Fox Terrier: Dog Breed Profile

The Fox Terrier is a playful family pet and award-winning showdog

fox terrier

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A mainstay of traditional British fox hunts, the Fox Terrier is a sturdy, athletic breed known for both its sense of humor and intelligence. While they do possess typical terrier traits of feistiness and a powerful prey drive, the Fox Terrier is a great match for anyone seeking a playful, amusing companion with lots of personality, while their athletic, graceful features also makes them master show dogs.

What’s unique about this breed is that there are actually two Fox Terriers—one is known as the Wire Fox Terrier, and the other is the Smooth Fox Terrier, based upon the texture of their coats. Another distinguishing physical trait is the head: a Smooth Fox Terrier's head is more V-shaped. Otherwise, the two breeds are essentially identical.

Breed Overview

Group: Terrier

Weight: 15 to 18 pounds

Height: 15 1/2 inches

Coat: Smooth or wired

Coat Colors: White with black, tan, or black-and-tan markings

Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Characteristics of the Fox Terrier

Affection Level Medium
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability Medium
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Fox Terrier

The Fox Terrier is a strong, short-backed hunter with either a rough, wiry coat or dense, flat coat and a distinctive expression. Their coats are predominantly white with a mixture of black or tan markings and no red allowed, so that they could avoid being mistaken for foxes during a hunt.

The bold, courageous breed originated in the late 1700s during the heyday of British fox hunts, when it was their job to coax the fox from its lair so hounds and horsemen could begin their pursuit. The Fox Terrier would essentially harass the fox by growling and lunging until it retreated from its hole.

Fox hunting is now banned in England, but it was a passion of the British gentry for generations and consisted of a full-dress fox hunt marked by pageantry and ritual—with eager terriers ridding in saddlebags. These dogs were specifically bred to “go to ground”—that is, chase small game from their dens. It’s believed that the Wire Fox Terrier is a descendant from the Rough Coated Terrier and Tan Terrier, while the Smooth Fox Terrier has historically been considered to be a cross between Old English Terriers, smooth-coated Black and Tan Terriers, Bull Terriers, Greyhounds, and Beagles.

Both the Wire and Smooth Fox Terriers are consistently successful show dogs, with more than a dozen Westminster Kennel Club "Best in Show" awards. Matford Vic, a Wire purchased from a farmer for only 10 dollars, won Westminster in both 1915 and 1916. Known as the “gentleman of the terrier world,” a Smooth Fox Terrier took Westminster's "Best in Show" three times in a row from 1907 to 1909.

In England, both Wire and Smooth Fox Terriers have been recognized as separate breeds since the late 19th century, and the AKC recognized them both as distinct breeds in 1985. Though the Wire Fox Terrier is considered to be the more recent of the two breeds, there are paintings that suggest both coat varieties have been around since the middle of the 18th century. Interbreeding of both Smooth and Wire Fox Terriers ceased in the early 1900s.

Among the many well-known Fox Terriers of history was Caesar, the favorite dog of King Edward VII, and Herbert Hoover had two Fox Terriers known as Big Ben and Sonnie. The breed became especially popular in the 1930s and 1940s thanks to Asta, co-star of William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man movies. The breed’s looks, features, and natural skill to perform have made these dogs a familiar presence in both movies and television.

Fox Terrier Care

Grooming a Wire Fox Terrier will depend on whether your dog is a show dog or a family companion. Showing these dogs will require hand-stripping the coat, while a pet’s coat can be clipped into a trim with minimal effort. Though they are not big shedders, Wire Foxes will require regular brushing to avoid matting. The Smooth Fox Terrier’s hard, dense coat should be groomed weekly with a thick brush.

Both Smooth and Wire Fox Terriers should have their nails trimmed monthly and ears checked weekly. These dogs also have a penchant for digging, so while a monthly bath is generally sufficient, more frequent bathing may be required if they happen to gain access to a garden or mud in the backyard.

Like most terriers, the Fox Terrier requires an ample amount of daily exercise, and this breed in particular is known for its boundless energy, so long walks and plenty of playtime in a large, securely fenced yard are a must to keep this breed mentally and physically fit. Like most terriers, this breed will require leashed walks and supervised play (they typically love to chase tennis balls), as their strong prey drive will kick in at the sight of a small animal.

Training these spunky, playful dogs will require a great deal of consistency and patience, but also a sense of humor. Although the breed is highly intelligent, they are also independent and easily bored, so training sessions must be kept brief, positive, and engaging. Proper socialization will also be important, as some of these dogs can become jealous or aggressive towards other pets in the home.

As potential show dogs, Fox Terriers are highly adept for performance events that require agility, speed, and intelligence. Naturally alert, they also tend to make excellent watchdogs.

Diet and Nutrition

The Fox Terrier should perform well with a high-quality commercially or home-prepared (under veterinary supervision) dog food. Fresh, clean water should be available at all times for this active, playful breed.

Common Health Problems

Fox Terriers are generally healthy dogs, although they have been associated with some eye disorders such as cataracts, primary lens luxation, and glaucoma, elbow and hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, as well as a neurological condition known as “wobbler’s gait.”

Where to Adopt or Buy a Fox Terrier

Be sure to check your local animal shelters and rescue groups for Fox Terrier dogs that are in need of a forever home. Rescue organizations such as the American Fox Terrier Rescue or Wire Fox Terrier Rescue Midwest can also provide online resources to help you find your new best friend.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Be sure to do your homework when choosing a dog breed. Talk to other Fox Terrier owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more about this particular breed and their care. There's a variety of dog breeds, and with a little research, you can be sure you'll find the right dog to bring home.

If you’re interested in learning more about similar dogs, consider these other terrier breeds: