Complete Guide To The Border Terrier: Care, Grooming,

The Border Terrier is a small, active, and lively dog. With a fierce independent streak, this little dog is happy to explore and adventure on his own and take minimal direction from you as the owner. But, as a people pleaser, this dog still wants to be able to keep his family happy. The Border Terrier does well with other animals and is delighted to play with children.

Loyal and alert, the Border Terrier can make an excellent watchdog, alerting his owner to strangers approaching your home. Although this little dog is not very popular in the United States, it is the perfect family dog and can be well suited for apartment living if given enough daily exercise.  

I’m not just a veterinarian with over 20 years of experience which includes working with a few Border Terrier breeders, I also have owned one for the past 11 years. While my Doogie is more of an outlier in terms of most of the common charactereistics of the breed, he also represents some of the best traits of the Border Terrier breed.

This is My Border Terrier, Doogie, as a Puppy

How Big Do Border Terriers Get?

Male13-15″ at the shoulder13-15 lbs
Female12-13.5″ at the shoulder11.5 – 14 lbs

Of course, they can always get a little larger. My boy, Doogie, was a solid 4″ taller than his sisters at a year old and weighed 20 lbs. He was in excellent shape. He just came out big.

What Do Border Terriers Look Like?

This dog is easily recognizable by its otter-shaped head. The dog also is lankier than other comparable tiny terriers. The dog has a thick, double coat with a tough and wiry topcoat. The Border Terrier can come in several colors, including tan, wheaten, red, and a blue and tan combination.  

What Is The Personality Of A Border Terrier?

When it comes to the Border Terrier’s personality, it is safe to say this dog is an independent thinker. The dog was bred to think for himself, which is a desirable attribute for a hard-working farm dog. However, this trait can be frustrating for owners attempting to train their dogs. The Border Terrier will pay attention to training for as long as he deems reasonable and then will wander off to find his own entertainment. Because of this fierce independent streak, it is essential to keep training sessions short and exciting. Always use consistent but positive training techniques, and be sure to use plenty of praise and treats to keep your pet engaged.  

At his core, the Border Terrier is happy to be around other animals and his family. He is good-natured and wants to be part of any activity you are involved with doing. The dog needs plenty of companionship and engagement to stay happy. If this dog is left alone for long periods, it can become destructive and prone to nuisance behaviors such as digging, excessive barking, and chewing. If you travel for work frequently or work long hours, this may not be a good breed of dog for you.  

In my experience, the Border Terrier is a great “desk” dog. Any time I am sitting down at a desk in my home, my Border can be found at my feet. That’s something I hear is very consistent throughout the breed.

Keep in mind that the Border Terrier was bred to work on a farm, intended to hunt after small prey like rodents and foxes. The dog was bred to dig under fences and fit into tight areas, and much of these instincts remain embedded with the breed. The Border Terrier is an expert escape artist and has been known to dig under fences or even climb fences to pursue prey or simply explore.

Always keep this dog on a leash when walking or in a securely fenced yard. Make sure the fence extends up to 18 inches below the soil line to prevent your Border Terrier from digging an escape route out of your yard.  

How Much Grooming Does A Border Terrier Need?

The Border Terrier is a moderate shedder and is expected to have a heavy shedding season twice per year. This heavy shed usually coincides with the changing seasons, as spring and fall approach. The dog has a double coat consisting of a coarse and tough outer coat, covering a soft and downy undercoat. Keep the dog brushed about once per week to pull the healthy and natural oils produced by the skin into the fur.

When the dog is going through its shedding season, hand stripping the coat will help remove dead hair. This process can be done at home with a stripping rake or performed by a professional groomer. The wiry outer coat of the Border Terrier naturally repels dirt, so keep bathing minimal. Remember to keep the ears clean and the nails trimmed short to keep your Border Terrier in good shape.  

Most Borders are hardly little dogs that don’t care about the stripping process but my Doogie never has been okay with it whether it was me or his breeder. Therefore, I shave him 2-3 times per year. I would never recommend leaving a Border Terrier with its natural double coat as it tends to get quite messy and smelly (Borders will develop a musky odor if not bathed regularly).

Border Terrier breeders might hate this but it’s honestly the only way I can keep his coat clean. He absolutely loves it after he’s shaved.

