A hardy, mid-sized breed, the Wire Fox Terrier rarely turns down a chase, a hunt or an invite to playtime. Tenacious yet amiable, determined yet devoted, this Terrier stands on the tiptoe of expectation, ever ready for life’s adventures.

Wire Fox Terrier pedigree and history

Developed in the 19th century British Isles, the alert and active Wire Fox Terrier was bred to hunt, as well as to find and kill farm vermin. His likely ancestors were black-and-tan working rough-coated Terriers originating in Wales and northern England.

The Wire Fox Terrier’s history is closely tied to English Fox hunting. Hounds would chase the fox until he went to ground, then Terriers were needed to pester the fox from hiding places. The Wire Fox Terrier, a combination of speed, endurance and tenacity, could run near the hounds and horses during the hunt with energy left to follow a fox into burrows. Some hunters carried the early Terriers in their saddlebags, dropping them to drive the fox out as needed.

Is the Wire Fox Terrier a family dog?

In the 1930’s, the Wire Fox Terrier became a popular family dog. The breed’s status correlated to his amiable temperament but also to the success of a detective comedy film series The Thin Man, starring Skippy, a friendly Terrier. Skippy played Asta, the clever, agreeable dog owned by Nick and Nora Charles, the crime-solvers.

Today’s Wire Fox Terriers appreciate both family time and improvisational hunting activities of every sort. Outdoors, Terriers dig holes, spontaneously chase any animal that runs (Wow! Watch the neighbor’s cat sprint!) and pursue the old standbys: squirrels, rabbits and birds. Indoors, this Terrier often enjoys performing tricks and hanging with the family. If left alone and bored, he’ll likely find some mischief; the breed expects family inclusion, lots of action and plenty of variety.

Wire Fox Terries are light shedders. They’re a good dog breed for people with allergies.©SerhiiBobyk/Getty Images

Best activities for Wire Fox Terriers

Wire Fox Terriers evidence a natural talent in sports such as earth-dog trials, where the dogs are judged on their abilities for finding rodents (in this case, rats in cages) underground. Some Fox Terriers participate in agility, obedience and rally, but owners will need both patience and enticing dog food delicacies to work with this independent breed. After all, Terriers must be convinced that a job is worth doing. Unquestioning obedience is not their strong suit. The breed has plenty of leaders and only a few followers. Training involves flexibility and a sense of humor. The Wire Fox Terrier is a self-governing thinker with an obstinate streak, but he’s game for high-level challenges when they strike his fancy.

With this active breed, families will have to do more than take walks around the block. Wire Fox Terriers need extensive, diverse and regular exercise. The dog may be happy to snooze some of the day, but when he’s up, he’s up: Bring on the action!

Although the Wire Fox Terrier is mid-size, he thrives in a full-size (necessarily fenced) yard. Apartment living is doable only if the owner is dedicated to frequent exercise. While consistent training will mitigate the breed’s chase instincts, the breed’s highly-developed hunting drive makes his recall unreliable. Off-leash activity is consequently risky. Even the best trained Fox Terrier may take off running when prey is spotted.

How social are Wire Fox Terriers?

A socialized and well-trained Wire Fox Terrier can play nicely with older children. While typically affectionate with everyone, Terriers may be too active for very young children.

As for adding other species to the family circle, prospective owners must consider the Fox Terrier’s hunting aptitude. Families realistically can’t expect this Terrier breed (with perhaps a few exceptions) to cohabitate with gerbils, hamsters, birds, guinea pigs or rabbits. Supervision is also prudent around cats, although some Terriers can learn to coexist peacefully with the family’s own cats.

While many Wire Fox Terriers get along with the family’s dogs, some show skepticism around unknown dogs. After all, these Terriers were bred to work independently, not in groups. Some Terriers will play with established friends, but few rejoice at the idea of playing with strange dogs at dog parks.

Bred to chase rats and foxes instead of standing guard, most Wire Fox Terriers don’t prioritize the watchdog role. Although they may alert their owners to newcomers, most tend to welcome human guests instead of running them off.

What health issues do Wire Fox Terriers have?

Generally a healthy breed that ages gracefully, the Wire Fox Terrier lives between 12 and 13 years. Most show energy and spunk even into their senior years, so don’t expect much slowing down as time goes by. Health problems may include skin allergies, leggs perthes and patellar luxation. This Terrier is commonly deemed an easy keeper. He’s not typically clingy or demanding (as long as he’s well-exercised). Travel is usually carefree with the Wire Fox Terrier, too. He’s small but sturdy, fits in a compact car and is light to lift when needed.

Wire Fox Terrier grooming needs

Wire Fox Terriers aren’t big shedders, so they’re a good choice for owners with allergies or simply a loathing to vacuuming.  Developed in relatively rainy areas, the breed’s coat does well when wet. A raindrop almost bounces off a well-maintained Wire Fox Terrier’s coat.

The soft puppy coat of a Wire Fox Terrier will become a wiry coat in time. Grooming the Terrier involves a weekly commitment to brushing or combing, and then either hand stripping or trimming. Stripping a Terrier coat is complicated, and perhaps best done by professionals. The stripping process involves removing dead hairs from the coat by hand, rather than clipping, to keep the coat neat and healthy.

Pet owners may choose to simply have the dog’s coat clipped. Clipping instead of stripping, however, sometimes makes the coat less wiry and may subdue the dog’s natural colors.

The Wire Fox Terrier is an intense, lively and self-motivated breed. He’s happy, demonstrative and friendly but also stubborn and (don’t tell them we told!) not always compliant. Active owners who can handle the breed’s exercise and inclusion needs will find the Wire Fox Terrier a delightful, spirited companion.

The Wire Fox Terrier was bred to hunt foxes but became a popular family dog in the 1930s when the Wire Fox Terrier breed was portrayed on a detective comedy series.© CaptureLight/Getty Images

Overview of the Wire Fox Terrier dog breed

Group: Terrier

Country of origin: British Isles

Original use: Bred to chase vermin and for hunting sports

Average life span: 12 to 13 years.

AKC 2021 popularity ranking: 99th

Color: Predominantly white, most commonly with black and tan

Coat: Dense, wire-haired outer coat; fine, soft undercoat

Grooming: Weekly combing or brushing; stripping or trimming every few months

Height/weight: Males not more than 15½ inches at the withers; weight not exceeding 18 pounds. Females lower in height; weighing about 15 to 17 pounds

Activity level: High

Known health problems: Patellar luxation, leggs perthes, skin allergies

Breed quote if they had one: Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. ~ Helen Keller

Show dog extraordinaire

The Wire Fox Terrier has received more Best in Show titles (over a dozen!) at Westminster Kennel Club dog shows than any other breed. In general, Terriers of all breeds have done well at the show. But among all the Terrier variations, Wire Fox Terriers have won the most.

Famous Wire Fox Terriers

  • Charles Darwin (an avid fox hunter) had a Wire Fox Terrier named Polly, who followed him around devotedly until Darwin’s death in 1882. Clearly a dedicated companion and arguably not coincidentally, Polly passed away the day after Darwin died.
  • King Edward VII of England had a Terrier named Caesar. The dog’s collar had the bold inscription “I am Caesar. I belong to the King.” When Edward died in 1910, Caesar walked by the casket in the funeral procession.
  • Beauty was a WWII search dog. Working with a rescue squad, she was instrumental in finding buried air raid victims. She received the coveted Dickin Medal for bravery in 1945. The U.K. award goes to animals who have shown a “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defense.”