Thoughts on the Border Terrier

Discussing The Border Terrier With Phil Freilich, Patrick Glover, Ronnie Irving, Ruth Ann Naun, and Marg Pough. Photo by Tom Weigand


I worked for 35 years in the horticultural industry. I have been actively retired for the past 8 years. I am a member of the Contra Costa County Kennel Club have been the Show Chairman for Woofstock Cluster since the Clusters’ beginning in 2008. I currently judge the Terrier group, completing the Working Group and a few Herding breeds. I live in Martinez, CA, which is located in the East Bay about 45 minutes from downtown San Francisco. Outside of dogs my wife Sharon and I breed and show full blood Dorper Sheep (100% of gene pool originates from African stock). As with our dogs our aim is to raise the best quality of Dorper Sheep possible. Our sheep are sold at auction to ranchers and farmers to use as breeding stock to improve their flocks. Under our flock name, Freilance Dorpers we have 20 Dorper ewes on 65 acres we lease near our home. I also maintain a year-round vegetable garden with many spring and fall crops. My wife and I enjoy traveling and we like to take an international trip once a year. Growing up, we had Miniature Schnauzers as our family dog. I became involved with Border Terriers in 1988 when my wife and I decided we needed a dog that would follow our horse when we went trail riding. We started showing in 1989 shortly after joining the Border Terrier Club of the Redwoods. Our first show was the bench show at Golden Gate KC. I applied to judge Border Terriers in 1999 and have been judging for 17 years.


I live in Great Pond, Maine; my wife Jill and I run a small sheep farm. I have worked with dogs professionally since my late teens, working in several kennels, managing a Massachusetts SPCA shelter for several years and becoming a Kennel-Huntsman, maintaining a kennel of 25 to 30 couple of Foxhounds for several years. My first Border came in the late 70s; I started to show at about that time and have been judging for about 10 years.


Although my family originally came from the Scottish side of the border district between England and Scotland, we now live in England in Oxfordshire. Now retired, I was originally a CPA but worked most of my life in the refrigerated warehousing business, partly in the US. I have been in the dog world all my life as I am a third generation Border Terrier person my grandfather having first had the breed three years after it was recognized by the UK Kennel Club in 1920. Showing? Over fifty years. Judging? Since 1967


I am a long-time resident of metropolitan New York City, and “outside” of dogs I am a retired educator. With my husband, Bob, we got our first Border Terrier in 1972. I began judging the breed in the early 1990s.



I live in Ithaca, NY. I spend my time mostly with various dog activities— conformation, obedience, Earthdog, tracking, teaching 4-H Grooming and Handling and Pet Therapy at Hospicare, our Exception Education school and the library. I come from a large family and family is important. I grew up with family dogs, a Springer, a GSD, a mix and an “amateur Boxer”. I was the dog nut in the family and did the home training of our GSD. I made my mother drive me to local shows (Bryn Mawr KC, then held in Devon.) And one year I took the train to spend a day at Westminster when it was on a school holiday.

I got my first Border Terrier in 1963, and bred my first litter in 1965. (I was working in NYC and showed my first homebred Border at Westminster in 1967 and still have her WB rosette.) I started judging in 1995. I judge Border Terriers, Otterhounds, Junior Showmanship and Earthdog.


1. What makes the Border an outstanding show dog? What makes him a great pet?

PF: Most Border Terriers are not natural show dogs. Exhibitors and handlers have to work at training a Border Terrier to be a good to outstanding show dog. The Border Terrier is a friendly, active dog with an excellent temperament that fits most families life styles. Borders love to be part of any family activity. They are a medium to small size dog with relatively few major health problems.

PG: I do not think the Border is an outstanding show dog. A Border is an extremely attractive, functional animal. An outgoing, friendly demeanor completes the picture. When I think of an outstanding show dog, I think of a very stylish, flashy breed—of which a Border is neither. A Border’s beauty stems from all the ingredients that make it “essentially a working terrier” and its calm, pleasant nature—when not at work—complete the picture. What makes him a great pet is that very same nature, his ability to get along well with other dogs. The fact that he can keep up with you, no matter what your pursuits, then curl up with you and read a book if that’s what you are doing next, is what is attractive to me. This is not a Terrier that needs to go all the time.

