Ratesdownload (1)
Monthly ADS_Simple Slide Show
Magazine Flip
Skyscraper 3

Breed Priorities – The Border Terrier

274 – August, 2013 (click here for full digital article)

By Nikki Riggsbee

The Border Terrier experts emphasized time and again that this breed is a working terrier, and that the important characteristics were those that support that activity. Some experts expressed doubts that this survey could identify the important features of Border Terriers, that individual virtues and faults could not be ranked to help reach the whole dog.

Most students of a breed build up their image of the whole, correct dog of any breed step by step. Part of the education is learning what is most important and what can be forgiven. Evaluation is different and more difficult than just describing the perfect dog. Evaluation is a process of making choices, and students learn to make better ones when they learn the choices that experts would make. It can be hard to analyze your own thought processes, to identify why you value one dog above another that is very close in quality. Yes, the perfect dog has all the critical virtues and none of the serious faults. But there are very few perfect dogs, if any. In the meantime, we have to put them in order.

Twenty-five Border Terrier experts were invited to complete the survey on which this article was based; almost all were judges. Twenty-two of the group agreed to participate. Fourteen surveys were returned, which is almost sixty percent of the original list. The participants averaged almost thirty-five years in the breed and over seventeen years judging it. Three-quarters had judged the national specialty and other Border Terrier specialty shows.


The survey included two lists, one of faults and one of virtues. The genesis of this portion of the survey is at the end of the AKC Irish Wolfhound standard, where there is a “List of Points in Order of Merit.” Below is the list of Border Terrier virtues in sequence by the average of the experts’ ranks, from most important to least important.

1. “Otter” head

2. Body capable of being spanned

3. Teeth strong, scissors bite

4. Rather narrow in shoulder, body and quarter

5. Gait straight, rhythmical, with good length of stride, flexing of stifle and hock

6. Shoulders well laid back, of good length

7. Height at withers slightly greater than distance from withers to tail

8. Muzzle short and “well-filled”

9. Good-tempered, affectionate, obedient, easily trained

10. Hide very thick and loose

11. Medium bone

12. Short, dense undercoat, with very wiry, somewhat broken topcoat

13. Stifles well bent

14. Feet small, compact, toes moderately arched with thick pads

15. Ears small, V-shaped, moderate thickness

16. Tail moderately short, thick at base, then tapering

Thirteen of the surveys prioritized the sixteen virtues. The biggest majority agreed on the value of feet and ears: “Feet small, compact, toes moderately arched with thick pads” (14th) and “Ears small, V-shaped, moderate thickness” (15th).

The next greatest agreement was on the head, tail, and the spannable and narrow body: “Otter’ head” (1st), “Body capable of being spanned“ (2nd), “Rather narrow in shoulder, body and quarter” (4th), and “Tail moderately short, thick at base, then tapering” (16th).

Over sixty percent of the experts concurred on the importance of four more features: “Teeth strong, scissors bite” (3rd), “Medium bone” (11th), “Short, dense undercoat, with very wiry, somewhat broken topcoat” (12th), and “Stifles well bent” (13th). One more virtue had a minimum majority, “Shoulders well laid back, of good length” (6th).

Tenth place “Hide very thick and loose” had five experts place it above average in importance and five rank it below average. The rest were all over.

“Good-tempered, affectionate, obedient, easily trained” (9th) had much disagreement. Five thought it in the top quartile. Four put it last. And four put it in the middle. The result was an average score, but there was no agreement. For the statisticians reading this, this item had the largest standard deviation, with the ranks most widely dispersed.

Six surveys had “Gait straight, rhythmical, with good length of stride, flexing of stifle and hock” (5th) as important, but the rest were all over. Six thought, “Height at withers slightly greater than distance from withers to tail” (7th) very important, but the others were all over, lowering its rank. A similar number put “Muzzle short and ‘well-filled’” (8th) in the second quartile, but the rest also varied widely.

Five of the top six virtues and six of the bottom had majority agreement, which is a good percent. Only five did not garner a majority. Are those majority virtues of the most value and least value to the working terrier?


The Border Terrier experts also ranked a list of breed faults from the standard. It is below in sequence from most serious to least serious. All fourteen surveys prioritized the list of faults.

1. Unbalanced exaggeration

2. Brisket excessively deep or narrow

3. Lacking endurance or agility

4. Ribs not carried well back

5. Lacking width between eyes or between ears

6. Eyes prominent or small and beady

7. Back not laterally supple

8. Underline not fairly straight

9. Ears set high on head or break above level of skull

10. Stop with pronounced indentation

11. Forelegs not wider than in a Fox Terrier

12. Dip behind shoulder

13. Tail set on high or carried over back

14. Lacking look of fearless and implacable determination

15. Coat with tendency to curl or wave

16. Nose not black

Twelve experts agreed on first place “Unbalanced exaggeration.” No other fault or virtue came close to having that large a majority. Next, more than sixty percent of the group concurred on “Brisket excessively deep or narrow” (2nd) and “Nose not black” (16th).

Minimum majorities valued these faults similarly: “Lacking width between eyes or between ears” (5th), “Stop with pronounced indentation” (tied for 9th), “Dip behind shoulder” (tied for 9th), and “Coat with tendency to curl or wave” (15th).

