Lakeland Terrier

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Lakeland Terrier

The Lakeland Terrier is a robust small breed of dog which originated in the Lake District of England. Originally bred with the courage, stamina, and strength to pursue and kill foxes and badgers, the Lakeland is equally well-suited to life as a pet. However, being an archetypal terrier, certain behaviours, including digging, barking and possibly pursuing other small pets, may need to be curtailed, depending on living circumstances.

Lakelands have a wiry outer coat that requires a moderate amount of grooming to keep it in tip-top condition, but do not shed significant amounts of hair, and thus are considered as one of the ‘hypoallergenic’ breeds. They are energetic dogs, always on tip-toe and waiting to spring into action, but are also very adaptable, and do not require a huge amount of structured exercise. They benefit from having a garden to explore (and dig up!), but care must be taken to secure the perimeter, as it is in their nature to squeeze into small gaps wherever they present themselves.

The breed is not so commonly encountered as it was once was – a reflection perhaps of the declining demand for it as a working dog – and the American Kennel Club ranks the Lakeland Terrier as only the 145th most popular pedigree dog in the United States. While they are slightly more numerous in the UK, Lakelands tend to have small litters of 3–4 puppies, and most are therefore owned by a devoted cohort of breeders and enthusiasts. They are a very healthy breed with few significant health complaints, and have an average life expectancy of 14–15 years.

About & History

Lakeland Terriers were developed in the Lake District around the turn of the twentieth century, in response to a demand from the local sheep farmers for a dog to tackle and control the loss of livestock to predation by foxes. The breed originated through selection of the now-extinct Black & Tan Terriers and Fell Terriers. They are believed to be related to both the Welsh Terrier and the Airedale Terrier, although they are by far the smallest of this trio. It is said that the fox population in this part of England was particularly bold and aggressive, and so the new Lakeland breed were expected to exhibit extreme courage and resilience in order to pursue these animals and to ‘go to ground’, or to attack the foxes in their dens.

As part of the selection process, the Lakeland was required to develop a narrow chest on a small frame in order to allow it fit into small spaces and burrows. It was also expected to be headstrong and independent, admirable, and sometimes maddening, traits still reflected in the breed today. The Kennel Club recognised the breed in 1921, although records from the defunct Lakeland Terrier Association suggest that this organisation did not actually accept this status until 1928. Around this time, Lakelands were interbred with Fox Terriers to further refine certain desired characteristics, although this practice did not continue very much beyond the 1930s. The Lakeland Terrier was recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1934, and the breed has enjoyed considerable success in the show-ring on both sides of the Atlantic, being much-admired for its proud bearing and plucky demeanour.


Lakeland Terrier Large Photo

As described by the Kennel Club breed standard, the Lakeland Terrier should stand on ‘the tip-toe of expectation’. Indeed, most Lakelands give the distinct impression of being like coiled springs, constantly on the verge of exploding into frenetic activity. Their posture is upright and athletic, and they are alert to every sound and movement in their immediate surroundings. This is a breed created for exposure to harsh elements and strenuous physical demands, and this is reflected in the coarse, weatherproof coat, which consists of a longer, wiry primary coat, and a soft, dense undercoat. Lakelands come in several colour varieties, including:

  • Black & Tan
  • Red
  • Blue & Tan
  • Wheaten
  • Red Grizzle
  • Blue
  • Black

Small patches of white are considered permissible on the chest and paws by the Kennel Club. In terms of proportions, the ideal Lakeland is squarely-built, sturdy but not heavy, often described as ‘workmanlike’ for its utilitarian appearance. The head is fairly broad and flat, sloping almost in a straight line from crown to nose. The muzzle is surprisingly wide and strong for such a small dog, and equally contains relatively large teeth. The nose is almost always black in the breed.

The eyes are small and dark, and should not be set at too severe an angle. They usually convey an attitude of impish amusement, and are always alert and on the move. The ears are small and triangular, and are held upright, with the tips folding over just slightly to point towards either eye.

The neck is long in proportion to the overall body length, leading to a short, level back and in turn to a high-set tail which is usually held very upright, with a slight curve over the vertical. The chest is quite narrow, but is deep, and the abdomen is slightly tucked to the pelvis. The forelimbs are noticeably upright, and Lakelands are seen to stand on ‘taut’ paws, with arched digits and high pads. The hindlimbs are quite well-muscled in the thigh, and are more angulated, with a straight line from the hocks vertically to the paws.

Males generally measure 35–37 cm (14-14.5 in) at the withers, which are noticeably higher than the midline of the back, and weigh around 8 kg (17 lb) on average. Bitches stand around 34–36 cm (14–14.5 in) tall, and weigh 7 kg (15 lb).

Character & Temperament

In many ways, the Lakeland is a typical terrier breed; they are mischievous, loyal and sometimes stubborn. They make very good family pets, although care may be needed with smaller animals, including cats, and with other dogs, particularly of the same sex. When being exercised, they are enthusiastic and energetic, and will play for hours with a ball. However, when at home, Lakelands will also play the role of ‘lap-dog’, enjoying companionship and cuddles as much as any toy breed. They do need firm and consistent discipline, as like with many other terriers, they will be quick to determine what they can get away with, and undesirable behaviour should not be tolerated, lest it become difficult to ‘unlearn’.

They are generally very level-tempered, and shyness or aggression are equally uncommon in the breed. Lakeland Terriers make good guard dogs, for while they should not be quick to threaten or bite, they are known for barking at the slightest provocation, something which can be an issue for owners in residential areas. When distracted, they can be somewhat difficult to control, as their natural instinct to independently pursue prey is quick to take over.


