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Breed Priorities – Norfolk Terrier

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260 – August, 2015

By Nikki Riggsbee

The Norfolk Terrier and Norwich Terrier were one breed until relatively recently, and called the Norwich Terrier. They were differentiated by their ears – erect (or prick) ears and drop ears. In 1979, the AKC followed the English Kennel Club and divided the breed, with the drop-eared variety now called Norfolk Terrier.

There are relatively few Norfolk Terrier breeder-judges, so the parent club mentors were added to the list of experts to survey. I also included Norwich breeder-judges, since the two were one breed not so long ago, but none participated.

Thirteen breeder-judges and eight breed mentors who were not judges were invited to take the survey. Nineteen originally agreed to participate. In the end, nine breeder-judges and four mentors returned surveys, for a total of thirteen. Four judges have judged the national specialty, and five have judged other Norfolk specialties.

Norfolk Terrier Virtues

The survey included a list of virtues taken from the Norfolk Terrier breed standard. The experts were asked to rank them from most important to least important. Below is the list in sequence by the average of the experts’ ranks, with 1 being the most important.

1. Good substance and bone

2. Length of back (point of withers to base of tail) slightly longer than height at withers

3. Muzzle length one-third less than from occiput to stop

4. Neck medium length, strong, blending into well laid back shoulders

4. Hindquarters broad with strong, muscular thighs

6. Topline level

7. Scissor bite with large teeth

8. Temperament alert, gregarious, fearless

8. Fit working condition

10. Protective coat – hard, wiry, straight, with definite undercoat

11. Eyes small, dark, oval, with black rims

12. Ribs well-sprung, chest moderately deep

13. Gait low and driving

14. Ears small, break at skull line, carried close to cheek

15. Tail medium, docked, set on high, base level with topline

16. Feet round, pads thick, strong black nails

As they ranked these features, the experts were voting their opinions, so there were winners (the most important), losers (the lesser important), and a bunch in between. Still, there were relatively few majorities on how to value the different characteristics. A “majority” is defined here as more than half of the surveys (seven or more of the thirteen) ranking a component within four placements, such as 1 to 4, 3 to 6, 7 to 10, 12 to 15, and so on.

Eight surveys, the biggest majorities, agreed on the importance of two virtues: “Feet round, pads thick, strong black nails” (16th) last place and “Ribs wellpsprung, chest moderately deep” (12th) below average.

Three other virtues had more than half agreed: “Good substance and bone” (1st), “Muzzle length one-third less than from occiput to stop” (3rd), and “Tail medium, docked, set on high, base level with topline” (15th). As seen in other surveys, there was more agreement in the most and least important qualities.

Almost half of the group formed a consensus on five other qualities: “Neck medium length, strong, blending into well laid back shoulders” (tied at 4th), “Hindquarters broad with strong, muscular thighs” (also tied at 4th), “Topline level” (6th), “Gait low and driving” (13th), and “Ears small, break at skull line, carried close to cheek” (15th).

Several virtues had split opinions. “Length of back (point of withers to base of tail) slightly longer than height at withers” (2nd) was placed first or second by five experts, but another five ranked it well below average. Six surveys put “Topline level” (6th) fourth or fifth, but the same number had it below average.

Five experts had “Scissor bite with large teeth” (7th) in the top quartile, the same number thought it below average, and the rest were all over. The opinions on “Temperament alert, gregarious, fearless” (tied for 8th) were more divergent, with five surveys ranking it among the top three, while another five had it at or in the last quartile. A similar split was found in the ranks of “Eyes small, dark, oval, with black rims” (11th).

“Protective coat – hard, wiry, straight, with definite undercoat” (10th) was valued highly by a third, while the same number had it middling or below. Almost half of the surveys had “Gait low and driving” (13th) above average, while almost as many had it near the bottom.

Two sets of virtues were tied. “Neck and neck set” and “Hindquarters” tied at 4th. “Temperament” and “Fit working condition” tied at 8th. As noted, the vote on “Temperament” was split. The “Fit condition” was split even more so: four had it in the top quartile, four in the middle, and four in the last quartile. The other items close in rank were “Protective coat” (10th) and “Eyes” (11th) less than a tenth of a point apart. With close rankings, additional input would change the relative placements in the list.

Last place “Feet” was ranked more than two points below “Tail” (15th), confirming the group’s opinion.

Norfolk Terrier Faults

The experts ranked a list of faults from or derived from the breed standard from most serious to least serious. The list below is in sequence by the average ranks.

1. Shoulders not well laid back

2. Skull not wide, without good width between ears

3. Aggressive

4. Lacking good rear angulation

5. Topline doesn’t remain level when gaiting

6. Length of back greater or less than slightly longer than height

7. Not in fit working condition

8. Eyes not placed well apart

9. Lacking width of chest

10. Legs not short

11. Lacking undercoat

12. Taller or shorter than 9 to 10 inches at withers at maturity

13. Squirrel tail

14. Ears falling lower than the outer corner of the eye

15. White marks

16. Shaping (of the coat)

The level of agreement with the faults was similar as with virtues. The big exception was “Shaping (of the coat)” (16th). Eleven experts placed it in the last quartile, even though the standard says “shaping should be heavily penalized.”

