Intelligent and energetic, while the Border Terrier may be small in size, they have a big personality. Originally bred to assist in foxhunts by driving foxes out of their burrows and into the open for Hounds to chase, Border Terriers have a powerful prey drive and ability to dig.
The breed originates from the area of the Scottish-English border on both sides of the Cheviot Hills. Seen in many great hunt paintings, it’s thought that the Border Terrier has been active since 1869. While they were initially bred as hunting dogs in the British countryside, Borders’ history in the US began later in 1930 when they were first recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club.
Find out everything there is to know about this larger-than-life breed with our in-depth guide.
Border Terrier Popularity
While Borders’ are often associated with fox hunting and countryside pursuits across the Atlantic, here in the States, Border Terriers are perhaps most famous for their cameo roles in a number of Hollywood films. Eagle-eyed viewers will be able to spot them in blockbusters like There’s Something About Mary (1998), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Cheaper by the Dozen (2003), and Prometheus (2012).
Despite their popularity on-screen, they may be less common at home. Border Terriers only just made the top 100 most-popular breeds in the US in 2021. According to The American Kennel Club’s survey, they were the 91st most-popular breed out of the recognized 197.
Border Terrier Training
Since they have a natural instinct to work, the Border Terrier is happiest when given things to do or objectives to meet. They’re quick to learn and eager to please, making them great dogs to train for the most part!
Their strong independence can make it more difficult for them to learn complex tricks, but with the correct training methods and patience on both parts, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Border Terriers can be pretty sensitive and don’t respond well to harsh training techniques, which can break their spirit. Positive reinforcement methods such as praise, food, and play rewards can help Borders on their training journey.
Breed Bad Habits
Thanks to their stubborn streak, Border Terrier puppies are known to be difficult to house train. This inevitably can lead to some frustration for pet parents. Instead, it’s best to be patient and reward good behavior! Consistency will prevail when it comes to training.
Since they have a high prey drive, Border Terriers will chase and attack small animals, such as squirrels, and have even been known to go after cats. Because they tend to chase, it’s essential to ensure that your Border Terrier has good recall in outside spaces or should only be left to roam freely in fully secured spaces like a yard.
The breed also loves to chew, and while some can grow out of chewing items like furniture and shoes, some will continue to for their whole life. Making sure your Border Terrier has enough toys to chew on is the best way to avoid replacing expensive furniture and unneeded vet bills!
The Border Terrier is a high-energy breed who is always eager to please its owners. Since they have a strong prey drive and instinct to chase, they need to be taught the correct on and off-leash training as well as recall training to ensure that they don’t put other animals — and themselves — at risk.
Border Terrier Gender Differences
Female Border Terriers
Height: 11-14 inches
Weight: 11-15 pounds
Male Border Terriers
Height: 13-16 inches
Weight: 13-18 pounds
Border Terrier Breed Health
As with most dogs, Border Terriers should be taken to the vet at least one to two times per year, or whenever you have a concern, to ensure they’re as healthy as possible.
On average, a healthy male or female Border Terrier should live to around 12-15 years old, which is typical for small dog breeds.
Common Health Problems
Border Terriers are generally a healthy breed; however, they are prone to certain health conditions.
Hip Dysplasia — This condition is where the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, which means that the femur doesn’t fit snuggly into the pelvic socket. Some dogs exhibit lameness in one or both rear legs, and others may not show any signs. As a Border Terrier begins to age, this can develop into degenerative joint diseases such as arthritis. Border Terriers can also be prone to elbow dysplasia.
Cushing’s Disease — This disease occurs when the adrenal glands produce excessive amounts of cortisol in the body. This can happen naturally or as a side effect due to the long-term use of corticosteroid medication. Excessive amounts of cortisol can cause significant disruption to dogs and put them at risk of severe conditions like kidney damage and diabetes.
