Often recognised for looking like a grumpy Yorkshireman, the Border Terrier is a small dog with strong instincts, intense loyalty, and a cheeky personality. These loveable dogs come with a large amount of terrier energy, and are highly intelligent. They make excellent family pets, as they are extremely playful and easily trained too.
Dog Breed Group – Terriers
Height – 10” – 11” tall
Weight – 12-16lbs
Life Span – Up to 15 years
Originating from the North of England, Borders were created as an extra weapon in the war between farmers and foxes. They were bred to have a strong and solid yet flexible body, but to be small enough to squeeze into foxholes. Their long legs also meant that they could keep up with the farmers on horseback during the fox-hunt. Other qualities that made them perfect for this job include excellent stamina, a coat resistant to the elements, and a strong instinctual drive to hunt. While they’re unlikely to be needed in a foxhunt in most family homes now, the breed still carries most of those traits to some degree.
My dog Jasper, happy after an exhausting run in the North of England
Having had my Border Terrier Jasper for a few years, I can confidently say that they make excellent companions, but before you head straight out to get one, be aware that. Borders come with their share of traits that aren’t ideal for every family.
• Easily house-trained
• Like to be part of the family
Borders are pack-oriented dogs, so they should live indoors with the family and not outside – to exclude them from the activity of the household makes for one miserable Border Terrier.
Borders definitely like to see themselves as one of the pack – they don’t need to be treated like humans, but definitely need to feel like one of the family!
When it comes to training, Borders can be both a blessing and a curse; they learn the rules of the household very quickly, and are happy when they know where they stand within that hierarchy – be consistent with what they are and aren’t allowed to do to maintain this happiness.
When you move on to advanced training, however, you might find that they have “selective hearing”. During fox hunting they were required to work far away from their masters, meaning they needed to be somewhat independent. This trait is still prevalent in the breed, so prepare to be a little frustrated when you see that they hear your command, but sometimes choose to ignore it.
Their strong instinct to hunt means that they will dig, and can jump very high, so they will sometimes go over or under your fence to explore – make sure your garden is Border-proof. In my experience, this trait was very prevalent in Jasper’s early years – we made sure to have a little capsule containing his address and a contact number attached to his collar as well as having him chipped – but as he’s grown a little older he’s happier to stay in the garden and wait for us to throw the ball for him…as you can see he’s still a high jumper though!
Jasper’s favourite activity is jumping high for the ball – no photoshop here folks I promise
• Great temperament
Even though they are in the terrier family, they are affectionate, obedient, and intelligent, which is not often what you’ll associate with Terriers. In my experience, they make excellent members of the family. They are fun and absolutely love to play, but can match the mood if you’re relaxed and calm.
Most Borders are good at telling you when they’re bored, so it’s vital that you learn to read their signals. They key with any Border is balance – make sure they’ve had enough exercise each day and they’ll be well behaved and happy in the home.
Be prepared to see your Border’s personality really shine when food comes onto the scene though….
3. Food Obsessed!
While they don’t have any specific dietary requirements (1.25 cups of quality dry food at morning and evening should be sufficient), Borders’ instincts are very strong when it comes to the pursuit of food. In their fox-hunting days many farmers would choose not to feed them before a hunt so they would work harder to catch their dinner. This means they’ll look for opportunities to eat wherever they can, even when you’re feeding them regularly.
They respond very well to positive training and treats, with emphasis on the treats, and have a very strong drive to get food wherever possible. They become overweight easily, so you have to be very watchful of how many treats they get. But, prepare to get some of your best laughs when watching your border’s sneakiness really shine when food is around.
When Jasper was a pup, he instinctively knew not to watch other members of the pack when eating (as this is seen as a challenge for food in the dog world), but that didn’t stop him from finding the most creative way to watch for falling crumbs without you knowing. We once spotted him hidden behind a chair, with just one eye peeking out of the gap watching the floor for rogue tidbits – hilarious and cute, and the epitome of the Border personality.
• Happy to live in a big area/home
• Just as happy in an apartment
Borders are just as suited to small homes as they are to large farms, and will be content in either as long as they’re getting enough exercise. If you’ve not got a big garden for them to run around in, it’s worth ensuring that your schedule allows a good exhilarating walk each day. We’ve learned with Jasper though, as long as they’re receiving the right amounts of exercise they’re equally as happy to have an intense ball-chasing session in the garden as they are to go exploring – variation is key.
• Have a double coat
• Relatively easy to groom once you know how
A younger Jasper with his full double coat. Be aware that if you do decide to clip your border, his coat will grow back differently, and may never look like it did before
The Border Terrier actually has two coats, which is great for winter, but can be a problem if you live in a very hot climate. Their short, soft, and dense undercoat is covered by a wiry topcoat that protects them from the elements. This topcoat can then be hand-stripped every 6 months.
An older Jasper after being fully clipped – his coat is smoother, softer, and more golden, but he will still lose hair. It’s hard to believe these dogs are the same because clipping changes the Border’s entire aesthetic
Alternatively they can be clipped, which comes with pros and cons. It will mean that you don’t need to strip him, and he may be cooler in the hot weather (although not much), but it also means you may have to bathe him more frequently. On the plus side, the difference between a clipped and unclipped border is like having two different dogs.
• Very friendly
• Very gentle with children
In my experience, when it comes to children, Borders are friendly, playful, and most importantly gentle. While you should still watch any child and dog together at all times, Borders will adjust how aggressively they play depending on the age and size of the child. A well-trained border will be respectful of a child’s boundaries while still being affectionate and loving too.
7. Other Pets
• Socialising is VITAL
• Not great around small rodents
We don’t need to repeat how strong their instinct is, so introducing a grown border to a house with rodents or small birds can be a recipe for disaster. Their drive to chase and catch small animals will always be with them, and so your only chance of harmony is to introduce them to each other while your border is still a puppy. Another key point to remember is that if your border sees a small rodent, it will chase it no matter where you are, so you should keep them on a leash when near roads and cars.
Make sure you socialise your dog early on – Jasper’s playing hard to get with a Frenchie in the park here
Borders can get along with other dogs, as long as you make sure they’re socialised well in their early months. Otherwise, you might find that they can be difficult and territorial when new adult dogs visit the home.
• Healthy breed
• Low maintenance health regime
For some reason they are still relatively unknown, so Borders have not yet succumbed to the popularity problems that come with over-breeding. They are very healthy dogs when bred properly, and are not expected to have any specific diseases like other pure breeds.
That being said, individual dogs can still have health problems so ensure regular trips to the vets, and regular health checks at home. The best way to ensure that your Border stays healthy is to make sure he has a good diet, with good quality food, and is not over fed.
• Extremely loyal 99% of the time
• Might sell you out for a quick snack
It’s true, Borders are incredibly loyal. Once you and your border bond, he’ll be obedient (mostly), loyal (nearly all of the time), and well-behaved in the home (as long as he’s exercised properly and not bored). As I’ve learned from experience, though, your border will sell you down the river if another family member calls them from the kitchen.
Border’s love to explore
All in all, Border Terriers make excellent companions, with excellent qualities, which are only ever usurped by their sometimes independent personalities. But, on speaking with other Border owners, I think that’s what most people love about them. If you’re able to welcome a Border into your home, you’ll be welcoming another unique personality, one that I’m sure you’ll come to love.