Presently, there are two Fox Terrier breeds, the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Wire Fox Terrier. For over 100 years, the two were registered and shown in the US as one breed with two varieties distinct from each other by coat type and, to some degree, head shape (a Smooth Fox Terrier’s head is more V-shaped than a Wire’s). Both were originally classified as sporting dogs because of their exceptional nose, remarkable eyesight, and stamina in bolting foxes out of their holes. Despite their similarities, however, experts believe the two developed very differently and from different ancestries. Wires are thought to have descended from broken-coated black and tan terriers from Durham, Wales, and Derbyshire, while the original Smooth Fox Terriers were thought to be a blend of black and tan terriers with smooth coats, Beagles, Bull Terriers, and Greyhounds. This week, National Purebred Dog Day® is highlighting the Smooth Fox Terrier which is actually the older of the two by some 20 years.
In the late 1700s when the pursuit of fox was considered both a sport and a necessity to protect farms, British hunters realized they needed a dog that would pursue foxes where they lived: Underground and in dens. What they wanted was a dog that would “go to ground” by digging, wiggling, and nosing their way into those burrows, and what they developed to fill this niche was the Smooth Fox Terrier. Breeders didn’t keep precise records about how they developed the breed, but we know from a portrait painted by Sawrey Gilpin in 1790 of Colonel Thornton’s dog, “Pitch, a Smooth Fox Terrier, that the breed we see today has changed very little from the Smooth Fox Terriers of the 18th century. Though the two varieties were crossed many times in those days, particularly to give the Wire Fox Terrier a cleaner silhouette and a whiter coat, it’s been many years since the practice has been dropped.
Smooth Fox Terriers were imported into the U.S. in 1879, and the American Fox Terrier Club was founded in 1885. The club holds the distinction of being the first specialty club to become a member of the American Kennel Club. By the 1920s, the Smooth Fox Terrier was one of the most recognized purebred dogs in America, in some measure because RCA’s logo featured “Nipper,” a Smooth Fox Terrier listening to a record machine with his head cocked in an endearing fashion. In 1985, the AKC formally recognized the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Wire Fox Terrier as two separate breeds, but the standards for both are still maintained by the American Fox Terrier Club.
Though seen perhaps less frequently these days than its wire haired cousin, the Smooth Fox Terrier retains its keen hunting instincts and traits, and is a breed that has mastered many disciplines we’ll explore over the next two days. Mostly, we’ll learn why this spitfire of a terrier is so beloved by its people who say, “Once a fox terrier lover, always a fox terrier lover.”
Image: Sawrey Gilpin’s painting of “Pitch” in 1790