The Wire Fox Terrier: A Complete Guide

Cheery, cheeky, enthusiastic, and a little (okay, maybe a lot) feisty, the Wire Fox Terrier is a jester, adventurer, and best friend for the right person.

Jan 27, 2024By Chelsea Pinkham
the wire fox terrier complete guide

With a comically long face, an old-man-like beard, doting eyes, and classically triangular terrier ears, it’s no secret that the Wire Fox Terrier is simply adorable. If you feel drawn to their unique appearance, you’re not alone. As a matter of fact, the Wire Fox Terrier has historically won “Best in Show” at the Westminster Dog Show more times than any other breed. So, what is it about these dogs that’s so special? Let’s do some digging, and find out why (or why not) these dogs might be for you.

The Wire Fox Terrier Comes from Great Britain

attentive wire fox terriers
Image credit: Canva

Like many terrier breeds, this highly driven breed was bred to hunt other animals. The Wire Fox Terrier’s historic prey was- you guessed it! Foxes. But as tenacious as this breed is, The Fox Terrier’s task was not to actually kill the foxes. Instead, these dogs would flush foxes out of their dens, so that hunters on horseback could pursue them.

True terriers at heart, the Fox Terrier had to be courageous, assertive, and virtually fearless in their historic work. They were unafraid to enter a fox’s lair, driving the animal out with their relentless barking.

prancing fox terrier
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Descended from the now-extinct rough-coated Black and Tan Terrier, it’s possible that traces of Beagle may even have contributed to this breed’s lineage. These dogs were developed in the 1700s when horseback fox hunting with hounds was at its prime in Great Britain. They were selectively bred to be predominantly white with ginger and black points, and without red coloration to prevent them from being mistaken as foxes.

Today, the practice has been outlawed, but the law is rarely enforced in England’s rural countryside. Fox hunts still take place, but the Wire Fox Terrier’s popularity has declined with time. The American Kennel Club ranks the Wire Fox Terrier as 102 out of 200 club-recognized breeds.

The Fox Terrier Family

wire fox puppies
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The Wire Fox Terrier’s history is tightly intertwined with its counterpart, the Smooth Fox Terrier. England has recognized Wire Fox Terriers and Smooth Fox Terriers as two separate breeds since the 1800s, but the breed split was not recognized in the United States until 1985. The dogs were previously shown as the same breed, with different coat variations; just like Dachshunds and Chihuahuas are today.

Today, the Fox Terrier is split into two breeds. Both physically and behaviorally, the Wire Fox Terrier and Smooth Fox Terrier are nearly identical; except for the key trait of coat texture. While the Smooth Fox Terrier bears an average short-haired coat, the Wire’s texture is a bit more unique. Tight, wiry curls give these dogs an adorable, scruffy appearance.

wire fox on farm
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Wire Fox Terriers were once largely favored by art and pop culture, far more so than their short-haired counterparts. Though it’s all about individual preference, many people find the Wire Fox to simply be “cuter”. But like most canine traits, there are gives and takes! The Wire Fox Terrier is a low-shedding or non-shedding breed but has greater grooming needs, and their hair must be hand-stripped.

The third breed with “Fox Terrier” in its name is the tiny Toy Fox Terrier. This breed is not just a miniature version of the Fox Terriers. It was developed by breeding Smooth Fox Terriers, Chinese Crested Dogs, Italian Greyhounds, and other toy breeds.

These Little Guys Have a Firecracker Temperament

leash tugging terrier
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The very reasons that terrier enthusiasts love this breed group are also reasons why terriers are not for everyone. Like other terriers, the Wire Fox has an extreme prey drive towards small animals. Wire Fox Terriers should never be exposed to small pets such as rabbits, rats, or guinea pigs, and can even pose a danger to cats if careful integration and constant supervision are not prioritized. Sadly, many cats have been killed by Wire Fox Terriers living in the same household.

They are incredibly energetic, excitable, and often, downright relentless. Teaching these dogs the ability to settle down and simply relax at home requires time and patience. Wire Fox Terriers are exceptionally vocal and boast a sharp, startling bark. Incessant barking is how these dogs would drive foxes from their dens for centuries––it’s simply in their nature! They are not quiet dogs by any means necessary.

Wire Fox Terriers Are Alert and Yappy

9 news exciteable fox puppy
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Aggression towards other dogs is a tendency many terriers are prone to. Active, positive socialization is critical from a young age, and many Wire Fox Terriers simply aren’t candidates to visit busy dog parks or doggy daycare centers. Their breed standard states that these passionate dogs should be “on the tip-toe of expectation at the slightest provocation.” Still want one?!