Juvenile Cataracts — Dogs can either be born with or develop juvenile cataracts shortly after birth. Cataracts are an opacity of the lens in a dog's eye, and it interferes with normal vision, often leading to blindness if the lens becomes fully masked. Several reasons a puppy may develop juvenile cataracts include injury, inflammation or poor nutrition.
Seizures (epilepsy) — These can be caused by several factors and can affect a Border Terriers' brain, spine and nerves. Epilepsy is a chronic brain condition that causes repeated seizures and can begin in Border Terriers as young as six months old. While these seizures can look painful, they generally aren’t; however, they should be dealt with as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of the episodes, they may have to be controlled with medication, so your Border Terrier can lead a happy and healthy life.
Skin disorders — If your furry friend develops an allergy, it will often present itself as an itchy and irritable skin condition, also known as atopy. The folds of their skin, belly and ears are the most commonly affected areas. Symptoms usually begin to present themselves between the ages of one and three.
Periodontal (dental) disease — Poor dental hygiene is one of the most common causes of tooth and gum disease in dogs. Periodontal disease is where bacteria can infect your dog’s oral cavity, and you usually won’t see any signs or symptoms until it’s advanced. The disease begins with gingivitis and, if left untreated, can spread deeper into the tooth socket and destroy the bone. As a result, your furry friend can lose their teeth.
“I see a lot of skin problems and dental disease in Borders,” says Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS. “While I always enjoy a good cuddle with them at work, I don’t want to see them too frequently because of these issues!”
“I encourage owners of Border Terriers to be proactive with teeth brushing at home and appropriate dental cleanings with us at the clinic to decrease the likelihood of oral pain as they age! Additionally, if owners do start to mention signs of an itchy pup, we make sure to consider allergies as a possible underlying cause.”
Border Terrier Colors and Variants
Colors and Breed Variants
While there are many different Terriers in the breed group, there is currently only one variation of the Border Terrier recognized in the US. According to The Kennel Club, the four standard colors for this breed are:
Blue & Tan
Grizzle & Tan
Caring For A Border Terrier
Sociable and affectionate, the cheeky Border Terrier is great in active households where a lot is happening.
Border Terriers are high-energy dogs that need plenty of activity in their day that can stimulate them both mentally and physically. Because they’re outdoor dogs at heart, Border Terriers love spending as much time as they can outside — and they have the endurance to match!
Border Terriers need at least one hour of exercise per day. This can either be as one long walk or broken down into two 30-minute walks. Because they’re such an active breed that loves to chase, dig and explore, it’s best to keep them on a leash when outside to prevent them from running off.
Along with daily walks, incorporating purposeful play is an excellent way for your pup to burn off some surplus energy. Games such as tug-of-war, frisbee and fetch are intensive ways of keeping your dog active. Make sure to only play these games in a securely fenced area where your Border Terrier won’t be able to wander too far and escape.
Their orgins in the cooler climates of Scotland and England mean that they’re most comfortable at lower temperatures and can struggle in warmer weather. Due to this, they may not be best-suited for life in hotter states like Florida, Texas, and Louisiana where temperatures can climb as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit and over in the summer. Instead, this breed is better suited to the Pacific Northwest area, where the weather in Seattle, Washington, and Oregon is more reflective of that in the UK.
Exposure to the sweltering midday heat can increase the chances of heat stroke or exhaustion, so it’s recommended to take them out for exercise in the early morning or evening.
Proper nutrition is a vital part of looking after your Border Terrier. The right amount of food for them will depend on various factors, including how active they are and whether they have any health conditions or dietary requirements.
To ensure that your furry friend is getting the nutrients they need, it’s best to consult with your vet.
On average, an adult Border Terrier will only need between 8 - 14 hours of sleep per day. For puppiers, however, this can be as much as 18 - 20 hours, including naps!
“Despite being small, Border Terriers are extremely active pups for their size,” explains Dr. Kirsten.
