Border terriers are affectionate little dogs with a lot of personality. Highly intelligent, this breed excels at agility and games, and just loves being part of the family. Border terriers are great with kids, but also a solid choice for anyone who has enough time and attention to give them. They need a moderate amount of exercise, but they make great outdoor companions as long as they’re kept on a lead. Their terrier history—and high prey drive—could see them chasing after smaller animals because that’s where they got their start. The border terrier’s wiry coat only requires a brush every week or two to keep it in great shape, and they are a robust breed that is generally easy to care for.
Rounding out at about 15 pounds, the border terrier is a small, wiry-haired pup who has a look like no other. The American Kennel Club describes him as having an “otter-like head” and it’s not entirely wrong. Those characteristically quizzical eyebrows and mouth shrouded in whiskers have the adorable look of the cute little swimmers (but without the smell of fish). Border terriers sport a double coat, with harsher wiry hairs on the outside and soft fluffy hairs underneath. Overall, their grooming needs are low, and they are easy to keep looking tidy. They aren’t big shedders, and some people with dog allergies have found border terriers easier to live with than other breeds (though no dog is truly hypoallergenic).
Border terrier colors range from red, grizzle (a mix of dark and light hairs) and tan, wheaten (or cream), and blue and tan. They have deep hazel eyes, and are experts at giving deep and meaningful looks.
Shlomo Frieman, DVM, founder of the Animal Hospital of Factoria in Bellevue, Wash., says border terriers are one of his favorite breeds. “They have many of the traditional terrier traits in terms of high intelligence and energy level,” Frieman says, “and a tendency to be a bit of a troublemaker. But they’re more laid back [than some other terriers.]"
“Border terriers don't act like a small dog, they act like big dogs. You can take them out and do stuff, and they're ready to go 99 percent of the time,” says Star Ott, president of The Border Terrier Club of America, who has bred and showed these dogs for more than 20 years. “They make really good companions for active families, and for an older person who's active, too.”
The even temperament of the border terrier means they’ll get along great with children, and because they love playing games and being kept active, will fit very well into a busy family life. That said, they’re also great for single people and still-active seniors. Ott says that a long walk once a day and playing games with the dog inside the house is sufficient exercise for this breed, but if you want to do more with them, that’s awesome. “Physical exercise is important, but it's also important to stimulate their mind, otherwise they can become naughty,” Ott says. “You can do this with games, teaching them tricks—anything where you are interacting with the dog.”
Considered one of the most trainable dogs, border terriers are highly intelligent. Consequently, they make for one of the very best agility dogs, and they love to learn. “Taking them to classes is great, but you can also check out Youtube videos or online classes too,” Ott says.
Though they’ll alert you to anybody coming to the door, they are generally friendly little pups who get along with other dogs, and can even get along well with cats, depending on how they’ve been socialized. Frieman says because they have the prey drive of a terrier, owners will need to be careful about having them in a house with cats and other smaller animals. “A lot of it depends on your individual border terrier’s personality,” Frieman says.
Border terriers are great little dogs that would suit most owners, even those without previous dog experience. “If the person is willing to put a little time in and take the dog to puppy obedience classes, border terriers can be a great dog for first-time dog owners,” Ott says.
Border terriers don’t need a lot of space and are perfectly happy living in apartments, so long as you meet their exercise requirements. A good walk for 30 minutes a day may be sufficient. But if you love long hikes or runs through the park, you can bet that your border terrier will love bounding along beside you. Their strong prey drive does mean that border terriers are not great off-leash companions. “They were originally bred to go after foxes and hunt rats, and the problem with that is they don't pay attention to anything around them when they're on the hunt,” Ott says.
Despite their petite size, they can be both high jumpers and single-minded diggers, so if you plan to leave your dog in the yard unattended you’ll need to account for those issues. It’s best to build your fence high and have it run deep to stop them from escaping and running off after a squirrel or rabbit.
These dogs do not tend to do well left alone for long periods of time, and want to be with their owners as much as possible. As much as they love being active, they’re more than happy to cuddle up on a lap and just chill too (especially as they get older and lose some of their puppy rambunctiousness).
Socially, border terriers love company and will want to be with their family, whether that’s on a trip in the car, for a good long walk, or just hanging out at home. They love a good romp and tend to play with other dogs fine.
Ott says that border terriers are considered to be one of the most trainable of the terrier group, and are heavily food motivated—which can make training simple. “They are the kind of dog who says, ‘What's in it for me?’ They’ll easily learn to sit, stay, and do tricks, but they want to know where the cookie is at the end of it,” she says. But even with all the treats in the world, owners will still need to put in the work to get them to do what you want them to. “This isn’t a dog you can just keep in your backyard and hope they are a good dog,” Ott says. “Border terriers are incredibly smart, and if you don’t keep them busy they will run rings around you.”
Frieman says that generally border terriers are robust dogs, although they can be susceptible to some genetic conditions that cause seizures, cataracts, and orthopedic issues such as hip dysplasia. “You always want to ask your breeder about how they have screened for these issues,” Frieman says.
Border terriers tend to stay energetic as they age, and tend to live long, active lives. “As they get older they tend to be less energetic, but that doesn't mean you can't still take them on long walks,” Ott says, adding that she knows people with a 15-year-old border terrier who still joins them for 1- or 2-mile hikes on a regular basis.
The Border Terrier Club places the origin of the breed in the rugged countryside along the Scottish-English border sometime in the mid-1800s. The dog is considered one of the oldest terrier breeds, and were bred by farmers to hunt the foxes that killed their livestock. Originally, the border terrier went by several different names, such as the Coquetdale terrier and the Redesdale terrier, named for the areas of their origin. By the late 1800s, owing to the breed’s association with the Border Hunt in Northumberland (a long-standing fox hunt), the name border terrier stuck. The breed was first recognized by The Kennel Club of the United Kingdom in 1920, and then by the American Kennel Club 10 years after that.
- Elton John is said to own “nine or ten” border terriers in his pack of more than 20 pet dogs.
- Quince the border terrier plays Ron Burgundy's trusty sidekick, Baxter, in the movie Anchorman: The Ron Burgundy Story.
- Border terriers have earned more American Kennel Club (AKC) Earthdog titles than any other terrier.
- Owney (a terrier mix) travelled over 140,000 miles in the late 1800s as a mascot of the Railway Post Office and the United States Postal Service. In 2011, he appeared on a U.S. postage stamp.