Fox Terrier

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Fox Terrier

Fox Terriers are intelligent, tough little dogs which are protective of their family and enjoy playing with children. The breed was originally bred to hunt foxes alongside hounds, pinpointing the location of foxes when they went to ground. Today there are two different types of Fox Terrier – the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Wire Fox Terrier – both of which are predominantly kept as companions, although they also excel in modern dog sports. The Fox Terrier requires plenty of exercise and an active and stimulating environment. Both coat types are reasonably low maintenance.

The Fox Terrier has a friendly temperament, and should not be aggressive, but can be strong willed and stubborn and is therefore not a suitable breed for first time dog owners. Their independent and strong character combined with their hunting roots means that training and early socialisation is essential to avoid behavioural problems. Fox Terriers are energetic and learn very quickly, easily becoming bored, so need plenty of entertainment and exercise. They do not typically suffer from separation anxiety and house training is not a problem. The breed is long lived and suffers from few hereditary health problems.

About & History

There are two different types of Fox Terrier – the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Wire Fox Terrier. They are both thought to be the result of crossing several breeds, including the Old English Terrier, the Smooth Coated Black and Tan Terrier, Bull Terriers, Greyhounds and Beagles. The first Fox Terriers were bred as working dogs to accompany Foxhounds during hunts. Their role was to locate foxes when they went to ground by barking and marking the position of the fox. In addition, they were used for killing vermin and hunting rabbits.

It was only towards the end of the 1800s when a stricter breed standard was drawn up that the two different Fox Terrier breeds were officially distinguished. It is thought that the Wire Fox Terrier was actually developed before the Smooth Fox Terrier but did not appear in the show ring until around twenty years afterwards. Despite being considered as two separate breeds the Smooth and Wire Fox Terrier still share many physical characteristics and have similar temperaments. The main and most obvious difference between the two is their coat type. The Fox Terrier has also been used as the basis for many other breeds, perhaps the most well-known example being the Jack Russell Terrier. There is also the Toy Fox Terrier, which descends from the breed, but is considered a separate breed entirely.

Today the Fox Terrier is mainly kept as a companion and is popular around the world. They are also excellent farm and hunting dogs but most not be left unsupervised around sheep or other livestock. In addition, their relatively small size means they can adapt well to city living and also excel in modern dog sports such as agility and flyball.


Fox Terrier Large Photo

The most visible difference between the two types of Fox Terrier is their coat. Wire Fox Terriers have a dense wiry outer coat, which is combined with a softer undercoat. Smooth Fox Terriers have a hard but smooth, flat coat which is also dense and provides good coverage. Accepted registration colours for the Fox Terrier with the UK Kennel Club vary depending on coat type:

  • Black & White
  • Tan & White
  • Tricolour
  • White
  • White & Black
  • White & Tan
  • Black & White
  • Black Tan & White
  • Black White & Tan
  • Hound Marked
  • Tan & White
  • Tricolour
  • White & Tan
  • White Black & Tan

Fox Terriers should weigh between 7 to 8 kg and should not be taller than 39 cm at the wither. Female dogs should be slightly smaller than males. Their overall appearance should be of a strong, well-put together hunter with a short back. The height at the withers and the length of the body from the shoulder should be roughly the same.

The Fox Terrier should have some length in their neck, which appears slightly curved when seen in profile. It should be muscular and well-defined, widening as it reaches the shoulders, which are long and sloping, reaching a fine point of the shoulder. Front legs should be straight, and should not narrow down towards the feet. The elbows should be held free of the side but kept straight when moving. The brisket and last ribs should be deep and the back should be short and strong with plenty of muscle, giving a square appearance to the frame. The back legs should be powerful with long thighs and well bent stifles. The hind end should not be seen to be crouching. The tail should be of medium length and carried high and upright, but not curled back on itself.

The breed has a fairly flat skull, which gradually slopes and narrows towards the eyes which are medium sized, dark and fiery, transmitting a sense of intelligence. The length of the head and the muzzle should be approximately equal, and a muzzle shorter than the length of the head is considered undesirable. The mouth and jaws should be strong with a scissor bite and cheeks should not be too full or rounded. The nose should always be black. Ears should be relatively small, neatly folded over V-shapes, which hang close to the cheeks.

The Fox Terrier should have a brisk stride with front and back legs which swing rhythmically and parallel to one another, leaving little space between the feet and the ground. The elbows should work freely from the chest and the back end should provide drive.

Character & Temperament

The Fox Terrier is a happy and extremely energetic dog which is also intelligent and devoted. They are loyal to their families and can be protective of them if they feel threatened. Fox Terriers are playful and normally get on well with children, enjoying the entertainment they provide. The breed can be prone to chasing other small animals so must be well socialised from a young age if they are to live in the same household as cats.