RI: I’m not sure that Borders are outstanding show dogs. There are many breeds such as Wire Fox Terriers etc., that are far more flashy and spectacular and are rather easier to persuade to show with enthusiasm. What makes him a great pet? Easy to look after and groom, steady in temperament and not generally subject to many health problems. The pet dogs that you meet in the street often look like the ones you see in the show ring. There are not many Terrier breeds that could claim that!

RN: Both questions can be answered by directing focus back to the breed standard. Bred to live within farm families in the Border country between Scotland and England, to run out with hound packs after fox and then to go to ground after the fox when the fox does to earth, the form of the Border Terrier follows its function. They are intelligent, agreeable, hearty, sound and sensible.

MP: Borders are the Terrier that can do it all—anything from showing to obedience, Earthdog, agility, hunting, or just hanging out. It is primarily an owner-handled breed and those dogs go home to family after the shows.

2. What is the most prevalent fault you see today?

PF: Poor shoulders seem to be a universal problem for most breeds. There are the exceptions, but very few breeds have adequate to good shoulders.

PG: It would have to be fronts, and incorrect shoulder assembly. Your hopes are dashed so many times when you are looking at a very attractive Border, but it moves improperly due to some issue in the front.

RI: Poor fronts both for construction and movement, and not enough Border Terriers with enough harsh double coat.

RN: In my view, the most prevalent fault today is poor fronts, shoulders and movement.

MP: Showing in too short a coat, so that you cannot evaluate if it is a working coat with both correct under coat and harsh topcoat. Lack of thick hide. Lack of correct length of rib. Inadequate shoulder layback leading to restricted movement.

3. Describe the breed in three words.

PF: Friendly, active and intelligent.

PG: Narrow, rugged and stoic.

RI: Active, friendly and stoical.

RN: Hard to do, but I would say, “natural working Terrier”.

MP: “Essentially a Working Terrier”

4. What are your “must have” traits in this breed?

PF: Correct otter varmint headpiece and expression, a spannable dog that can work in the field, and a dog with thick loose hide with a hard, thick jacket.

PG: Proper head, with strong muzzle, underjaw and large punishing teeth. Correct build for a working Terrier, strongly made, narrow throughout, ribs well laid back, with enough length and range. A weather-resistant double coat, and truly sound enough to follow a horse all day.

RI: The head of the Border Terrier—like that of an otter—is its most distinguishing feature. Good sound movement is also an essential as is a correct mouth. Also, for the Border Terrier, a person with average sized man’s hands ought to be able to span it behind the shoulder so as to ensure it would be able to follow a fox into its lair—the job for which the breed was originally bred. But it is the totality of the dog that counts and judges should not become obsessed with any one feature.

RN: Must have traits include: otter-like head, strong proper scissors bite, soundness front and rear, spannable, heavy hide and double coat.

MP: Enough length of leg to run free with the Terrier man and climb the steep fells. Correct shoulder and movement. Correct rib, in shape and length and flexibility. Correct double coat with thick hide. Pleasing head without exaggeration.

5. Are there any traits in this breed you fear are becoming exaggerated?

PF: Breeders today are doing a good job of maintaining the integrity of the Border Terrier. It is a breed without exaggerations. When dogs start to become too big, breeders tend to put more emphasize on size. I see many exhibits that lack substance and need more bone. It is questionable if some of the smaller bitches you see in the ring today can work and go to ground.

PG: Exaggeration is something to be avoided at all costs in the Border Terrier. The word “moderate” or “moderately” appears six times in our standard. A good Border is usually quite moderate in all aspects. Excessive rear angulation is the only consistent exaggeration I have noticed. Putting a rear out behind the dog does it quite a disservice.

RI: In the UK, excessive length of body. The UK breed standard asks for the body to be “fairly long”, but some people are construing this as “long” rather than “fairly long”. The AKC breed standard says, “The height at the withers is slightly greater than the distance from the withers to the tail.” In my view that’s correct and gives the right balance. In the US on the other hand, there is at times a tendency to go for dogs that are over angulated behind, with too much bend of stifle. And these days, certainly in the UK, not enough people allow the dogs to show on a loose lead—too many are stacked.

RN: Exaggerations in the US Borders, in my view include over grooming, foreign substances in coat and scissoring of coat.

