Norwich Terrier

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

Along with its close relative, the Norfolk Terrier, the Norwich Terrier is one of the smallest working terrier breeds. These active little dogs were first bred to eliminate rodents from their owners’ homes and farms, and this is a job they still relish to conduct. They are often said to be the embodiment of a “big dog in a small body”, with confidence and fearlessness that in the past also allowed them to chase foxes from their dens to allow pursuit by huntsmen. The breed was only recognised as distinct from the Norfolk Terrier in 1964, and the breed standards for the two remain very similar, with the major difference between them being the carriage of the ears: the Norwich has prick ears while the Norfolk’s ears are dropped.

Norwich Terriers are extremely energetic, and even with regular walking will busy themselves patrolling every inch of the home for vermin for many hours of the day. Their affectionate and loving nature means they thrive on company, and should not be separated from their owners for long periods. Ever alert, they make excellent watch dogs, but lack aggression, and will quickly warm to a stranger once a kind word or open hand is offered. The breed shares some of the medical problems seen in the Norfolk Terrier, but most individuals are extremely healthy, and enjoy an average life expectancy of 13–15 years.

About & History

As its name implies, the breed was first developed around Norwich, in Norfolk, in the late nineteenth century, in response to a demand for a small, hardy breed, suited to living outdoors, that could hunt rodents in farm buildings. Although it is not clearly documented, it is believed that various terrier breeds such as the Irish Terrier, Border Terrier, and Cairn Terrier were cross-bred with “ratting” dogs kept by the local Gypsy communities to create the forerunners to the modern Norwich Terrier.

It was later adopted as a Cambridge University mascot in recognition of its popularity with the students, who appreciated the breed’s strong personality, as well as the services it rendered in controlling the rats and mice in their lodgings. At this point, it was known as the Trumpington Terrier, after Trumpington Street, where many of these students lived. “Podge” Lowe, the son of a local veterinary surgeon, and Frank Jones were two influential breeders at the time, with Frank Jones being responsible for their exportation to the United States, where they were initially known as “Jones Terriers”. When pressed at a later date, it was Jones himself who coined the name Norwich Terrier.

Though the breed had long produced both drop and prick ear individuals, it was decided in the 1940s to begin developing these two varieties separately, with the drop-eared variety being designated the Norfolk Terrier in 1964.


Norwich Terrier Large Photo

This is a sturdy little dog with an eager demeanour. In recognition of its true terrier nature, the Kennel Club permits “honour scars” from normal wear and tear in show dogs. The Norwich Terrier is short and compact, with good bone structure. It has a broad, rounded skull and a well-defined stop leading to a wedge-shaped muzzle that is slightly shorter than the crown. It has small, dark, expressive eyes that are oval in outline, and medium-sized upright ears set high and wide apart on the head. It has tight lips and strong jaws with large teeth.

The Norwich has a relatively long neck and short back, and is broad across its level topline. The ribs are well sprung, and the ribcage is long in relation to the back. Both fore and hind limbs are muscular and short, leading to small, round, cat-like paws. The tail is set high, and is very thick at the base, tapering along straight lines.

The straight coat is extremely wiry, with a dense, weatherproof undercoat. It is longer around the neck, forming a collar or “ruff” that frames the dog’s face. Colours permitted by the Kennel Club are:

  • Red
  • Wheaten
  • Black & Tan
  • Grizzle

The breed standard specifies an ideal height of 25 cm (10 in), and does not allow for gender differences. Females tend to be more slightly built, usually weighing about 5 kg (11lb), while males average around 5.5–6 kg (12-13 lb).

Character & Temperament

The Norwich Terrier is a spirited and lively dog that is always ready to embrace new people and experiences. It is very devoted to its owner and eager to please, although this is not always compatible with its strong will and urge to explore. It is utterly fearless and very sociable, and although it is not the sort of dog to start a fight, it may be the one to finish it, with a tenacity and vigour that few can match. No two are alike, as they have strong individual personalities and mannerisms, and they are generally very good with children, willing to tolerate almost any assault by a toddler without complaint.

They have a very strong instinct to hunt, and cannot resist the urge to dig in search of prey, which may put them at odds with any keen gardeners in the family. However, adequate exercise can help reduce, if not eliminate, this behaviour. The breed is a good choice for families with other dogs, as most integrate peacefully into pack life, and they enjoy canine companionship almost as much as human. The Norwich Terrier is alert and watchful, and will alert its owners whenever visitors are near, but they rarely bark without reason.


Photo of Norwich Terrier puppy

Though this is an intelligent breed, many Norwich Terriers cheerfully resist training efforts. This is even apparent in puppyhood, when they can be slow to house break. Crate training can help any puppy to master the art of crossing their legs until given the opportunity to go outside, and may be particularly useful for Norwich puppies. This requires purchasing a good-sized indoor kennel or cage in which the pup can be left at night.

Reluctant to soil their bedding, most pups will quickly learn to manage their toileting until they are let out in the morning. When attempting obedience training, it is vital to provide some motivation, so plenty of verbal praise, and rewards in the form of treats, are essential for success.