Photo of Lakeland Terrier puppy

In the absence of distractions, most Lakelands are very trainable, particularly by terrier standards. They are intelligent and alert, and so by providing a stimulating and varied training regime, it is usually possible to achieve very good levels of obedience with the breed. As above, nuisance barking is a common complaint, and many Lakeland owners say it is very helpful to begin training as a puppy to ‘speak’ and ‘cease’, as these two commands imbue some control over the dog’s vocalisations later in life. Lakelands will calmly accept rebuke when they misbehave, and so consistent discipline will help in developing desirable behaviours.

It has been reported that Lakeland puppies can be difficult to house-train, and so consideration should be given to crate training, which involves providing the pup with an indoor kennel/cage in which to sleep and eat. This encourages the pup not to soil in their own little space, and usually greatly accelerates this process of learning.


Lakeland Terriers are remarkable for their generally excellent health. As for any breed, certain conditions are recognised to occur more frequently, however, most dogs are unlikely to suffer from these problems. Nonetheless, the diseases of which to aware in the breed, many involving the eyes, include the following:


A cataract is any dense structure within the lens of the eye. Cataracts are opaque, meaning they obstruct the passage of light, and so can cause visual impairment. While most develop due to age, some can occur as congenital problems, meaning they may be present in young puppies. In addition, diabetes is a common predisposing condition, although this is not a common illness in the Lakeland Terrier.


In normal embryonic development, the testicles originate from tissue adjacent to the kidneys, at the forward end of the abdomen. During the foetal period, they migrate towards the scrotum, passing through the inguinal canal (a structure in the groin), to end up in their correct position.

It is not uncommon for this process to be interrupted in young male Lakelands, with undescended testicles most commonly located within the inguinal canal, although they may be found anywhere along the route described. As these undescended testicles are likely to develop tumours later in life, affected dogs must be castrated, and should not be bred from, as this condition can be passed onto their young.


The growth of excess hairs along the eyelid margins, or even on the inside of the eyelids, resulting in ocular discomfort. These hairs can be very small and difficult to visualise, but are usually simple to remove surgically.


A common disorder in many breeds, thyroid underactivity is the end result of an abnormal immune process targeting thyroid follicular cells. Loss of thyroid hormone causes a reduction in metabolic rate, which usually manifests as weight gain, loss of energy and hair loss. Other skin conditions, such as ear and paw infections, are also common signs.

Lens Luxation

The lens in each eye is suspended in position by radial soft tissue attachments. In many terrier breeds, these attachments weaken over time with the result that middle-aged and elderly dogs may experience movement of the lens from its normal position.

This can cause both impaired vision and ocular pain as a result of fluid build-up in the eye causing glaucoma. Depending on the nature of the luxation, this may require either lifelong medical management or enucleation (Surgical removal of the affected eye).

Persistent Pupillary Membrane

This condition describes remnants of foetal eye development, which should normally regress before birth. If the abnormal membrane remains in the eye, it can cause distortion of normal ocular features and potentially sight loss.

Undershot Jaw

Although not a major health concern, Lakelands may exhibit an over-long lower jaw, with the protrusion of the lower incisors and canines. This is strongly discouraged by the breed standards, and something which would rule affected dogs out of most breeding programmes.

Ununited Anconeal Process

The anconeus is a small triangular wedge of bone which develops independently as part of the formation of the normal elbow joint. In most animals, this then fuses to the ulna, one of the long bones of the forearm. However, in some animals this fusion does not occur, resulting in some bony instability, discomfort and eventually, the development of osteoarthritis.

von Willebrand’s Disease

This is an uncommon disorder of platelets, a specialised type of white blood cell responsible for initiating normal clot development. Clinical signs are as a result of excess bleeding following minor injuries, trauma or surgery.

Exercise and Activity Levels

This is a very energetic breed, and although they will amuse themselves in an enclosed garden by digging and pursuing insects, they do need around an hour of walking per day to maintain health. Lakelands really enjoy ball games, which provide exercise, as well as satisfying the natural urge to chase prey.


Lakeland Terriers do not shed a significant amount of hair, and so may be a suitable choice of dog for people afflicted by allergies. However, the coat is quite dense and does require some work to maintain it in good condition. Brushing is needed approximately two to three times per week, while ‘stripping’ the coat (something often carried out by a professional groomer), will remove damaged hair and encourage healthy hair growth. Many Lakeland owners opt for regular clipping; although this is not required, it encourages prominence of the softer undercoat, which is desired by some. Washing should be done infrequently, but may be required up to once every 6–8 weeks.

Most Lakeland Terriers have black nails, making it difficult to visualise the ‘quick’ – the blood vessel within the nail which should be avoided when clipping. Care should be taken not to cut nails too short, and so many people opt to have this done by a groomer or vet every couple of months. As with any dog, it is a very good idea to get Lakeland puppies used to having their teeth brushed on a daily basis so as to avoid future dental problems.

Famous Lakeland Terriers

Although the breed is little-known to the public in many parts of the world, there have been some notably famous Lakeland Terriers:

  • Stingray of Derryabah was the first of the breed to win Best in Show in both US and UK Kennel Club competitions
  • Champion Revelry's Awesome Blossom was another famously successful show dog, belonging to Bill Cosby
  • Kevin owned by Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, the music group


As the number of breeding Lakelands is relatively small, they are rarely crossed with other breeds, however, the following are the more common ‘designer’ mixes that may be encountered:

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