Border Terrier Characteristics

The Border Terrier is a small, rough-coated dog in the terrier group. Border terrier characteristics are like most characteristics of the Terrier Group.  Bred first as a fox hunter, the Border Terrier shares ancestry with the Dandie Dinmont and Bedlington Terriers.

This small, alert, good-natured dog was originally bred to assist in foxhunts, driving foxes out of their hiding places and out into the open for the hounds to chase. From this ancestry, these dogs still have a powerful drive to hunt and dig, as well as the energy level that enabled them to keep up with hunters on horseback.

The breed is small but sturdy (12-15” at the shoulder, 11-16 pounds), with longer legs than many terriers and other breeds bred for digging.  The head is rounded, somewhat like an otter.

It has a short wiry coat that can be grizzle and tan, blue and tan, wheaten, or red.  Border Terriers require clipping and trimming every few months. While breed purists say that terrier coats should never be clipped because it makes the coat softer and more prone to matting, advocating hand-stripping (each dead hair pulled out so a new one can grow in its place). But for pet dogs, clipping is just fine, avoiding the discomfort of stripping.  Shedding is minimal.

Breed History

Originally the Border Terrier was referred to as the Coquetdale Terrier or Redesdale Terrier because of the area in Northumberland County, northern England, in which it evolved, but by the late 1800s, it was generally known as the Border Terrier.  This is likely because of its long history with the Border Hunt in Northumberland; the border in question is that of eastern England and Scotland. The breed shares its ancestry with that of the Bedlington and Dandie Dinmont Terriers, although it resembles neither. Their original purpose was to drive foxes from their burrows, in which they had gone to the ground. Foxhounds were too large to do this job. They were also used to kill rodents, in addition to hunting otters and badgers.

The Border Terrier was recognized as a breed by the UK Kennel Club in 1920; the same year The Border Terrier Club was formed. The first Kennel Club Border Terrier ever registered was The Moss Trooper, a dog sired by Jacob Robson’s Chip in 1912 and registered in the Kennel Club’s Any Other Variety listing in 1913. The Border Terrier was accepted for Kennel Club recognition in 1920. The American Kennel Club (AKC) followed suit in 1930. In 2006, the Border Terrier ranked 81st in the number of registrations by the AKC, while it ranked 10th in the terrier–friendly United Kingdom. In the UK, the breed is growing in popularity; by 2008, the Border Terrier ranked 8th in the number of registrations by the UK Kennel Club.


Most terrier breeds are remarkably similar in basic temperament. The same words are used over and over regarding the “dynamic, energetic” terrier temperament– quick to bark, quick to chase, lively, bossy, feisty, scrappy, clever, independent, stubborn, persistent, impulsive, intense.  The Border Terrier has been bred to have a more subtle character in recent years. Now they are more adaptable to an apartment or small house living if properly exercised.

Border terrier in dog agility
Border Terriers have no shortage of energy. Be sure to keep them busy or they might select alternate activities.

The breed is lively and likes vigorous exercise and athletic activities. He tends to play rough and prefers vigorous exercise and interactive games.  Most Border Terriers who have been extensively socialized are friendly with strangers, though there is timidity in some lines.

The breed is sociable with strangers and other dogs, and less given to fiery posturing than many other terriers.  That said, inheritance of temperament is less certain than that of size and coat.  Just be sure to socialize your puppy.

Border Terrier Health Issues

Border Terriers are a generally hardy breed; however, they do have some known genetic health problems associated with them.

A UK Kennel Club survey puts their median lifespan at 14 years.[7]

Indigestion resulting from eating a toy can cause the appearance of illness. Typical symptoms include lethargy, unwillingness to play, a generally ‘unhappy’ appearance, lack of reaction to affection, and inability or unwillingness to sleep. These symptoms are generally very noticeable, however, they are also present just prior to Border Terrier bitches being in season.

Temperament and behavior are also shaped by proper raising and training.

Tips and Hints for the Breed 

tiny border terrier puppy
very young border terrier pup

Some of the more negative traits of the breed include:

  • Providing enough exercise and activities to keep them busy

Border Terriers are only content when given daily exercise; if unavailable, dogs may rise in temperament and become nervous or “hyper”.

  • Very strong instincts to chase other living creatures that run

Teach your puppy how to behave in the house, especially if you have other animals in the house. Border Terriers were bred for hunting small animals. Keep other small pets away from your Border!

  • Stubbornness (mind of his own)

This is likely to improve with consistent patient training.  Border Terriers are more willing to work with you than many other terriers. Many excel at the highest levels of obedience and agility competition. But the toughness that makes them suited to tracking and killing vermin can frustrate you when they decide to be stubborn. You must show them, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say.  Never leave your Border Terrier off-leash outside your fenced area, or you may run the risk of her running off, no matter how hard you call.

border terrier smiling
You really gotta love this cute, smiling happy dog!
  • Digging holes where you do not want them; i.e. in your flowers, under your fence, etc.

Again, training and positive attention will be essential to reduce this issue. Also, fencing installed underground can forestall escapes and neighborhood chases of your agile athletic dog.

  • Excessive Barking

Again, hyperactivity due to insufficient exercise may result in this annoying problem.

Some ways to avoid problems with Your Border Terrier:

  • By choosing an ADULT dog from an animal shelter or rescue group, you can easily see what you’re getting, and plenty of adult Border Terriers have already proven themselves not to have negative characteristics. They will also be free of the downside of puppyhood, such as chewing things and soiling your home.
  • If you want a puppy, you can avoid some negative traits by choosing the right breeder and the right puppy. Unfortunately, you usually can’t tell whether a puppy has inherited temperament or health problems until he grows up. Be sure to confine a new puppy so it cannot access all your things to chew or soil.
  • Potential defensive reactions may result at times when you need to physically chastise a terrier, and you go beyond what THEY believe is a fair correction.  Many terriers as a group are more likely than other breeds to growl or snap in response. An obedience instructor does not report this with a Border Terrier but is always extra careful when putting hands on any terrier for behavioral correction.
  • Finally, you can avoid some negative traits by training your Border Terrier to respect you.

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2 thoughts on “Border Terrier Characteristics”

  1. As a Border Terrier owner of my lovely 13 year old Indy, I vouch that all the characteristics you have mentioned about Border are true and correct. And that’s what makes Borders to loveable and a joy to have in your household. Yes, they can be stubborn, yes they can be independent, but their affection, their intelligence and witt in their behaviour are second to none. They can be cheeky knowing that they are going to make you laugh. Their acument in understanding and pre-empting what is being said or what is going to happen next is something I have never witnessed in any other breed. Am I partial? Only a tiny bit. But I am pleased that you introduced this breed so exceptionally trufully, Barbara, as I hope through your detailed description of Borders more potential dog owners will be encouraged to adopt one. On behalf of my Indy too, thank you ever so much!

    • Hi Giulia,
      Thank you so much for your kind words about my long awaited Border Terrier post. I’m so happy that you enjoyed it. I have learned much more about this breed since writing this post. I don’t know why but Border Terriers are not all that well known and loved in the US as they are in the Uk. Maybe if more people read my post they will grow to love them too. They should also be checking out your website for sure since you have much more knowledge and first hand experience than I do.
      Thanks again for the comment and your kind words!


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