How to Train a Border Terrier

Admirers of the upbeat and agile Border Terrier cherish their breed’s reputation as a tough, no-frills working terrier. These plucky, happy, and affectionate dogs are popular pets in town and country. The wiry coat is an easy keeper. Border Terriers, standing from 11 to 16 inches at the shoulder, are easy to recognize among other small terriers by their unique head shape’ the breed has an ‘otter head,’ as fanciers say. Another distinguishing trait is that they are longer in the leg than other small terriers. The wire coat can be grizzle and tan, blue and tan, wheaten, or red. Borders are described as ‘hard as nails’ when working, but at home, they’re good-tempered, affectionate, and trainable. Borders love exploring outdoors and make fine childhood playmates. Bred to be country dogs, Borders adapt well to city life’ as long as they get plenty of exercise. Borders tend to get along with other dogs, but their hunting instincts can be aroused when cats or squirrels cross their path.


In the hilly countryside near the Scottish-English border, old-time farmers and shepherds developed quick, agile terriers to help pursue and dispatch a clever, sheep-stealing predator: the large, powerful hill fox. This required game terriers with legs long enough to run with foxhounds and huntsmen on horseback. But they also had to be small enough to dig into the fox’s lair and force it into the open.

These dogs, the ancestors of today’s Border Terrier, were energetic, strong, and tireless, with a wiry, weatherproof coat to protect them from the rain, mist, and notoriously tough terrain of the borderland. Here, a breed historian describes the Border’s working ability: “There is no wall he cannot get over or wire entanglement he cannot scramble through. Should the fox run to earth, he will bolt him every time, or stay the night in the earth until the matter is settled.”

Early breed names included the Reedwater Terrier, Ullswater Terrier, and Coquetdale Terrier, all derived from place names in the north of England where these rugged little dogs plied their trade. It was, however, in Northumberland, England’s northernmost county, where the breed earned its enduring reputation as a foxhunter adept at working in tandem with hounds. (And to this day, the Border is known as a terrier who gets on well with his fellow canines.)
Foxhunting with Border Terriers in the north country was distinctly different from the pageantry of traditional British foxhunts staged on lavish country estates, where well-heeled horsemen in red coats and high hats rode with huge packs of foxhounds just for the sport of it.

Borderland foxhunts were working-class affairs with a practical purpose: to protect shepherds’ flocks from predators. And to this day, the Border Terrier remains a popular option for just plain folks in the United Kingdom looking for a spirited, low-maintenance companion.

The Kennel Club (England) recognized the Border Terrier in 1920, and the AKC followed suit 10 years later.

Quick Facts

Temperament: affectionate / happy / plucky

Height: 12-15 inches 

Weight: 11.5 to 15.5 pounds 

Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Terrier Group


The Border Terrier is generally a healthy breed, and and a responsible breeder will screen breeding stock for health conditions such as hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, juvenile cataracts, seizures, heart problems, and allergies. Some Borders seem less tolerant of hot weather, so outdoor exercise should be kept to a minimum when the temperature gets above 85 degrees F.

Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
  • Patella Evaluation
  • Hip Evaluation
  • SLEM DNA Test
  • Cardiac Exam
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation


The Border Terrier has a double coat: a hard, wiry outer coat over a soft, fluffy undercoat. Like most double-coated breeds, the Border sheds seasonally. Most of the time, a quick brushing every week or two is enough to keep the coat in good shape. During shedding season, owners can expect to spend a half-hour or so every day stripping out the dead hair, either with their hands or with a rake or stripping tool. The outer coat repels dirt, but bathing compromises this ability. Usually a dirty Border Terrier can be cleaned up with a towel and a brush. As with all breeds, the BT’s nails should be trimmed regularly.


Borders are active dogs and need plenty of exercise daily. A brisk half-hour walk or play session with his owner and a ball or flying disc should be enough to keep a Border healthy and happy. Because of their instinct to chase small animals, a Border Terrier must always be walked on a leash, and play sessions must take place inside a fenced-in yard or other secure area. Terriers are diggers, so ideally any backyard fencing will extend underground for at least 18 inches. BTs enjoy participating in tracking, lure coursing, agility, and earthdog, as well as canine sports such as flyball.


Early socialization and puppy training classes are a must for Border Terriers. The breed’s parent club notes: ‘A Border was bred to think for himself, which can be both his most endearing and most frustrating quality. Told to stay, he will oblige for what he considers enough time, then slip off about his own business. Confronted, he will act sorry, since he really likes to please. Punish him harshly, and you will break his spirit. If you want an unfailingly obedient dog, don’t get a Border Terrier.’ Remember that Borders cannot resist a chase and should only be off-leash in securely fenced areas.


The Border Terrier should do well on high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.