MP: Heads are in some cases become “cute” and too short in muzzle resulting in a rounder eye. Also some have too much back skull. Temperament, too much on their toes, as some are selecting for a showy dog, which may result in temperament issues. Borders are not a showy Terrier and being bored in the show ring is NOT atypical nor a fault. Borders may drop their tail when at rest.

6. What do you think new judges misunderstand about the breed?

PF: First and foremost, the Border Terrier is a working breed meant to go to ground and dispense small vermin. Your final decisions should be based on if a Border can get the job done and then consider showmanship. Many new judges are either uncomfortable or do not know how to properly span a Border Terrier.

PG: When I see animals put up that are fine boned, shelly, not strongly put together, with weak fore face and jaw, I question whether a judge has an understanding of a working Terrier. Our Borders are first and foremost a working Terrier and should be judged accordingly.

RI: Sometimes in the US where adjudicators are mostly multi breed judges, new people often think that the Border is so different from other Terrier breeds that they become obsessed about certain individual factors. They should instead judge the dog as a whole. In the UK, with many more specialist judges, not enough new adjudicators understand what makes a good front and correct front movement.

RN: New judges can underestimate the commitment to form following function intended in the breed standard. Border Terriers are still meant to be able to work as they did in the Cheviot Hills from which they originate.

MP: Why spanning is important—understanding how to do it and what it can tell them. Spanning helps feel balance and rib flexibility. Smaller is not always better.

7. Is there anything else you’d like to share about the breed?

PF: Judges should know that when we talk about a Border having an otter-like expression, we are referring to an English river otter and not a sea otter. Moderate is used 7 times in the breed standard.

PG: Borders are increasingly being shown in stripped down coats, often too short to accurately assess proper coat texture. There is a strong trend away from showing them in their workmanlike tweedy jackets as they have in the past; this seems to be a march away from type. I sincerely miss seeing a class of Borders out there with proper jackets.

RI: Anyone who has them should realize that many of them still have the hunting instinct for which they were originally bred. They may, therefore, go off hunting if they get the chance. In the UK, the major single source of premature death in the breed is as a result of them running off and being killed in a traffic accident.

RN: Border Terrier exhibitors will value honest efforts to understand this breed which is a show dog that is also still a working dog. Remember we all could understand better, and have more to learn about judging.

MP: The Border is “essentially a working Terrier.” I want to see enough length of leg to allow the Border to climb the steep fells, and maneuver through thick heather without tiring. I look for a body that is flexible to allow the dog to go to ground. And I reward the characteristics that make a Border a working Terrier! A Border should have a hide that is “very thick and loose fitting” and “a very wiry and somewhat broken top coat which should lie closely.” Teeth should be “strong, with a scissors bite, large in proportion to the size of the dog.” Eyes should be “moderate in size, neither prominent or small and beady.” We continue to need to strive for good shoulders and good extension on the side movement. I see dogs lacking in hide and in coat texture, and the desirable tooth size. In addition judges should not reward the cute expression with prominent or round eyes, undesirable in a working Terrier. As breeders, we need to be aware of the characteristics that define a Border Terrier.

8. What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever experienced at a dog show?

RN: I watched as an excellent American judge puzzle through a class which included an unfamiliar coat color on British Border Terrier dog being shown. He was being shown by an exhibitor unknown to the judge. The exhibitor is a third generation, prominent British breeder who had recently come to reside in this country with his family and this dog. The judge took the time to come to a good decision, as a natural coat color is fully acceptable. The judge and the exhibitor established a good working relationship out of that very interesting first meeting, and all present at ringside enjoyed the show.

MP: Showing in obedience many years ago when going for a CD with Ch Bandersnatch Snark CD CG, obedience rings were solid hurdles. This was an outdoor show and across the show ground there was a fence line with brush and trees, and horses on the far side running and neighing in play. “Snark” kept leaping up to see what the sound was, while maintaining heel position; but 6 feet to my left as I went down the middle of the ring. At every halt he would zip into perfect heel position or sit parallel to me, but the 6 feet away. At the end of the heel free, both the judge and I were laughing, as he said he was afraid he could not qualify that exercise. Borders are very inventive in obedience and the handler must have a sense of humor.

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