Border Terrier – Down to earth

Breed facts: Terrier group

In association with the Kennel Club, Dogs Monthly provides you with all you need to know about the Border Terrier – so you can see if this whiskery working breed could be the best choice for you!

One of the most popular pet dog choices today, standing at number eight in the Kennel Club (KC) registration chart with over 8,000 puppies registered last year, the Border Terrier breed is over 200 years old. It was recognised by the KC in 1920. This is the quintessential ‘scruffy’ terrier, whose appealing appearance belies its tough, uncompromising ability to hunt game and vermin with ferocious tenacity. Given its strong hunting instinct, it is perhaps not the wisest choice for someone with other small pets, such as rabbits and hamsters. If brought up with cats, then Borders will live quite peaceably with them, but beware feline strangers in the garden!

Border Terrier
Border Terrier

Back in the 19th century, Borders were known as the Reedwater or the Coquetdale Terrier, after the localities of its early days where Northumberland (England) and Roxburghshire (Scotland) met. The Border name was adopted in the middle to late 1800s, most likely because the Border Foxhounds used them to flush foxes from their earths after the foxhound pack had run them to ground. When the breed was recognised by the KC in 1920, the Border Terrier Club was formed, with its first secretary estimating that there were some 1,200 Border Terriers in the Border region, although only 111 were registered. Character & family life Breeder Lesley Gosling, writing for the Midland Border Terrier Club, describes them as “game, affectionate and stubborn as well as comedians. They are photogenic but not good gardeners, will eat anything, go anywhere with you and will love you to bits!” Says the Midland Border Terrier Club: “Unless correctly socialised at an early age, some Borders may become aggressive towards other dogs. They normally get along well with children, but no child should be allowed to harass them. Children should be taught to respect the dog and not treat it like a toy. Small children and babies should never be left alone with any dog.” This advice goes for any breed of dog. The most common behavioural problem in Borders appears to be aggression towards other dogs, but this is usually due to poor socialisation as puppies and young adults. In general, Borders make fantastic family pets that will happily potter around the garden with you, thoroughly enjoy an excursion into the countryside or curl up contentedly near you for a relaxing evening watching telly.

Exercise & training
Borders will take as little or as much exercise as you wish, and they simply adore games that test their hunting abilities, such as hiding a toy and getting them to seek it out. Keeping him mentally and physically fit is key to maintaining a happy, obedient and contented Border. While Borders are fast learners where training is concerned, they can also be stubborn if there is something else they would much rather do instead – like chase next-door’s cat, or get on the scent trail of something they’ve got wind of. They can and will ‘cock a deaf ’un’ when it suits them, so a good grounding in basic training is a must from an early age to ensure you don’t end up with a self-willed pet who ignores your commands. An untrained dog is a danger to himself as well as others.

Through choice, most Borders will elect for the comforts of living in the house! A well-made, sensibly sized and secure kennel will also provide a suitable home. It must never be forgotten that these are working terriers with a good deal of spirit and character; care should always be taken to ensure that situations that could cause fighting are avoided when more than one Border is kept. As a general rule, it is a safer policy not to leave bitches together. A dog and bitch combination works well – except when the bitch comes into season, when suitable methods of separation for about three weeks will be necessary. As a general rule it is never a good idea to leave more than two terriers alone together for any prolonged time. It is essential that the garden is made absolutely ‘Borderproof’ to prevent the dog escaping. Many Borders are quite expert at this by jumping, digging and, in some instances, even climbing. This means enclosing the garden with strong, secure fencing and ensuring that no little holes or gaps are left – if they are, be sure the Border will find them at some stage.

Did you know…? ‘Terrier’ comes from the Latin word terra, meaning ‘earth’.


  • Small size
  • Great all-rounder
  • Affectionate
  • Quick to learn
  • Can be stubborn
  • Town or country living
  • Moderate exercise requirement
  • Loyal & affectionate
  • Medium maintenance coat
  • Intelligent & independent
  • Strong chase instinct
  • Loves walks
  • Keen watchdog

KENNEL CLUB BREED STANDARD Thinking of getting a Border Terrier? Here’s what to look out for:

Essentially a working terrier. Colours Red, wheaten, grizzle and tan, or blue and tan.

