from the word ‘terra’, which is Latin for earth, and highly suited to this underground specialist.

Fox Hunting has a long tradition in England, Scotland and Wales, dating back to the 1600s. The Border Terrier became part of the Fox Hunt tradition, as it was used in combination with a pack of Fox Hounds, and rider’s on horseback, to chase foxes. The Border Terrier’s job was to chase the fox from the hole to make it accessible to the Fox Hounds and the hunters. Despite being small, the Border Terrier still needed to have long legs and stamina in order to keep up with the pack. In modern times, the tradition of fox hunting is either banned, or placed under legal restrictions, due to animal welfare concerns. The Border Terrier continues to be exceptionally useful as a farm dog and companion dog.

In 1920, the Border Terrier breed was first recognized by The Kennel Club in the United Kingdom, and is classified by all kennel clubs in the Terrier class. The Border Terrier shares ancestry with the Dandie Dinmont Terrier and the Bedlington Terrier.


Border Terrier Large Photo

The Border Terrier is a very natural looking dog, with a rough, slightly shaggy-appearing, outer coat in earthy colours. The Border Terrier is described as having an otter-shaped head, with a short-to-medium length muzzle, and strong jaws. The whiskers are short and scarce. The V-shaped ears fold forward toward the cheeks. The tail is moderately short, thick at the base, and tapers to the tip. The body is well proportioned, but narrow across the chest and hips. The legs are relatively long. In height, the male is usually 33-41 cm, while the female is usually 28-36 cm tall. The males are also usually heavier (5.9-7 kg) than the females (5.2-6.4 kg).

The Border Terrier has a double coat. The outer coat is harsh and dense, with no curl or wave, and offers protection from rain and dirt. The under coat is short, soft and dense, giving good thermal protection against the cold. The skin under the coat should be loose (not firmly attached to the underlying body) and thick, making it resistant to trauma when burrowing.

Coat colours variations include:

  • Red
  • Wheaten
  • Grizzle – Mixed colour coat (dark tips over a red or tan coat)
  • Blue & Tan – Black undercoat

Almost all Border Terriers have an irregular ring of silvery hair on the tail, about one-third of the distance from the base, and they all have dark coloured ears and a dark muzzle. All Border Terrier pups are born with a dark coat.

Character & Temperament

The Border Terrier is a good tempered dog, fun-loving and affectionate, and less aggressive than many other Terrier breeds. The Border Terrier was bred to have an amiable temperament because it was expected to cope well with living among a pack of Fox Hounds (also a good tempered dog). The Border Terrier normally gets along well with other dogs. Border Terriers that are adopted from rescue homes may not have had a balanced puppyhood and have the potential to show some aggression.

Border Terriers will sometimes demonstrate independent, strong-willed behavior, and if given the opportunity, might take themselves off on an exploratory walk. The Border Terrier will almost definitely have a penchant for chasing small animals such as cats, rodents, guinea pigs and squirrels, and may even kill the animal. Border Terriers often like to sit and watch what is going on in their environment before diving into action. They enjoy digging.

Border Terriers are excellent companion animals, and playmates for children, and can make wonderful therapy dogs, however, they need lots of attention and companionship. Border Terriers should not be left alone for long periods – this is not a breed that can left be in the backyard or apartment day-in day-out. Boredom and loneliness can lead to undesirable behaviours, such as loud barking, digging under fences, and chewing. Some lines of Border Terriers have been bred for a more mellow temperament, and these lines may be suitable for apartment living as long as the dog is given plenty of opportunity to get outside and exercise.

The Border Terrier can be jubilant in its greeting of any new arrival to the home, and is likely to jump up against the legs of the new arrival – this is a natural behavior, and should be accepted as part of the dog’s charm, although it may be possible to train out, using positive encouragement, rather than harshly-spoken words.

Border Terriers can be useful guard dogs as they will bark at any passerby – man, woman, child, or animal. This may, or may not be, a desirable trait. They may also enjoy an occasional howl.


Photo of Border Terrier puppy

The Border Terrier has a good memory and is easily trainable. It responds very well to positive encouragement such as pats, vocal praise and treats. Border Terriers are very food-orientated, which helps with training, but they should not be over-fed. Border Terriers are very sensitive, and do not respond well to harsh words or treatment, which can be counterproductive to developing a happy-natured dog.