“Because of this, I recommend owners plan accordingly when it comes to regular physical activity for their pup. Borders can be cheeky also, so fun games or classes that challenge them are a nice way to exercise their body and their brain!”
Border Terrier Temperament
Border Terriers are highly intelligent and quick learners who love nothing more than to be outside.
How Good Are Border Terriers With Kids?
Border Terriers are highly affectionate dogs and can easily match a child's energy levels all day long. However, the breed can be a little rambunctious, so they’re better suited for older children who’ll be able to handle their excited nature.
As with all dogs, it’s best to socialize them properly with children of all ages as soon as possible.
How Affectionate Are Border Terriers?
Loving and full of character, the Border Terrier loves to spend time with their owners. While they love the company of people, the breed is independent enough not to be under your feet all day and will want to spend time alone.
How Territorial Are Border Terriers?
Border Terriers are known to be friendly dogs that aren’t usually aggressive or territorial.
However, due to their hunting heritage, they’re likely to chase or bark at small animals, especially ones that step into their territory.
How Friendly Are Border Terriers With Other Dogs?
Most Border Terriers are peaceful and sociable with other dogs; some even claim that the Border Terrier is the friendliest of the Terrier breed.
As long as your Border Terrier is well-socialized from an early age with other dogs, it shouldn’t be a problem!
How Much Will A Border Terrier Tolerate Other Pets?
A well-socialized Border Terrier should get along fine with other pets, especially if the other animal has been there before them.
A Border Terrier may see small pets like rabbits and gerbils as prey to hunt, so make sure to watch them carefully.
How Much Attention Do Border Terriers Need?
Like all working breeds, the energetic Border Terrier requires a bit of attention from their owner.
Unlike other smaller breeds, the Border Terrier doesn’t typically suffer from separation anxiety, so while they do love attention, they can easily cope or be by themselves.
Border Terrier Coat and Grooming
Border Terriers require a bit of grooming but are a pretty easy breed to care for.
The Border Terrier has a coarse, double coat consisting of a tough waterproof top coat and a soft undercoat for warmth, offering a layer of protection in harsh climates.
Like some dog breeds, a Border Terrier will shed minimally throughout the year.
However, their coat won’t shed entirely without help. They’ll have to be hand-stripped twice a year to ensure that all of the dead hairs on the top coat are removed and this should be done by a professional groomer. You should never clip a Border Terriers’ coat as it will leave the roots of the dead hair behind and affect the growth of new hairs.
How Often Do I Need To Groom A Border Terrier?
A Border Terriers' wiry double coat will require weekly brushing to keep on top of the dead hairs.
However, they may require professional grooming throughout the year — particularly in spring and fall when they shed the most — to help keep them looking smart.
Are Border Terriers Hypoallergenic?
No dog breed is fully hypoallergenic; however, a Border Terriers coat may be better suited for people with allergies as they don’t shed as often as other breeds.
Border Terrier Bark Sound
While the Border Terrier isn’t notoriously loud, they will bark to alert their owner of anything unusual.
Border Terriers aren’t usually yappy dogs, but they may resort to nuisance barking to get attention if they're bored.
They can also bark if they’re restless or unhappy.
Frequently asked questions about Border Terriers
When Is A Border Terrier Fully Grown?
A Border Terrier should reach their adult height at around 9-12 months old. They’ll reach their adult weight a little bit after this.
When Should A Border Terrier Be Stripped?
Unlike most other dogs, a Border Terriers' hair stops growing and dies after 5-6 months.
You’ll know when your dog is ready to be stripped when its coat can be parted down the center of its back.
What Does A Border Terrier Look Like?
A Border Terrier is characterized by their ‘otter-like’ head. They have a moderately broad and flat skull with plenty of width between the ears and eyes.
Why Do Border Terriers Shake?
Terriers are exceptionally tightly wound dogs, so the most common explanation for their shaking is due to excitement — which is nothing to be concerned about!