The good news is that there are endless positive sides to this incredible breed’s temperament. Wire Fox Terriers are deeply intelligent dogs, and when rewards-based training is used to motivate them, they are highly trainable. Wire Fox Terriers are playful, eager, adventurous, adaptable dogs who are always up for a good adventure.

Wire Fox Terriers Are Great for Active Owners

swimming fox terrier
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Whether it’s gearing up for a backpacking trip or winning an agility trial, with the right training, Wire Fox Terriers are capable of just about anything (well, except for being friends with the family cat). These lion-hearted tricksters have no shortage of courage, and confidence comes naturally to them.

Wire Fox Terriers are full of personality. For those with both endless patience and a sense of humor, their antics can bring laughter to the entire family. Rambunctious, goofy, vocal, and sometimes downright strange, there’s no better dog to keep you on your toes. Like many hunting breeds, Wire Fox Terriers are also prone to adorable head tilts when they listen closely to something.

Bringing a Wire Fox Terrier into the family is a huge commitment, but for those who love the breed, no other dog can begin to compare.

Helping Your Wire Fox Terrier Thrive

leaping flying wire fox
Image credit: Wire Fox Terrier Association

Helping Wire fox Terriers be their best selves begins with understanding their behavior. Having a healthy outlet for their strong prey drive can help this breed in everyday life. Interactive toys such as flirt poles can provide an opportunity to chase, and predation substitute training can help Wire Fox Terriers have the chance to engage in natural predatory behaviors.

“Terrier-tude” is a common phrase in the dog world, and it’s based in truth. Terriers are especially prone to developing handling sensitivities. Like all dogs, Wire Fox Terriers should be carefully supervised around children. Accidental rough handling on a child’s part is far more likely to lead to a bite with this particular breed than, say, with a Golden Retriever.

agility trial fox terrier
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Positive reinforcement and cooperative care must be used to increase these dogs’ comfort level with all types of handling. This non-invasive, fun form of training can begin at any age but is especially ideal for puppies. Because their wiry hair needs to be hand-stripped, feeling safe and comfortable with grooming and handling is crucial.

Shaving Wire Fox Terriers can decrease the quality and health of their coat, and hand-stripping is the method of choice for the breed. Finding a terrier-savvy, patient, humane groomer can be a lifesaver. Better yet, Wire Fox Terrier owners who learn this method themselves will save a great deal of time and money, and spare their dogs the stress of regular groomer visits.

Wire Fox Terriers Are Highly Intelligent

wire fox puppy causing trouble
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Wire Fox Terriers are highly intelligent dogs who need engagement to keep them satisfied with their lives. A walk alone is not enough to calm the mind of such an excitable breed. Trick training, dog sports, and enrichment will improve the welfare of Wire Fox Terriers drastically. Earth Dog, Barn Hunt, and Fast CAT are sports that come naturally to this breed, without any prior training. With enough training, their lightning speed and agile nature can make them superstars in the sport of agility.

Bringing a Wire Fox Terrier into your life

curious fox terrier
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For individuals without any terrier experience, getting a Wire Fox Terrier can be an abrupt dive straight into the deep end. West Highland White Terriers, Scottish Terriers, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers, and Bedlington Terriers can be more appropriate first terriers to get caregivers in the rhythm of caring for this breed group. These dogs still have some terrier instinct but are not quite as relentlessly determined as the Wire Fox. For instance, the adorable “Westie” is still full of spunk but is significantly less energetic.

frisbee keepaway wire fox terrier siblings
Image Credit: Dog Learn

If you’re determined that a Wire Fox Terrier is the breed you can’t live without, consider getting to know these dogs in person. The American Kennel Club hosts “Meet the Breeds” events multiple times every year across the United States. This event is a perfect opportunity to meet your breeds of interest in person, shake hands with their caregivers, and learn about life alongside the dogs from breeders, handlers, owners, and aficionados. Attending a dog show to speak with handlers and owners who share their homes with these dogs can also add valuable perspective.

If you’re lucky enough to have a terrier-specific rescue group in your area, signing up to volunteer or foster a dog can also give you the chance to practice your terrier-savviness.

When the time does come to bring a terrier into your life, there’s no such thing as too much research. Books, videos, and online training classes can all help prepare new caregivers for bringing a dog into their lives. Finding a positive reinforcement-based trainer with terrier experience will help set your Wire Fox Terrier up for success.

Chelsea Pinkham
By Chelsea Pinkham

Chelsea is an animal advocate, rescuer, and aspiring rewards-based dog trainer. She is a Fear Free Certified Pet Professional with over a decade of animal experience. Chelsea has worked at animal shelters, sanctuaries and with many private dog training clients. She immerses herself in canine behavior education as she pursues her CPDT-KA dog training certification. In her spare time, she trains dozens of fun tricks for her and her partner’s rescued adventure cat, Iggy!