English Toy Terrier

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult English Toy Terrier
Sannse / Wikipedia.org

Though it may be tiny, this plucky, clever breed is every inch a “real” dog, just in miniature. The similarity of its appearance to that of the Manchester Terrier is no coincidence, as the two breeds were grouped as one in the United Kingdom until the 1920s, and still are today in the United States, with the English Toy Terrier known as the Toy Manchester Terrier. Its finer bone structure may be the result of some input from the Italian Greyhound, but it has largely retained its larger cousin’s energy, vigour, and courage. As is typical of a terrier, it can demonstrate an aloof and suspicious manner towards strangers, but it is also an extremely lovable and affectionate pet, and makes a great family dog, though it may be a little too small and easily injured to be suitable for the under-fives.

The Kennel Club lists the English Toy Terrier as a vulnerable native breed, meaning that less than 300 puppies are registered by the organisation each year, and so efforts are being made to increase the demand for, and breeding of, this appealing little dog. To this end, Toy Manchester Terriers from the United States can be re-registered as English Toy Terriers in order to grow the breeding population. Such outbreeding, though resisted by some purists, will enhance the genetic diversity within the UK population, and should hopefully help reduce the incidence of several health problems recognised within the breed. However, most English Toy Terriers are very healthy, and have a lifespan of 12 to 13 years.

About & History

Growing urban populations in England in the seventeenth century, coupled with poor hygiene, lead to a massive surge in rodent numbers, something that led, in turn, to public health problems. City dwellers therefore found that they needed small terriers with a penchant for killing rodents in order to keep their neighbourhoods and homes habitable, and it was from this necessity that the English Toy Terrier was born. The English Black and Tan Terrier, which is now extinct, belonging to the Fell Terrier class, is most closely related, and was known as a capable vermin hunter. It was mostly likely cross-bred with the Whippet by the early Mancunian breeders to lend it more speed, resulting in a dog that was fast, blood-thirsty, and small enough to comfortably share its owners’ cramped lodgings.

Apart from being a public health necessity, rat baiting became a popular sport for the common man, with proud owners allowing their dogs to be placed into a ring with up to several hundred rats, and then placing bets on how long it would take the dog to dispatch a given number of the rodents. Seen through a twenty-first century lens, this was a cruel practice for all the animals involved, as the dogs themselves often suffered horrific injuries inflicted by the desperate rats. This sport was banned around the time of the Kennel Club’s inauguration in the nineteenth century, but the breed continued to enjoy popularity as a show dog by virtue of its sculpted, elegant appearance. In the 1920s, a growing separation between small and larger specimens was acknowledged by the division of the then Black and Tan Terrier into the English Toy Terrier and the larger Manchester Terrier.

Over the years, the explosion in the importation and popularity of foreign breeds gradually led to a decline in English Toy Terrier numbers, a trend also seen for the Manchester Terrier, and both are now considered vulnerable breeds. While demand for their rat-killing services may no longer exist on any great scale, both are charming, vivacious breeds that are perfectly suitable as pets, and can hopefully be successfully promoted and revived over the coming decades.


English Toy Terrier Large Photo

Sleek and compact, with scarcely an ounce of fat, everything about the English Toy Terrier reflects its speed, agility, and athleticism. It has a narrow, elongated head that tapers all along its length, with a flat skull and a subtle stop. The fine muzzle ends in a black nose, and has clean, tight lips. The eyes are relatively small, set obliquely, and should not protrude as they do in some other toy dogs. In the days of the rat pit, English Toy Terriers would often lose chunks of their ears to their victims, and one can see why, as the candle-shaped upright pinnae are very thin.

The body shape is reminiscent of a sighthound in miniature, long, lean and muscular, with the strong back arching gently to the loin. The chest is deep, but narrow, and the slender abdomen is well tucked up. In the show ring, the English Toy Terrier is judged partly on its movement, which should resemble that of an extended horse’s trot, as this sprightly dog is very light on its finely boned limbs, with their tight, cat-like paws.