As the Fox Terrier generally has a fairly independent character, it is not normally prone to separation anxiety, but as with all breeds puppies should be properly accustomed from a young age to being left alone for short periods of time. Due to their protective and brave temperaments, Fox Terriers can also make good guard and watchdogs and will bark to raise the alarm, however, their relatively small size is a limitation.


Photo of Fox Terrier puppy

Fox Terriers are intelligent but can be stubborn and have their own ideas. It is therefore important that training is firm and consistent and they are not allowed to become bored, this can be achieved by providing plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Their strong characters mean they are not a suitable choice for first time dog owners.

Fox Terriers can also have strong hunting instincts so it is important to train recall in puppies from a young age. House training is not typically an issue when Fox Terriers have a routine and sufficient access to outside space, as they are quick to learn.


Both the Smooth and Wire Fox Terrier have a lifespan of 12 or more years. They are strong healthy breeds affected by few inherited health problems. At the time of writing there is no screening of DNA testing schemes, which are obligatory for UK Kennel Club Assured Breeders. Despite this there are some problems, which can affect the breed. These include:

Patellar Luxation

This condition affects the stifle joint in the back leg, which is equivalent to the human knee. The patella or kneecap becomes displaced from its correct position. Severity can vary with severe cases possibly needing surgery. Either one or both legs can be affected.


One of the health problems that can often affects Fox Terriers if deafness.

Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease

This disease affects the hip joint. The head of the femur is affected and becomes necrotic. It is thought this is caused by a reduction in blood supply to the bone. The necrosis and death of the bone means that it no longer fits tightly into the hip socket, causing stiffness and pain and eventually arthritis. Dogs that are affected usually develop the condition between 4 months and a year of age.

Primary Lens Luxation (PLL)

A condition which affects a vital ligament, which keeps the lens of the eye in place, causing it to move or dislocate. If left untreated this can lead to glaucoma (a build up of pressure in the eye), which is painful and can cause blindness. If a dog is affected it most commonly occurs between 4 – 5 years old. Affected dogs should not be used for breeding.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Fox Terriers are an extremely active breed which require 1.5 to 2 hours of exercise a day and will happily carry on beyond this if given the opportunity. They should ideally be allowed some time off the lead and need to be kept entertained with a stimulating environment, as well. Their bold personalities and small size mean that they can adapt to city environments but providing the level of exercise needed by the breed can be a challenge.


The Smooth Fox Terrier requires very little grooming. Occasional brushing to stop shedding around the house is more than sufficient. Meanwhile the Wire Fox Terrier sheds very little but requires stripping by a groomer to remove dead hair once or twice a year.

Stripping a Wire Fox Terrier is preferable to clipping it, as clipping can cause the coat to lose its colour and wiry appearance and makes it less waterproof. In addition the Wire Fox Terrier also needs occasional brushing to stop its coat becoming matted.

Famous Fox Terriers

There are numerous well-known Fox Terriers, but some especially famous examples include:

  • Asta from the film, The Thin Man
  • George from the film, Bringing Up Baby
  • Mr Smith from the film, The Awful Truth
  • Mr Atlas from the film, Topper Takes a Trip
  • Snowy from comic series, The Adventures of Tintin
  • Wessex, the Fox Terrier owned by writer, Thomas Hardy
  • Willy from the film, Ask the Dust
  • Rufus from the animated film, Open Season 2
  • J.D. from the animated film, Millionaire Dogs
  • Dodger Herbie Tobacco from the film, Oliver and Company
  • Chester from the film, Jack Frost
  • John, Angus and India who belonged to fashion designer, Tom Ford


Some popular breeds which descended from the Fox Terrier and cross-breeds are:

  • Wire Fox Pinscher – Cross between a Wire Fox Terrier and a Miniature Pinscher
  • Wire Hair Schnauzer – Cross between a Wire Fox Terrier and a Miniature Schnauzer
  • Wire Poo – Cross between a Wire Fox Terrier and a Poodle
  • Wirelsh Terrier – Cross between a Wire Fox Terrier and a Welsh Terrier
  • Foxie Doxie – Cross between a Wire Fox Terrier and a Dachshund
  • Fo-Tzu – Cross between a Fox Terrier and a Shih Tzu
  • Brazilian Terrier – Now a breed in its own right, that was created by combining the Fox Terrier with other small breeds, such as Chihuahuas and Miniature Pinschers
  • Chilean Terrier – Now a breed of its own, it was created by combining the Fox Terrier with other native Chilean breeds
  • Ratonero Bodeguero Andaluz – A breed based on the Fox Terriers that English wine merchants took to the South of Spain when they settled in the region

User comments

There are no user comments for this listing.