The Border Terrier puppy will likely demonstrate many normal, but often undesirable behaviours, such as chewing, barking, and digging. It may take several years for the dog to mature into the balanced, easy-going, well-behaved pets that they usually are as adults. Training should begin early to ensure the pup learns what behaviours are appropriate. The Border Terrier might be able to be trained to tolerate the pet cat, but they must be closely supervised. Defenseless animals like guinea pigs should be well protected from the Border Terrier.

Border Terriers can enjoy the stimulation of many types of canine sports, including agility and Earthdogs trials. They are good at obedience, but will get bored with the repetitive activity – competitive obedience trials are probably not their forte.


Border Terriers are overall very healthy dogs. The average life span is 12-14 years. Border Terriers are at risk of becoming overweight because they enjoy food and are prone to over-eating. Care must be taken not to over feed them, and to balance their food intake with sufficient exercise. Some Border Terriers might eat their toys, which can cause varying degrees of intestinal blockage.

Border Terriers are a stoic breed, which means that if they feel unwell or have pain they will not necessarily demonstrate obvious signs. They may act a little more quiet or reserved than usual, and should be monitored closely and treated gently if they have gone quiet, with a possible visit to the veterinarian if the behaviour persists.

The Border Terrier suffers from very few genetic diseases. Below is a list of diseases that can occasionally affect Border Terriers, but keep in mind, in comparison to many pure bred dogs, these diseases are not common.

  • Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome: Often begins at about 3 years of age with the dog having sporadic episodes of difficulty walking and tremors, which can look similar to a seizure. They may vomit and have diarrhea. Possible triggers may include a diet change, excitement, stress, and waking from sleep. The cause is, at this stage unknown, and the disease may be genetic.
  • Epilepsy or Brain Tumours: Often begin at around 3 years of age, causing seizures
  • Border Terrier Leukodystrophy, or Shaking Puppy Syndrome: Causes severe tremors of the hind legs in puppies
  • Patellar (knee cap) Luxation
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: A hip disease that affects small breed dogs
  • Dental Problems: Bite malocclusion and possible tooth loss
  • Heart Defects: Quite rare
  • Eye Problems, such as Juvenile Cataracts and Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Allergies
  • Kidney Disease: Renal Dysplasia

When a Border Terrier undergoes anesthesia they are reportedly a little 'resistant' to the anesthetics and may take longer to lose consciousness than expected.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Border Terriers enjoy at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, but can be otherwise content doing whatever their human is doing. When allowed outside, Border Terriers love to explore their surroundings.

Border Terriers should always be walked on a lead in urban areas to prevent them chasing small animals, and to prevent them from running out in front of cars. This chasing instinct often becomes stronger as the dog gets older.

Border Terriers enjoy being given a task to do, they are good diggers, can run fast, jump high and even climb. They enjoy sports such as agility, terrier trials, flyball and Earthdog trials. Earthdog Trials are specifically designed for the terriers, and involve a series of underground tunnels, where the aim is to find a rat (protected by a cage) in the maze.

Border Terriers come from the cold climates of Great Britain, and they will become a lot less active during hot weather. Not a good breed to keep in hot or tropical conditions, as they will be uncomfortable.


The Border Terrier is a very natural looking dog that requires minimal grooming. They do shed the rough outer coat fairly regularly, some of the dead hair falls out on its own, but much of it does not, and remains entwined in the coat. The Border Terrier will rub itself against rocks, trees and furniture in order to help strip this ead hair out. This process can be assisted by twice yearly grooming, where the dead hair is either pulled out by hand (hand-stripping), or by a comb. This process should not cause any discomfort to the dog.

The rough outer coat will regrow in 8-10 weeks. Stripping the dead hair prompts this regrowth. Border Terriers should not be clipped, as this will simply shorten the dead hair, rather than remove it, and the outer coat will not be prompted to regrow. The soft dense undercoat should be left intact.

If left ungroomed, the Border Terrier simply looks a little more ‘shaggy’, and can develop that nice doggy odour, that not everybody loves. Usually the Border Terrier does not have a strong odour. If they are bathed excessively, the outer coat may become less dirt-repellant. The nails should be trimmed regularly if they are not wearing naturally.

Famous Border Terriers

Border Terriers have featured in many television shows and films. Famous examples include:

  • Baxter from the the film, Anchorman
  • Chomp from the film, 102 Dalmatians


There are no known registered breeders of Border Terrier cross breeds.

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