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Small and spunky, Norfolk terriers are energetic little dogs with big personalities. This versatile, fearless dog loves burning off his boundless energy with games of fetch and long walks before settling in to snuggle for the night.
Norfolk terriers are great for active families and do well with children, though they're not quite so well-behaved around other small household pets such as hamsters and ferrets (like other terriers, they were bred to hunt rats and flush out foxes, after all!). Though they're quick to alert the household to visitors with sharp barks, Norfolk terriers are generally happy, social, and adaptable.
Standing 9–10 inches tall and weighing in around 11–12 pounds, Norfolk terrier dogs have short legs, wiry coats, and small folded-over ears. Norfolk terrier colors run the gamut, including shades of brown, wheaten, red wheaten, black and tan, red, and grizzle (a mix of darker and lighter shades); they may also have black markings. Their oval-shaped eyes are typically small and dark.
Norfolk terriers are often seen smiling, with their eyes full of love and affection. Because of their petite size, dark noses, and adorable facial expressions, Norfolk terriers are often described as teddy bears!
Don't let this breed's small stature and cute aesthetic fool you into thinking they're only lapdogs. On the contrary, while Norfolk terriers absolutely love to cuddle up with their humans, they're also bold, brave, and up for adventures.
"The Norfolk terrier is a small but mighty dog," says Nicole Ellis, CPDT-KA. "They love to be active and run and play."
These compact dogs are adaptable to most living situations, both in urban apartments and rural homes, but they need plenty of regular exercise regardless of how large their house or outdoor space is.
They're good with children, particularly if Norfolk terrier puppies grow up around little ones. But because of their long history of being bred to hunt rodents and smaller mammals, they do best in homes without other small pets (such as hamsters and ferrets).
"Norfolks love to be busy, so they thrive in an active family, such as one that enjoys being outdoors or one with playful kids," Ellis says. "They require stimulation and training but make a great smaller active dog."
Because of their strong prey drive and independence, Norfolk terriers need a securely fenced backyard and should always be walked on a leash. It's best to supervise Norfolk terriers when they're out in the yard, too, as they love to explore and may be tempted to dig their way out or slip through a large crack to explore the neighborhood.
"Make sure the outdoor space is secure, as terriers are adept at squeezing through small spaces, so be careful to check there are no holes in the fence before setting them loose," says Shawna Garner, DVM and U.S. lead veterinarian at FirstVet. "They should also be taken out for regular exercise, but be aware that they might struggle with longer hikes as their little legs get tired."
These affectionate pups love spending time with their human family members and are generally friendly, but they may be uncomfortable around new people. Norfolk terriers, who tend to be very vocal dogs to begin with, typically announce the presence of visitors by barking.
They also make great travel companions, so if your family likes to visit new places, go ahead and bring your Norfolk terrier along for the trip.
Because of their double coat, which consists of a soft undercoat and a harder outer coat, Norfolk terriers require a special grooming method called hand-stripping. Rather than clipping or trimming the coat, this process involves carefully removing excess hair to make room for new hairs to grow in.
With a little practice, Norfolk terrier owners can learn how to hand-strip their dog's coat; many groomers also specialize in hand-stripping. It's best to hand-strip your Norfolk terrier at least twice a year, with regular brushing once or twice a week in between. These pups also benefit from regular baths and nail trims to keep them comfortable and smelling fresh.
Originally bred to hunt vermin and flush out foxes from their hiding places, Norfolk terriers have lots of energy and need regular stimulation. They're a good fit for owners who have plenty of time in their schedules for playing fetch, taking walks, and teaching new training behaviors. They may also find undesirable ways to entertain themselves (like digging in the yard) if they're left alone for too long or become bored, so keeping Norfolk terriers busy and well-exercised is important. Activities like food puzzles and interactive toys can help, too.
"Norfolk terriers' intelligence, combined with their playful nature, means that they need plenty of mental stimulation to keep them happy," Garner says. "They are best suited to pet parents who can give them time and attention, and like to be kept occupied with games and toys."
It's best to begin training and socializing Norfolk terriers as puppies. Whether you're going the adoption route or bringing home a young Norfolk terrier puppy, this breed does well with standard positive reinforcement training. With a lot of praise and encouragement from their humans (plus plenty of treats!), these highly intelligent dogs can learn desirable behaviors in no time. Any Norfolk terrier barking issues can also typically be addressed with consistent training.
"Norfolk terriers are a playful breed, full of energy and usually easy to train," Garner says. "They may be the smallest member of the terrier family, but they like to make their presence known and will want to join in with any activity going on around them. This sociability can also translate into very vocal behavior, so training is important to avoid excessive barking."
Norfolk terriers are generally healthy dogs, with long lifespans between 12–16 years. There are a handful of breed-specific health problems to keep an eye out for, however. They may be susceptible to joint issues such as hip dysplasia, where the hip joint becomes unstable, and patellar luxation, a condition in which the kneecap slips out of place.
"These conditions can be controlled with anti-inflammatories, controlled exercise, and weight management, but it is important to catch them as early as possible to prevent more serious issues such as arthritis emerging," Garner says. "Pet parents of Norfolk terriers should watch out for any signs of pain when their dog is moving, such as limping or kicking one of their legs out, and consult a vet if they notice this behavior."
"There can be some tell-tale signs of issues with a pet's eyes, such as cloudiness in the eye which may indicate cataracts," Garner says "However, other eye conditions, like glaucoma and lens luxation, may be harder to spot. Twitching or winking around the eye may mean that the terrier's eye is uncomfortable and if they are bumping into things more than usual, you should visit a vet to get their eyes tested."
Norfolk terrier history dates back to the early 20th century, when English dog breeder and horseman Frank "Roughrider" Jones began breeding small red terriers with other terriers, according to The Norfolk Terrier Club. The resulting red Norfolk terriers and wheaten Norfolk terriers were popular among fox hunters and sportsmen. In the beginning, dogs with up-pointing and down-pointing ears were both called Norwich terriers, so named for the city where Jones developed the breed. In the U.S., they were also called Jones terriers.
As time went on, the two ear types became classified as two unique breeds—Norwich and Norfolk—and Norfolk terriers were officially recognized as their own breed by the American Kennel Club in 1979.
- You can tell Norwiches and Norfolks apart by looking at their ears. Norfolk terriers have folded-over years that point down, while Norwich terriers have perky ears that point up like the tip of a witch’s hat (a helpful pneumonic device for identifying a Norfolk vs. Norwich terrier, because “witch” sounds like “wich!”).
- Norfolk terriers get parts of their fun-loving, independent personalities from other terriers, including Cairn terriers, Border terriers, and Glen of Imaal terriers.
- Despite their short legs, Norfolk terriers excel in sports such as agility and lure-coursing—their near-limitless energy and independent streak come in handy in these and other activities.