Buying a pet

Border Terrier: Breed info & health advice

Date updated: 15 02 2018

The Border Terrier is a go-getter in every sense. Lively, determined and inquisitive these guys love to explore and sniff around. But along with their terrier instincts there’s also a softer side: they’re generally affectionate, loyal - and above all else, fun! They’re always down to play if you are - so are you ready to welcome a Border Terrier into your home?

Average lifespan: 12 to 15 years

Weight: Males: 5.9 to 7.1 kg, Females: 5.1 to 6.4 kg

Height: Males:33 to 44 cm, Females: 28 to 36 cm 

Colouring: can be grizzle and tan, wheaten or blue and tan.

Grooming requirements: generally pretty low maintenance.

Average purchase cost: around £600 for a Kennel Club registered puppy and £450 for a non-registered pup.

Bet you didn’t know…

  • Foxes better watch out! With roots in the English and Scottish borders, the Border Terrier was originally bred to run with the hounds. Once the fox went to ground, it was the terrier’s job to flush them out.
  • More sociable than the average terrier… When working, these dogs operated as part of a hunting team, which helps to explain why Border Terriers get along so with other dogs - unlike some types of terriers who prefer to work and play alone.
  • “Thick-skinned” for a reason. The Border Terrier has a loose hide (i.e. thick skin) and a wiry coat. Both of these characteristics helped to protect them from scratches and bites when exploring holes and tunnels. If they find a tight spot, they usually can’t wait to dive in and see what’s down there!
  • It’s time to celebrate... 2020 marks the centenary of the breed’s official recognition by the UK Kennel Club. The seven UK Border Terrier clubs are celebrating in style with a May Bank Holiday weekend of events including bbq, dinner dance, grooming workshops and terrier racing. It’s all based on their original home turf of Northumberland. Find out more at Borderterriers2020.org.uk.
  • Andy Murray, David Walliams and Elton John are all big Border Terrier fans (at one point, Andy’s doggy Maggie May was Twitter famous). You might have also seen Border Terriers stealing the limelight in There’s Something About Mary and Anchorman.

Border Terrier staring at the camera

A great breed option for…

Choose a relaxed, good-humoured pup and a Border Terrier can be a perfect new addition to the family. These are smart dogs and are definitely trainable, although they can have a stubborn streak - so aren’t necessarily the best choice if you’re completely new to dog ownership.

Most Borders are more than happy to curl up on your lap - and if you’re up for half an hour or more of exercise each day, this breed will suit you fine. At home, they’re usually down for some rough and tumble with the kids, and most Border Terriers get on fine with other dogs in the house. If there are cats about however, this might not be the best breed choice; they love to chase anything small and furry!

Behaviour and training

Border Terriers are intelligent, which helps a lot when it comes to training. But at the same time they can be independent and strong minded, so don’t be too surprised if they ignore you and run off to do their own thing if something interesting catches their eye.

Scolding and shouting won’t really help you. With all training it’s about positive reinforcement, and early socialisation is important to help your buddy grow into a confident and friendly dog. Basic commands to focus on include Sit, Heel, Come, Leave, Down and Bed.

You can work with your Border Terrier’s natural energy and inquisitiveness to give a good mind and body workout. A game of hide and seek, and lots of fetch, can fit the bill perfectly. Agility training, including specialist courses for earth dogs can also be a  good call if your pooch is up for a new challenge.

While they’re less “yappy” than many terriers, excessive barking can sometimes be an issue with Borders. This is more likely if they’re left alone without enough stimulation while you’re at work. Also, remember that these guys love to dig, so if you leave your buddy alone with free run of the garden you could come home to find they’ve burrowing their way out! Our guides to separation anxiety and excessive barking are both worth a read if you’re thinking of bringing a terrier home. 

Given the chance, Border Terriers will eat way more than they need! Follow the advice of your vet on how much to give them - and stick to good quality dog food.

A weekly brush is usually all that’s needed to keep your buddy’s coat in good condition. The hair doesn’t usually need clipping - but should be hand-stripped around once or twice a year, which involves getting rid of the old fur at the root so the new coat can grow. If you’re new to this and want to get the technique right, it’s definitely worth getting a professional groomer to help you out and give you some pointers on how to do it yourself.

Common health issues to watch out for

The Border Terrier is one of the healthiest and hardiest breeds of small dog. That said, they are still prone to certain health conditions. Problems to be aware of include…

  • Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome (CECS). The Border Terrier is top of the list of breeds most at risk of developing CECS. The condition has only been identified recently. Its exact causes are unknown but is thought to be linked to abnormal activity in the central nervous system. CECS episodes can last from between a few seconds and 30 minutes and tend to involve severe trembling, cramping, an inability to stand or exaggerated stretching. Treatment involves trying to make the dog as comfortable as possible and pain relief. Dietary changes can relieve symptoms and reduce the occurrence of seizures.
  • Colitis. Border Terriers can be prone to Colitis (inflammation or irritation of the colon). Treatment depends on the cause but usually involves medication and specific advice on prevention. Feeding a high fibre diet invariably improves the condition longer term
  • Malocclusions. Smaller terriers can sometimes retain their milk teeth, which can prevent adult teeth from breaking through correctly, leading to an incorrect ‘bite’. It’s one of the problems the vet should check for as part of early month’sroutine health checks.Hypothyroidism. The chances of your Border Terrier developing hypothyroidism increases as they reach middle age. It’s where the thyroid stops working properly, often leading to weight gain, lethargy, poor hair condition and muscle tone. It’s manageable with the right care and medication.
  • Patellar Luxation. This is where the kneecap becomes dislocated. Sometimes it’s as a result of a genetic defect; in other cases, it’s down to injury (i.e. taking a knock). Treatment depends on severity, with surgery an option in some cases.      



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