Capable of following a horse, combining activity with gameness.

Active and game.

Head & skull
Head like that of an otter, moderately broad in skull with short, strong muzzle. Black nose preferable; liveror flesh-coloured nose not a serious fault.

Dark with a keen expression.

Small, V-shaped; of moderate thickness and dropping forward close to the cheek.

Scissor bite (upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws). Level bite acceptable. Undershot or overshot jaw is a major fault and highly undesirable.

Of moderate length.

Forelegs straight, not too heavy in bone.

Deep, narrow, fairly long. Ribs carried well back, but not oversprung, as a terrier should be capable of being spanned by both hands behind the shoulder. Strong loins. Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.


Small with thick pads.

Moderately short; fairly thick at base, then tapering. Set high, carried gaily, but not curled over back.

Gait & movement
Has the soundness to follow a horse.

Double-coated: harsh and dense outer coat with a close, soft undercoat. Skin must be thick.

Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree, its effect on the terrier’s ability to work and the health and welfare of the dog.

5 Border Terrier facts

Borders need to be ‘stripped’ twice a year to keep their coats in good order, but only when the coat is ready to ‘lift’. A Border should never be clipped or scissored (except very carefully on delicate areas such as the belly). This breed sheds hair continually – as many others do. A brush every day or so will keep loose hairs around the house to a minimum – but be prepared to invest in a good vacuum cleaner. Advice on hand-stripping the coat can be obtained from breed clubs, or you can take your dog to an experienced groomer instead.

Generally a healthy breed, the only real concern is the small but growing number of reports in the UK of canine epileptoid cramping syndrome (CECS; also known as Spike’s disease). Significant numbers have been reported in America and mainland Europe. The disease is characterised by seizure (without loss of awareness), loss of balance control and muscle spasm. These seizures have been reported in Borders from around three years of age. It has still to be established if it is an inherited condition. Reputable breeders are working hard to stamp out lines with an incidence of seizures. According to a Border breed health survey, skin disease, ear infection/inflammation and colitis have also been reported to be fairly common problems. Diets low in protein (particularly of beef origin) are, as stated on the Midland Border Terrier Club website, beneficial in helping to reduce incidences of skin, digestive and CECS problems.

Most well-known dog foods produced for a small to medium dog are suitable for the Border. There is no requirement in normal circumstances to use high-protein foods. A more natural balanced canine diet such as fresh tripe or fish mixed with a suitable canine biscuit mix is just as suitable. It is important to feed your dog the right quantity of food; great care should be taken with this breed not to overfeed. Many Borders will eat, with great gusto, far more than they need if given the opportunity – and this will quickly be reflected in the dog’s waistline. Don’t be taken in by the doleful look that will be quickly repeated with even more determination if you decide to share any scraps of your meal with your ‘starving’ canine friend.

Height & weight
Ideal height at withers: 25cm (10ins). Weight-wise, male Borders should weigh in at around 6-7kgs (13-15½lbs) and bitches at 5-6.5kgs (11½-14lbs).

Generally Borders are a healthy and long-living breed, with ages up to 16 years not being unusual.

Useful contacts
East Anglia Border Terrier Club Mr Mike Hollingsbee (secretary), tel. 01438 221940
Midland Border Terrier Club Mrs Jena Tuck (secretary), tel. 01664 561752
Northern Border Terrier Club Mrs Christine Horner (secretary), tel. 01429 837946
Scottish Border Terrier Club Mr Bill Shorthose (secretary), tel. 01505 850313
Southern Border Terrier Club Mrs Melanie Lewis (secretary), tel. 01656 880770
The Border Terrier Club Mrs Kathy Wilkinson (secretary), tel. 0191 371 9405
Yorkshire, Lancashire & Cheshire Border Terrier Club Mrs Cynthia Knight (secretary), tel. 01709 544174

Special thanks to the Midland Border Terrier Club, Bob Hand and the Border Terrier Club for information provided for this feature. Thanks