While most Norwich Terriers live long and healthy lives, like all pedigrees, the breed is prone to a number of significant health complaints.

Collapsing Trachea

This condition is seen in many small-breed dogs, and is a common cause of a harsh, goose-honk cough often brought on by excitement or exercise. The problem originates from the dorsal membrane of the trachea – a soft tissue structure responsible for maintaining the airway’s patency.

In dogs suffering from tracheal collapse, this membrane protrudes into the airway and, when the respiratory rate and/or effort increases, can obstruct breathing. This can range from a minor to severe problem. Weight loss can result in a massive improvement in obese dogs, but for those continuing to suffer there is now also a surgical implant available (at significant cost) that can alleviate the cough.


This can take one of two forms: grand mal and petit mal, with grand mal epilepsy having the more dramatic signs of convulsive muscular activity, loss of consciousness, and loss of bowel and bladder control. These epileptic episodes may be followed by periods of sedation or altered behaviour.

In petit mal epilepsy, the signs can be much more subtle, and indeed it is likely that many dogs with the condition are never diagnosed, as symptoms can range from periods of unusual behaviour to muscle spasms to uncontrolled salivation. For both forms, the need for treatment will be determined by the frequency and severity of the attacks – many epileptics are symptomatic only once or twice a year.

Mitral Valve Disease

Like the Norfolk Terrier, the Norwich is at relatively high risk of both congenital and acquired heart disease. The valve separating the left atrium and ventricle, known as the mitral valve, is the structure that is usually involved. In health, it prevents the backflow of blood during contraction of the heart, forcing unidirectional flow.

When degenerate or malformed, leaks through the valve increase pressure within the weak-walled atrium and result in heart enlargement, impaired function, and eventually, fluid seepage into the lungs or abdomen. Signs of the ensuing congestive heart failure include exercise intolerance, coughing, and abdominal enlargement. While heart disease is never viewed as a good thing, modern treatment regimens allow most affected dogs to enjoy a very good quality of life for several years.


Increased pressure within the eye, due to an imbalance between fluid production and drainage, is common in both the Norfolk and Norwich Terriers. This is suspected to be an inherited disorder, and may be due to malformation of the drainage apparatus located within the pigmented iris.

Signs may appear from middle age as enlargement of the eye, which may take on a red or blue hue, pain (sometimes manifesting as a change in personality), and loss of vision. Though medical treatments may alleviate the discomfort associated with glaucoma, it is rarely possible to restore vision, and removal of the affected eye is often the most humane option.

Lens Luxation

The eye’s lens, visible as the dark pupil, is a clear structure responsible for focusing light onto the nerve cells of the retina. It is held in position by a network of fibres that allow it to be stretched to a greater or lesser degree in response to changing light levels and focal distance. In many terrier breeds, these fibres weaken with age, with the result that the lens can dislocate from its normal position after minor trauma.

Depending on where the lens ends up, this causes varying degrees of pain, vision loss, and increased pressure within the eye. A range of treatment options are available, including removal of the lens, but the level of skill of the attending veterinary surgeon, as well as the owner’s financial situation, will determine the most appropriate course of action.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Despite the energetic nature of the breed, Norwich Terriers do not need a huge amount of exercise. Their short stature means that a brisk 30-minute walk on a daily basis should suffice to keep them fit and happy. On top of this, they are lively and visible companions within the home, always quick to answer the door or alert their owners to the presence of the neighbour’s cat in the garden, and are rarely to be found quietly curled up on the furniture.


The breed’s wiry coat requires little effort to maintain. Though many owners like to have it clipped occasionally for the sake of appearance, weekly brushing or combing is actually all that is needed to keep it in top condition. Because the Norwich Terrier is a digger, it may occasionally need bathing, but this should not be done more than monthly, as the hair can become dry and brittle with excessive washing.

Other routine grooming tasks include nail clipping as needed (when the nails can be heard to click on hard surfaces) and daily tooth brushing, which will prevent dental problems including tooth loss in later life.

Famous Norwich Terriers

The Who’s Who? list for the Norwich Terrier makes for quite light reading, as the breed prefers to be found down rabbit holes than on stage or in the press.

  • Winky, appeared in Best in Show, which was a 2000 mockumentary about the world of dog showing
  • Rocki – the real deal – this young Norwich Terrier won Best in Show at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show in 1998


It may be difficult to find a Norwich Terrier cross, but there are some recognised “designer dog breeds” to which it contributes:

  • Affenwich – Cross between a Norwich Terrier and Affenpinscher
  • Cairnwich Terrier – Cross between a Norwich Terrier and a Cairn Terrier
  • Nortese – Cross between a Norwich Terrier and a Maltese
  • Norwich de Tulear – Cross between a Norwich Terrier and a Coton de Tulear
  • Pugwich – Cross between a Norwich Terrier and a Pug
  • Yorwich – Cross between a Norwich Terrier and a Yorkshire Terrier

User comments

There are no user comments for this listing.