How Much Exercise Does A Border Terrier Need?

Despite its small size, a Border Terrier is a highly active dog that will need plenty of exercise every day to stay healthy. Because this little dog has such an independent streak and a high prey drive, it is essential to always keep your dog on a leash or in a very secure fenced yard, under constant supervision.

One walk a day or one play session a day is not enough exercise for a puppy or an adult. While they are young and middle-aged they are always on the go. It wasn’t until I started taking my Border to day play and the dog park before I could properly tire him out.

Because the little Border Terrier is intelligent and active, it can perform well at dog agility, tracking, and lure coursing. The Border Terrier has also been successfully participating in flyball competitions. Not only are canine sports exciting and interesting for your dog to join in, but they offer a good chance for you to bond and interact with your dog. Given the right amount of daily physical and mental stimulation, the Border Terrier can be a good apartment dog, adapting well to urban environments.  

What Dog Food Is Best For Border Terriers?

Border Terriers require no special dietary considerations other than they tend to lean towards obesity as they get older (at least the dogs in my practice have). Because they’re already a small frame size, adding extra calories is easy by giving them high-calorie snacks and small bites of people food.

Before we start with the food lists, just know that grain-free dog foods are a myth. There’s zero science showing that they are helpful. In fact, there’s increasing evidence that it’s causing issues in certain breeds of dogs. Food allergies are the only reason to even consider a grain-free diet but only choose one with the help of your veterinarian.

Basic dog foods that I recommend include:

Over the Counter Weight Management Diets:

How Long Do Border Terriers Live?

12-15 years based on information provided by the AKC

What Health Concerns Do Border Terriers Have?

Border Terriers are pretty healthy dogs in general. While they could have dental disease and be overweight, none of the Borders I’ve seen exhibited those issues.

Thankfully Borders are fairly obscure in most of the United States so most breeders seem to be responsible with the quality of dogs that they are producing.

Where Can I Find a Border Terrier?

The Border Terrier is not a popular dog in the United States, but it is still possible to find this dog from a reputable breeder. To start your search for a Border Terrier, visit the Border Terrier Club of America, Inc. for more information about the breed and a list of approved and certified breeders. Before adopting a new puppy, make sure you fully vet the breeder to ensure the welfare and ongoing care of the puppies. Any new puppy should come with the appropriate health certifications and early vaccinations to ensure a lifetime of health. 

If you do not purchase a puppy from a breeder, consider rescuing a Border Terrier from a rescue group like the North American Border Terrier Welfare group. Often, people will adopt this tiny dog, not fully realizing the high energy and extended exercise time commitment this dog needs to stay fit and happy. Rescuing a dog not only allows you to find the purebred dog you want but also helps to give a dog his forever home with your family.  

Where Can I Find Out More About Border Terriers?

Border Terrier Club of America

AKC Breed Page

Fun Facts About the Border Terrier

The Border Terrier is from Northern England and was originally bred to help hunt foxes that preyed on farmers’ livestock. The breed was popular with farmers throughout the 18th century but didn’t really gain notoriety outside the farming community until the 20th century.  

This dog was bred to hunt and chase foxes, and his appearance is largely beneficial. The small otter-shaped head could help this dog fit into tight spaces, while the wiry, thick coat could protect the dog against potential fox bites. Plus, the Border Terrier has a loose and thick skin that was often puncture-proof, further saving him from possible fox bites.  

The first Border Terrier officially registered in the US was named Neterbyers Ricky. The dog was certified in 1930, but people in the US failed to accept this as a popular dog breed. Today, although recognized by the American Kennel Club, the Border Terrier only ranks 81st out of 155 dog breeds in popularity.  

This dog has a powerful instinct to hunt and dig but is also quite an athlete. The Border Terrier has incredible endurance and speed and was initially bred to have enough energy to keep up with hunters and farmers on horseback.  

Finally, the famous veterinarian and author James Herriot talked about his own Border Terrier, Bodie, a great deal in his Dog Stories anthology. It was a dog that he had always wanted to have and he finally got one when he was older and retired.

As I was deeply inspired by James Herriot, I also felt the need to procure a Border Terrier if the opportunity ever arose. Thankfully, it did, and 11 years ago Doogie entered my life. He’s been a loving, quirky addition to the family.