There have been many tall tales told of working terriers, some of them along the lines of a fisherman holding his hands five feet apart and describing the fish he caught was, “this big!”
Evidence suggests, however, that few such anecdotes about Border Terriers are embellished. The Marchioness of Cambridge, Margaret Cambridge, once told of a game Border Terrier owned by Andrew Drummond, a farmer in Northumbria. On one occasion, the wee dog was underground for nearly five hours trying to bolt a fox (which he did). On another, a bystander watching and waiting for the dog to emerge sought to help the dog bolt a prickly badger by hauling the dog out by the tail. Imagine the surprise of everyone watching when at the other end of the dog’s tail was the badger attached to the dog’s nose. The terrier wasn’t having any of it. As soon as he was released by the badger, he had another go at him.
This most unassuming of terriers retains the working instincts which made the breed reign supreme among terrier men and women. One breed historian describes the Border’s working ability: “There is no wall he cannot get over or wire entanglement he cannot scramble through. Should the fox run to earth, he will bolt him every time, or stay the night in the earth until the matter is settled.”
From working class folk who needed their flocks protected from predators to gentry for whom fox hunting was a recreational diversion, Border Terriers were a popular option. Of the former, high value was placed on a dog of which writer, David Hancock wrote: “There is in the expression of a Border Terrier an implacable determination which is seen in no other breed.” Indeed, people went to great extents to rescue their dogs should they have become trapped, including dynamiting tons of rock to reach them. Of the latter, huntsmen felt the Border to be unbeatable for their use. Long legs ensured that the dogs had the endurance and speed needed to run behind horses through various terrain – sometimes up to 25 miles a day. An agreeable nature made these terriers get along with other dogs, and its size made it easy to set the dog in front of a rider on horseback, then set back down on the ground to bolt a fox. It’s been written, perhaps arguably, that Border Terrier just might be the only terrier breed left where champions are still very capable workers.