The Fox Terrier, a companion of character

Published on 17 February 2017
Author: Vincent Piednoir
At least based on appearances, Snowy, famous canine companion to the even more famous Tintin, was certainly one… Indeed, it’s impossible not to think of this most celebrated and adorable ambassador of the breed, faithfully recreated even down to its faults – the most obvious of which is its highly ‘tenacious’ character – when calling to mind the Fox Terrier. For if Hergé – at least with regard to the standards drawn up by the ‘Société Centrale Canine’ (the Francophone equivalent of Crufts) – took certain liberties with the shape and, in particular, the colour of Snowy’s coat, Tintin’s author certainly made no mistake in attributing exceptional intelligence, a good ration of courage and a measure of fidelity above and beyond the call of duty to his inimitable, four-legged, wiry-haired hero.

Wire or Smooth haired

Native to England (where it has lived since the 15th century), the Fox Terrier, similar to the Hunter, Border and the Jack Russell terriers, belongs to that group of animals named for their innate ability to ‘go to earth’ (the word ‘terrier’ refers to an earth, lair or den in French) and hunt foxes and even badgers underground. Since the 17th century, we have been able to distinguish two strains of Fox Terrier (standardized far later in 1876): the Wire and the Smooth – the second being both older and less common today than the first. There is actually no structural difference between these two breeds, excluding the obvious matter of their texture. A far denser coat on the Wire Fox Terrier necessitates regular care: trimming three times a year to avoid the emergence of certain dermatological pathologies. Although the male weighs an average of 8 kilos and the female 7 (with a total length of about 40cm), yet this little dog is unexpectedly strong for its size, a fact that is supported by the equilibrium of its skeleton. This strength is notably found in the terrier’s jaw, which is quite long and wide in comparison with the rest of its body, and anyone who has seen a Fox Terrier bearing a rabbit or a fox in its unrelenting teeth will testify to its carrying capacity!

A half-pint with a pint and a half of character

Elegant, proud, even headstrong if it doesn’t see… ‘eye to eye’ with its owner, Fox Terriers are exclusive in their affections and can be jealous of other dogs approaching the family they belong to. Dominant by nature, it will never permit a canine colleague, even one four times as big, to invade its space with impunity: in general this will immediately lead to a fight. So yes, scrappy, but capable of extreme gentleness, the Fox Terrier is a highly strung but affectionate companion – I once knew a female that had been treated daily for epilepsy – with an intrepid and playful spirit of extraordinary vivacity. This exuberance will require some taming and the correct channel. For, as with most dogs (but in this case more so!), the Fox Terrier simply overflows with energy that needs to be expressed as much as possible in walks, outings and outdoor games… Because otherwise, this little monster with the irresistible look is quite capable of reducing your living room to a bombsite full of tattered upholstery and feathers, laying waste to your lawn or exhuming the contents of your vegetable garden. So be warned: this terrier loves to dig and scratch if its energy is not otherwise dispersed on a daily basis! Finally, the Fox Terrier is an ideal guard dog, always on the lookout for the unusual or suspicious – and here too it will not hesitate to make its opinions known with a lively, constant and penetrating bark that is sometimes exasperating!

The Fox Terrier is not a lapdog

As a rustic and unequivocally tenacious dog, the Tox Terrier is, above all, an excellent hunter. From the early 19th century it has been chosen as a fox digger (as the name clearly suggests…), but it is also redoubtable when hunting boar, deer or rabbit. For big game, its tenacity, courage and speed are much appreciated, notably in drives – and one great advantage this terrier has, in contrast to hounds that may tend to follow escaping game off into the blue yonder and thereby compromise the rest of the hunt, is that of not being a distance runner, which acts as a natural restraint. But if this dog (that rarely fetches) seems to have little interest for the subtle scent of the hare, even less for game birds (with some exceptions), its aptitude for hunting foxes or badgers underground is absolutely incomparable. There, the Fox Terrier is in its element – by virtue of its size, for one thing, but also a sense of smell that is singularly attuned to the scent of these two reputedly “rank” creatures.

The digger’s indispensable helper

The theory of earth hunting is straightforward, which cannot necessarily be said for the practice! One begins by identifying the earths most likely to be inhabited – most often, apart from external indications, the master will know simply from the reaction of the terrier whether this is a fox or a badger, and whether the animal is currently ‘at home’. Warning: digging out a badger may be fatal to a dog, as the badger is capable of burying the terrier in its den, something a fox would never do. The next task of the Fox Terrier is to contain its prey, avoiding direct attack but constraining it through constant barking until the diggers are able to identify its exact position and start to dig (one can estimate the correct place to start by sounding the ground with a crow bar, one ear to the earth). If all goes well (although one may frequently have to change site and start again), one finishes by falling onto the head of one’s terrier (and here caution is counselled), as it is exactly at this point that the contained fox or badger will be. It is a curious thing, and one frequently observed by this author, that when seeking to destroy an entire nesting earth, especially of foxes, the naturally fierce terrier will nevertheless bring up the cubs, one by one, held gently in its jaws, without injuring any. This is yet another unusual trait of this hunting dog, so rich in contrasts, whether at home in its basket or in the heart of the countryside.