…and where did he come from?

In the flashy, artfully groomed, and super-charged world of purebred dogs, the BT is the master of understatement. In a show ring full of macho, posturing terriers, he’s the little guy in brown that you will rarely notice. Descriptions of the BT range from moderation in all to plain and pleasant. This is a breed with no unbalanced exaggerations. In fact, to call a BT a purebred mutt is considered a compliment as it validates his claim to being a real, honest dog!

The Border, the Bedlington, and the Dandie Dinmont have a common ancestor

The BT is one of several working terrier breeds to emerge along the borders of England and Scotland where terriers have been used to hunt fox, otter, and vermin for centuries. The Border, the Bedlington, and the Dandie Dinmont are thought to have a common ancestor. A soft top knot, characteristic of the Bedlington and the Dandie Dinmont, is seen sometimes in the Border along with white on the chest and the occasional white on the foot. The Border has rarely been sought out for his appearance. However, his plain brown coat and self-effacing manners in public disguise a cheerful and sensible companion for those who enjoy a terrier bred to think for himself.

The BT can be identified in hunting scenes painted in the eighteenth century, bringing up the rear behind horses and the hounds, obviously determined to get there on his sturdy legs in time to help with the action. The breed probably gets its name from the fact that it has been used a hunt terrier by the Border Foxhounds since 1869. For several centuries, terriers that fit the description of the Border were in use in the Border counties of England and Scotland by shepherds, farmers, and poachers who wanted a game terrier able to go to ground to kill or bolt quarry, yet able to fit in comfortably at home when work was done.

Recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1930

The BT, as a specific breed, was shown first in agricultural shows in Northumberland in the late nineteenth century. They were recognized as a breed by the Kennel Club in Britain in 1920 and by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1930. From the very first, Border breeders and owners have been concerned that kennel club recognition might lead to changes in the appearance and temperament and have tried hard to retain those traits which keep the BT from becoming just another terrier in the Terrier Group.

Bred as a working terrier

Originally bred as a working terrier, the Border’s most important breed characteristics still are those necessary for the performance of his work. The job of a working terrier is to follow its quarry underground, cornering it, and either dispatching it or harassing it so much that it bolts from the earth. The physical and mental qualities that should be part and parcel of the Border are the results of generations of breeding and enable the Border to his job with the least amount of injury to himself and with the greatest amount of efficiency possible. Anne Roslin-Williams, respected English author, photographer, and breeder of Border Terriers, in discussing breed type in her book The Border Terrier, Third Edition, writes:

Although the Standard has been criticized for leaving too much to the imagination, I maintain that if one knows the job of a working terrier, and has taken the trouble to find out from a good source the basic anatomy of a dog, the Standard puts the finishing stitches to the tapestry of the Border.

Border standard calls for a head like that of an otter

The most obvious difference between Borders and other terriers is the head. The Border standard calls for a head like that of an otter, described as being moderately broad and flat in skull with plenty of width between the eyes and ears. A slight, moderately broad curve at the stop rather than a pronounced indentation. Cheeks slightly full. Among terriers, only a correct Border head matches this description.

The next readily apparent breed description is the coat. A Border in good coat should not look prettied up. As a working terrier, he has a naturally hard, wiry outer coat and a dense, short undercoat, such as he would wear if he hunted regularly in the rough fields of his homeland. A working Border wears off dead, grown-out hairs on bush and rocks but retains enough of both coats to protect himself from weather and rain. A proper Border coat, therefore, is of medium length, neither too shaggy nor stripped down to its underwear or undercoat. While grooming a Border may well involve tidying up his coat, the goal is a natural appearance and not a sculpted one. While many of the other terriers are clippered, chalked, back-combed, and otherwise barbered, a Border should be presented in his honest working clothes.

BT standard is the only terrier standard that requires a loose-fitting and thick hide

As important as coat is a Border’s pelt or hide. The pelt or hide refers to skin; coat refers to hair. A person should feel a Border’s coat and pelt to evaluate it. The BT standard is the only terrier standard that requires a loose-fitting and thick hide. The working Border’s hide allows him to work his way in and out of narrow openings underground in pursuit of his quarry and protects him from scratches and bites. Correct hide is critical to Border Terriers. Gingerly pinching the skin is not a true test. Both hands should grasp the hide on a Border’s back and raise it slightly. This is the only way to feel the thickness and looseness of the hide.

Border Terrier Color

In color the Border may be red, grizzle and tan, blue and tan, or wheaten. Reds range from a rich, foxy red to shades of light or coppery red. Grizzle refers to the dark tipped hairs which give an overlay of color to a red or tan coat. The grizzle may be extensive or fairly light. Blue and tans and dark grizzles can be differentiated by the undercoat. The blue and tan will have a black undercoat. Wheatens are a clear light tan and are rare. Most pups are dark and, except for blue and tans, it is difficult to predict the color of the adult coat. All colors usually have a ring of coarse silver based hair about a third of the way from the base of the tail. Most Borders have dark ears and muzzles.

A moderate dog

A BT is moderate in all aspects of appearance. His bone is medium and he is rather narrow in shoulder, body and quarter. Built for work which requires a supple back, a Border is somewhat longer than some terriers. Because he must maneuver underground through narrow and twisted holes, big ribs, bulky shoulders, or too-short legs are handicaps. The standard states that his body should be capable of being spanned by a man’s hands behind the shoulders. To span the dog, stand behind him, place your thumbs together just behind the shoulders and reach around the rib cage. An [average] man’s middle fingers should meet under the dog’s chest. This is another non-negotiable requirement. Every properly built Border should be spannable.

While today’s Border may not have the opportunity to run with horses and hounds, the standard calls for the good length of stride and a gait that is free, agile and quick that an all day hunt requires. Some terriers are bred for flashy, perky movement in the show ring, a style that lacks the reach and drive essential for a BT. A correctly moving Border gives an overall impression of efficient, economical movement with lots of stamina.

Border temperament

Border temperament also sets the breed apart from other terriers. Because Borders were expected to run peacefully with foxhounds (similar to the Harrier), they were bred for a less dog-aggressive temperament than terriers who hunted primarily on their own. While the Border standard calls for a characteristic look of fearless and implacable determination, it states that by nature he is good-tempered. And, again, although the standard says that in the field he is hard as nails, game as they come and driving in attack, it also describes the Border as affectionate, obedient, and easily trained. The most desirable temperament is seen in Borders who are game when set to work, but work and live peacefully with other dogs. This attitude is readily apparent in a Terrier Group ring where most of the dogs are encouraged to spar with their neighbors. BT’s should NEVER be sparred. The proper attitude for a Border in this situation ranges from quiet determination to uninterested boredom. Fighting with other dogs is not part of a Border’s job and he should know it.

Little fellow in a plain brown suit who appreciates his friends

Some people dismiss the BT as less exciting in temperament than other terrier breeds. While it’s true that the Border doesn’t have a fiery and poised-on-tiptoes attitude, this makes him more, not less, desirable to those who know and love the breed. If one looks at the Border objectively, one should see an affectionate, workmanlike little fellow in a plain brown suit who appreciates his friends and the world at large, knows his job, and does the best he can without undue fanfare.