Autopsy of a Standard
The Border Terrier
 
The AKC Standard (A Theory)   The Dog Today (A Reality)

"Since the Border Terrier is a working terrier
of a size to go to ground and able, within reason, to follow a horse, his conformation should be such that he be ideally built to do his job."
 
Very few border terriers work today
, and most people that hunt fox seem to be using other dogs such as Jack Russell's, dachshunds, patterdales, fells or crosses. There is some disagreement as to why this is so -- some feel it is because borders are slow to enter, others that borders have gotten too big, others than borders are often too hard.


"Since the Border Terrier is a working terrier of a size to go to ground and able, within reason, to follow a horse, his conformation should be such that he be ideally built to do his job."
 
Today most border terriers are too large to follow a fox to go ground in a natural earth.
The average red fox has a chest measurement of just 14 inches or so, and most borders today have chests of 16-19 inches, with chests of 17 inches or more dominant.
See
www.terrierman.com/foxsize.htm for a scientific treatise on red fox size all over the world.

"Since the Border Terrier is a working terrier of a size to go to ground and able, within reason, to follow a horse, his conformation should be such that he be ideally built to do his job.

"No deviations from this ideal conformation should be permitted, which would impair his usefulness in running his quarry to earth and in bolting it therefrom."

 
Terriers do not run with the horses, but follow the horses. There is a distinction, and this line is often misinterpreted by people who think terriers run 20 or 30 miles before being put to earth. In fact this was never part of the normal hunt regime, as putting an exhausted and winded dog to ground against a formidable quarry is both dangerous and counterproductive. In reality terriers are generally called after the fox has gone to ground, and the terrier is able to cut across farm fields. While a horse may travel 20 miles in a day's outing, the dog will generally travel only a few miles at most. Today most dogs travel by car or bike to within a quarter mile of the den site. Keeping up with a foot pack, of course, is not much of a problem for a dog.


"Since the Border Terrier is a working terrier of a size to go to ground and able, within reason, to follow a horse, his conformation should be such that he be ideally built to do his job."

No deviations from this ideal conformation should be permitted, which would impair his usefulness in running his quarry to earth and in bolting it therefrom."

 
In fact, deviation from the standard is normal in the show ring
, where most dogs have chests that are too large to easily go to ground, and where most dogs weigh far more than the standard allows. A 12 pound bitch or 13.5 pound dog would generally be rejected in show ring circles today as being "too small" -- even though this is well within the breed standard.

"For this work he must be alert, active and agile, and capable of squeezing through narrow apertures and rapidly traversing any kind of terrain."
 
A fox can easily squeeze through a den pipe that would stop most borders from entering. While AKC go-to-ground tunnels have an interior space of 91 square inches, and the 9-inch pipe of British artificial dens offer 54 square inches of shelter, the 14-inch chest of the average fox is easily capable of squeezing down a 6 inch drain pipe -- a surface area of just 28 square inches. If you think your dog is the "right size" for fox, get a 6 inch clay drain pipe and see if it can negotiate it. Some dogs still can, but they are increasingly rare.


"In the field he is hard as nails, "game as they come" and driving in attack."
 
Border terriers generally fit this bill
, though some are too hard for their own good and can end up being retired early due to high veterinary bills, a lost eye, lost teeth, etc. A dog should be using his voice to bolt and hold a fox, not using his teeth to kill a fox.


"It should be the aim of Border Terrier breeders to avoid such over emphasis of any point in the Standard as might lead to unbalanced exaggeration."
 
This part of the standard is adhered to in almost every case.
Borders today generally lack exaggeration of any kind.


"Teeth strong, with a scissors bite, large in proportion to size of dog.
"
 
This part of the standard is adhered to in almost every case.
Borders generally have good bites, and very large teeth are still the norm.


"The body should be capable of being spanned by a man's hands behind the shoulders. Brisket not excessively deep or narrow. Deep ribs carried well back and not oversprung in view of the desired depth and narrowness of the body."

 
This is a vague measurement, and leaves the possibility of a dog that cannot enter an average earth.
A terrier should have a span that is not much larger than that of a vixen (this is the animal that sets the standard in the real world), and that is not much more than 14 inches in size. Many men can span a dog that is 19 inches in diameter, but such dogs cannot enter most fox earths. [Note: Walter Gardner provides the chest measurements of 29 border terriers at the back of his book, "About the Border Terrier".  Of the 29 dogs measured, 12 had chests larger than 18 inches, 13 had chests that were 17-18 inches in size, 3 had chests that were 16-17 inches in size, and one had a chest that was 15.5 inches in size. Only the last 3 dogs -- the two with 16-inch chests and the one dog with a 15.5-inch chest -- were of a size small enough to follow a regular-sized vixen into a tight earth.]

How to span a dog: To measure a terrier's chest, span from behind, raising only the front feet from the ground, and compress very gently at the widest part of the chest about one to two inches back from the front legs. Thumbs should meet at the spine and fingers should meet under the chest.

How to measure a dog: While a "span" is so vague as to encompass dogs that cannot normally work (at least if the man's hand is very big), actual measurement offers some numerical clarity. Snap a shoe string around your dog's chest, mark, and then lay it out on a ruler. A dog should have a chest that is not too much bigger than 14 inches -- the average chest size of a red fox.


"Weight Dogs, 13-15 pounds, bitches, 11-14 pounds, are appropriate weights for Border Terriers in hardworking condition. The proportions should be that the height at the withers is slightly greater than the distance from the withers to the tail, i.e. by possibly 1-1 inches in a 14-pound dog. Of medium bone, strongly put together, suggesting endurance and agility, but rather narrow in shoulder, body and quarter."

 
Most border terriers -- even the thin ones -- weigh more than this.
The typical show ring border terrier weighs one-third more than the heaviest weights given for dog foxes. A typical red fox vixen weighs 12 pounds and is built like a cat, with a very small and springy chest. A large border terrier will be incapable of following such a creature to ground in a natural earth -- the only "standard" that matters in the real world of the working terrier.


AKC Show Ring Points

Head, ear, neck and teeth..................20
Legs and Feet................................. .15
Coat and skin................................... 10
Shoulders and chest
..........................10
Back and loins
..................................10
Shoulders and chest..........................10
Hind quarters....................................10
Tail....................................................5
General Appearance..........................20

TOTAL.............................................100 points



AKC points do not reflect the rhetoric of the standard.
While the written text says a dog must be able to follow its quarry to earth, and weights are given that would allow a dog to actually do that, the reality of the show ring is that "eyes and expression" are given equal billing with span, and that the entire chest and shoulders region are given only 10 points. A true working standard would put far more emphasis on size than the points schedule seen here.



Working vs. Show Terrier: Click here to see 29 borders as compared to 29 red fox-working dogs.

Where do the AKC standards come from?
Many people assume that the standards for working dogs must have been drawn up by people that actually work their dogs. In fact, this is not necessarily so. Two working dogs -- the Jack Russell Terrier and the Border Collie -- were recently admitted to the AKC in direct opposition to the two largest breed clubs which wanted to continue to put an emphasis on the working ability of their dogs.