Half the group concurred on “Back not laterally supple” (7th), “Ears set high on head or break above level of skull” (tied for 9th), and “Forelegs not wider than in a Fox Terrier” (tied for 9th).

Several faults had bi-polar rankings, with a small group agreeing on one value and a similar group agreeing on another. “Ribs not carried well back” (4th) had six rank it important, but almost as many put it below average. It was ranked from first to last.

Likewise, “Eyes prominent or small and beady” (6th) was considered very important by five, but again a similar number put it in the third quartile. “Forelegs not wider than in a Fox Terrier” (tied for 9th) was put in the second quartile by half, and almost as many ranked it in the fourth quartile.

“Underline not fairly straight” (8th) had three groupings. One put it near the top. Another put it in the middle. And a third put it near the bottom.

Unlike the virtues which had fairly spaced average rankings, the fault list had one large gap and many items with close averages. There was 1.3 points separating the first and second place faults. But there was more than 3 points difference between the second and third place faults, emphasizing the greater seriousness of the first two.

Border Terrier Outlines Pick Best of Breed and Best of Opposite Sex

“Lacking endurance or agility” (3rd) and “Ribs not carried well back” (4th) were less than a tenth of a point apart in their average ranks. Four faults (Ears set high, Stop pronounced, Forelegs width, and Dip behind shoulders) all tied at ninth, and next place “Tail set on high or carried over back” (13th) was a fraction of a point behind. Another survey would change the sequence of these items.


The experts listed four to six characteristics that the best Border Terriers must have.

Named most often was the “otter” head, moderately broad with a short muzzle. Next frequently required were a hard, correct coat, a loose pelt, and that the dog be spannable, that the ribs flex when spanned. They wanted a good moving dog, with a ground covering gait and clean coming and going, and a dog with balance.


The survey included two sets of Border Terrier outlines, six dogs and six bitches. The outlines were made from photos of real dogs, none perfect and in as close to profile as we could find. The experts ranked each set first through fourth based on outline alone. If they were judging and could see more (coat, head and expression, and movement) and put their hands on these dogs, the placements might change.

The dog liked best was Border Terrier “C” who had the best dog average placement and the most first placements. Reasons why he was chosen included “better tail set and length of back,” “balanced, moderate sized, nice angles,” “most correct outline,” “neck into shoulders, good topline,” “correct outline of head, adequate leg to body length, without exaggeration,” “medium bone, good forechest and shelf,” and “the best underline.”

The next favored male Border was dog “A.” Those who liked him said “no exaggeration, good topline and underline” and “good balance.”

The most favored bitch was Border Terrier “U.” Comments on her were “clear winner, lovely neck into shoulders, great balance rib to loin, nice tailset and rear, good ear and nice head,” “balanced, strongly put together, angulated, better underline,” “better length of leg,” and “quite correct.”

Second place bitch based on average placements was Border “Z.” Notes on her were “good neck, outline, and shape,” “best balanced,” “best length to height, head, forechest, hock and shelf, and head shape,” “well angulated,” and “better topline and length of neck.”

Border Terrier “C” was selected Best of Breed more than any other, had the best average placement of all twelve, and was placed first by more than half the experts, more than any other. The only other outline chosen Best of Breed by more than one survey was bitch “U.”

Border Terrier Outlines Pick Best of Breed and Best of Opposite Sex

All dogs were placed first on least one survey except for dog “D.” All of the bitches were placed first on at least once except for bitch “W.” All the dogs and bitches were out of the ribbons on at least one survey.


The following are other comments by the Border Terrier experts:

  • The Border Terrier must show no evidence of shyness.
  • Borders should be strongly put together; lack of bone, small or shelly animals should be discarded.
  • A hard coat is required. The current trend is to strip the dog down to almost nothing and have fluffing facial furnishings.
  • Scissoring is a travesty to our breed and should be severely penalized.
  • We are losing underline, and chests are getting too deep with too much tuck-up.
  • A good Border must be spannable, and have a good bite.
  • They should never appear thick in body, chesty, or square. They must be able to follow the horse and hounds.
  • Judge the whole dog; don’t get obsessed by any single issue, except the mouth.
  • This is a working terrier – must have length of leg to run loose, traverse steep fells and deep heather; must be flexible with a thick coat and hide.
  • Head is like the river otter, flat on top; not the rounder head and eyes of the sea otter.
  • Correct Border expression is a combination of a varmint alert look with a small ‘V’ shaped ear level or a tad below the top skull, with medium, almond-shaped eyes, and a head that is one part muzzle to two parts back skull. Skull flat, with level planes, fill under the eyes, and a muzzle that fills a man’s hand.
  • It is not the dog with the best movement, but the dog with the correct breed type that should win, with movement being an important component of breed type.
  • There are too many bowed, gay, long, or low set tails.
  • Judge the whole dog, but pay particular attention to shoulders.

Thanks to the Border Terrier experts who participated in this project and shared their knowledge.

This article is not intended to promote fault or part judging. Nor is it to imply that any characteristic called for in the standard is unimportant. Judging, and breeding, is about choices – prioritizing and about what the judge or breeder will forgive. 

Discussing priorities can help in learning how to better evaluate a breed.

Short URL:

Posted by on Aug 31 2013. Filed under Current Articles, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed


  • May 2019