Eight surveys, the next biggest majority, concurred on “Shoulders not well laid back” (1st), “Lacking width of chest” (9th), and “White marks” (15th). The smallest majority occurred on “Topline doesn’t remain level when gaiting” (5th) and “Eyes not placed well apart” (8th).

Many of the remaining virtues had almost half agreeing: “Skull not wide, without good width between ears” (2nd), “Aggressive” (3rd), “Lacking good rear angulation” (4th), “Not in fit working condition” (7th), “Legs not short” (10th), “Lacking undercoat” (11th), “Squirrel tail” (13th), and “Ears falling lower than the outer corner of the eye” (14th).

Several characteristics had bi-polar opinions, even those with a majority or a near majority. “Topline not level gaiting” (5th) had seven put it quite high, but five had it below midpoint. Almost half had “Skull not wide” (2nd) within the top three, but five had it below average. “Aggressive” (3rd) had a similar split.

“Squirrel tail” (13th) placed in the fourth quarter by almost half, but five thought it above average. “Taller or shorter than 9 to 10 inches at withers at maturity” (12th) was fairly serious for five, but the same number put it in the last quartile. “Length of back greater or less than slightly longer than height” (6th) was all over.

Some average ranks were very close so that additional input could easily change some faults’ position in the list. “Lacking rear angles,” (4th), “Topline not level gaiting,” (5th), and “Incorrect back length” (6th) were less than a tenth of a point apart. “Shaping” (16th) was three points lower than the preceding fault, emphasizing the strong opinion of the experts.

There was some consistency on features represented on both lists. “Hindquarters” was fourth on both lists. “Topline” was fifth and sixth on both. “Condition” was eighth as a virtue, seventh as a fault, “Coat” tenth and eleventh, and “Ears” fourteenth.

“Tail” ranked higher as a fault as did “Eyes.” “Temperament” was much more important as a fault, which is often the case on these surveys.


The survey included two sets of Norfolk Terrier outlines, six dogs and six bitches. The experts were asked to place the outlines first through fourth in each set, and then select Best of Breed. The outlines were drawn from actual photographs of real dogs, so none is perfect. They couldn’t see everything or have their hands on the dogs; if they could, the placements might change.

The dog with the best placement average was Norfolk Terrier “B.” Those who placed him first said “Perfect: good tail set, good head, good angles, excellent hindquarters,” “balanced, good proportions, head proportions 1/3 to 2/3, good forechest,” “no doubt about the one I like – B,” “better head planes, good topline, overall the best,” “clean outline, good ear set, not overdone, correct leg length,” and “most typey head, rectangular with short leg.”

The second place dog was Norfolk Terrier “A.” Comments on him included “best balance of height to length, perfect tail,” like him best – the bitches are better,” “good proportion, coat, head, bend of stifle, lovely substance,” and “best layback and forechest with front set well under, good back length, agreeable head proportions and ear set, and level topline.”

The Norfolk bitch with the best placement score was “X.” Experts who put her first commented “good outline but skull a little too domed,” “most correct with good angulation,” “lovely with good neck, good angles, balanced,” and “overall balance, type, conformation, great head proportions, feminine, good front and rear, proper length of back, good topline.”

Very close behind in average placement was Norfolk Terrier “U.” Those who selected her said “overall balance and type,” “excellent,” and “good outline and proportions.”

Best of Breed by all measures was Norfolk Terrier “B.” Of all twelve outlines, he had the best placement average, the most first placements (more than half), and was selected BOB three times more often than any other outline. He was the only one who was never unplaced on any survey.

Dogs “D,” “E,” and “F” and bitch “Y” were not placed first on any survey. Dog “F” was out of the ribbons completely on all but one survey. Dog “D” and bitch “Y” were unplaced on nine surveys.

Essential Characteristics

The survey asked the experts to list four to six essential characteristics that a Norfolk Terrier must have to be a good one. Most often mentioned were good coat and movement. Coat was listed below average on both lists above, and movement even lower. Next mentioned was substance, with bone, which was first among the virtues. Next were head type including drop ears and small dark eye, and temperament.


Here are additional comments from the Norfolk Terrier experts.

• Pay attention to eyes and bites.

• You must have breed type before anything else.

• This is a small, short-legged terrier with a drop ear and medium docked tail.

• It must have the proper temperament and the fit working condition of a ratter.

• Don’t be fooled by grooming; stay away from big “Cairn Terrier” types. It shouldn’t be a grooming contest.

• Watch for level toplines on the move; soundness and correct structure and temperament should always be rewarded.

• A short back is not correct, these are not Norwich.

• Go to Montgomery and watch Norfolks, and you will see a variety of types.

• Terriers work for a living and must have substance, big teeth, and a protective coat. Any indication of toyishness is wrong. Must be in working condition.

• You should feel a strong, well-muscled body with good rib spring.

• Head brings type; the mouth is a working mouth, and head characteristics must protect the dog.

• More imported Norfolks with tails are now being exhibited; focus on tail set.

• There is a definite difference between Norfolk and Norwich other than the ears. Norfolks has a slightly longer loin and a considerably different outline.

• The breed is off square, but that doesn’t mean a train nor does it mean stuffy.

• Should have terrier attitude, happy, correct movement, alert expression, not fearful or shy.

• Strong, large teeth are essential; we all prefer full dentition. Small teeth are a serious fault.

Appreciation to the Norfolk Terrier experts for sharing their knowledge.

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Posted by on Aug 26 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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