The short, dense coat lies close to the skin, and is predominantly black, with well-defined tan markings on the face, chest and limbs. Male measure 27 to 20 cm at the withers, and weigh 3 to 3.6 kg, with females measuring 25 to 27 cm and weighing 2.7 to 3.2 kg.

Character & Temperament

Though today’s English Toy Terrier is rarely required to work, it retains its instinct to hunt and readiness to kill, but one would scarcely believe it on seeing its behaviour towards its owners. Loving and extremely affectionate, the breed thrives on human companionship, and is more than willing to imitate a lap dog if given the chance.

Watchful and alert to danger, though never nervous, the English Toy Terrier makes an excellent watch dog, but it can be a little too keen to bark, something that may be addressed through training. Despite its tough, stoic attitude, it is simply too small to be handled by very young children, but it is loyal and gentle enough to make an excellent pet for an older child.


Photo of English Toy Terrier puppy
Lil Shepherd / Flickr.com

These little dogs are extremely clever, and fast learners; however, they also like to think for themselves, and can be mischievous and stubborn at times. This is true for almost all terriers, and anyone with previous experience of owning another member of the feisty terrier family will likely find the English Toy Terrier relatively easy to train.

Their fondness for barking can create a literal and metaphorical headache, so it is well worth investing considerable time in training a “silence” command as part of the dog’s basic obedience repertoire.


Like for other rare breeds, it is difficult to be sure of the incidence of disease in the English Toy Terrier. The most recent large-scale survey of pedigree health included only 39 members of the breed, far too low a number to allow meaningful interpretation of the results. Although most are healthy dogs, there are several problems known to be associated with the breed.


Early cataract development can be seen in some adults, which can adversely affect their vision.

Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Thought to be more common in English Toy Terriers with Manchester Terrier blood in their recent ancestry, this is a progressive, severe heart problem that occurs before 12 months of age in affected pups. Because these are young, excitable animals, owners often do not suspect a problem, and most cases are recorded as sudden death.

Legg-Calves-Perthes Disease

A cause of severe hindlimb pain and lameness seen in rapidly growing, young, small-breed dogs. Loss of blood supply to the head of the femur causes the bone to weaken and fracture, manifesting as severe hip pain. Treatable, but requires significant surgical intervention.

Patellar Luxation

Because of their slender bones, many English Toy Terriers do not have well-developed bony ridges to guide the kneecap along its usual vertical plane of movement. The resulting slippage of the kneecap causes lameness, usually seen intermittently as a skipping gait, with the affected limb held up towards the side of the abdomen.


A genetic abnormality of protein metabolism creating very high xanthine levels in urine. These xanthine molecules can crystallise and ultimately produce stones that can cause urinary obstructions. A genetic test is available to identify carriers, who should ideally not be used for breeding.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Despite its high energy levels, the English Toy Terrier does not need massive amounts of exercise, thanks to its tiny frame. A daily half hour walk is plenty for most individuals, who must scurry along with their limbs a blur in order to keep pace with their owners. However, they should also be allowed outdoors to exercise their hunting instincts, if only to pursue imaginary prey in the flowerbeds.


The short coat needs to be brushed once weekly, but it sheds only lightly, and does not need intensive care – bathing is rarely necessary, and this is not a breed that needs to visit a professional groomer, unless the owner needs assistance with occasional nail clipping. The fine jaw of the English Toy Terrier can be prone to periodontal infection, and so daily tooth brushing should be practiced from puppyhood to promote good dental hygiene.

Famous English Toy Terriers

Fame has eluded the English Toy Terrier since its glory days in the rat baiting ring. In 1848, a miniature Black and Tan Terrier named “Tiny” became something of a celebrity when he was reported to have killed 300 rats in under an hour.


Both the Kennel Club and the English Toy Terrier Club are working hard to encourage pedigree breeding of this rare dog, and so cross-breeds are seldom seen.

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