The Border Terrier

Does the word terrier conjure up visions of steaming, panting, mud caked gremlins with glittering eyes and "oh, what big teeth you have"?

Prepare to meet the Border Terrier, a breed that could really change your opinion.

I admit it, I am besotted with Borders! .One look from those knowing , dark eyes that gaze so steadily from that otter like head and I’m hooked. Their character is often described as dour, don’t make the mistake of thinking this means dull, nothing could be further from the truth. The border is one of those people that love to form a partnership with their owner, where you go he’ll happily accompany you without craving your attention and making a nuisance of himself. If you want TOTAL obedience this breed is not for you, ask for a sit and stay and you’ll be offered a compromise by your obliging dog while he grins from ear to ear.

Size? a handy average of about 10 inches (25cms) at the shoulder, weight should be around 12lbs.On the subject of weight, it’s worth remembering that the border terrier is usually a gannet in dogs clothing, not only will he love to eat vast quantities if you let him, he’s not that fussy as to the original content of his chosen buffet, so beware waistlines and breath can suffer!

You should be able to put your hands around the dogs ribcage, just behind the shoulder, spanning the dog in this way is still used both in the show ring and by the working terrier men to gauge the dogs fitness and ability to go into small earth’s and come out again without the aid of a shoe horn.

It’s generally accepted that Borders, along with the Bedlington and the Dandi Dinmont are descended from the dogs bred by the wandering tinkers or ‘muggers’ from the Northumberland border. There’s no doubt that in this tough landscape they were bred to work, whether it be to flush fox from earth or to assist in filling the pot.

The Kennel Club breed standard says of the Border, it should be able to follow a horse, we’re not just talking about a jolly jog along the lanes here, we’re talking keeping up with hounds across rugged, uncompromising terrain. This little dog is racy and built to take a hard days work., so what happens when you take him out of this environment , do they turn yappy or snappy? They don’t seem to suffer as some breeds do, the split personality that makes for an unpredictable pet, they are adaptable and generous. This is also a smart and resourceful breed, staying out of trouble takes intelligence , aggression really is the last resort for a Border As to noise, they certainly let you know if something out of the ordinary is happening, but are content to let you take charge .

Moonlit nights produce a musical serenade from my Borders reminiscent of the world yodeling championships , their sense of smell is acute, so we put it down to a passing fox who knows better than to linger. The extremes of weather in the border country demand a dense, harsh coat (called a jacket) with a good undercoat giving a real "tweedy" countryman look.   Their coats can vary tremendously, some have a hard, dry coat needing very little attention. Others have soft, woolly hair. If you let this type of coat grow without anymore attention than a daily brush, in most cases the hair will become rather sticky and unpleasant, especially in summer. Stripping is the answer, no , not the Full Monty type but the kind undertaken with finger and thumb plucking or a  stripping knife, in ignorant hands this blunt instrument can inflict gross injury to your borders coat, so get expert advice before you try. If you take your dog to a dog groomer they may suggest clipping as an alternative to stripping by hand, it’s certainly cheaper and the only drawbacks are that the coat will grow back fluffier, so not a good idea if you want to exhibit your dog at shows.

Colours include red, wheaten, grizzle and tan or blue and tan.It is sometimes difficult to be accurate about the colour a pup’s coat will be when adult as Borders grow lighter with maturity. The blue and tan will be black and tan as a young pup and the nearly black pup will likely grow up to be a grizzle (a  sort of attractive sprinkle of dark and light hair).As you would expect from such a hardy breed there are few hereditary health problems, it is worth mentioning that their stoic attitude can make diagnoses when they are unwell quite difficult. They will stare ahead, gazing into the middle distance, enduring pain and discomfort without a whimper. It’s not easy for a vet when his patient refuses to give him a clue.

Every breed of dog has behavior which though typical for the breed may, in some situations cause concern. Borders are no different, cats are to most Borders fair game, don’t get me wrong I know of Borders and their feline friends who live together in harmony, it’s just the neighbors cat none of them will tolerate! Small children and small dogs should be introduced to each other with caution, borders are just the same as most breeds, high pitched voices can excite and distress making the dog act naturally for a dog but this reaction would not be acceptable in the home. Small nips at tiny fingers can only result in louder yells! It’s not just a question of training the dog but also of educating the child.

If you’re thinking of choosing a Border Terrier to be part of the family be aware that a harsh word is all the punishment for wrongdoing that this honest little dog needs, don’t be surprised if he refuses to speak to you for several days after , some might call it sulking, I think the Border Terrier would call it ‘reconsidering his position’!

As a companion the Border gets a resounding thumbs up, his size and nature means he’ll enjoy just being with you, town or country , but he is a terrier, from the word ‘terra’ meaning earth, and this is just what a Border likes best, rummaging amongst the dead leaves of autumn or scratching at newly dug soil, snuffling and investigating ,showing his owner the fun a busy Border can have.