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Wire & Smooth Fox Terriers: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em

Fox Terrier temperament, personality, training, behavior, pros and cons, advice, and information, by Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Last Updated: October, 2019

Smooth and Wirehaired Fox Terrier dog breed


The Fox Terrier (whether smooth or wirehaired) is one of the most curious, intense, and impulsive of the terriers.

Untiringly active and playful, he has a special passion for ball chasing, which really helps with exercise!

The Fox Terrier loves the outdoors but must always be kept on-leash (he is a fast, agile, independent chaser) or in a secure yard, supervised, because his ingenuity and relentless hunting instincts may drive him over or under the fence.

This daredevil does best with active owners who are firm, confident, consistent leaders. He has a marked stubborn streak, a mischievous sense of humor, and will take clever advantage if indulged.

Fox Terriers have a peppery personality and are scrappy and fearless with other animals. They won't back down if challenged, and they may do much of the challenging themselves.

They have a high prey drive and extremely quick reflexes, so little creatures that run won't get far.

This breed has keen vision and acute hearing and can be counted on to sound the alert when anything is amiss & sometimes even when nothing is amiss, but might be in the future!

Fox Terriers love to tunnel and dig and can be possessive of their food and cherished toys.


If you want a dog who...

  • Is small, yet dynamic, sturdy, and tough -- not a delicate lapdog
  • Makes a keen watchdog
  • Is easy to groom (Smooth coat)
  • Doesn't shed too much (Wirehaired)

A Smooth or Wirehaired Fox Terrier may be right for you.


If you don't want to deal with...

  • The dynamic terrier temperament (see full description below)
  • Providing enough exercise and activities to keep them busy
  • Aggression toward other animals -- chasing instincts
  • Stubbornness
  • Digging holes
  • Barking
  • Shedding (Smooth coat)
  • Regular brushing and clipping (Wire coat)

A Smooth or Wirehaired Fox Terrier may not be right for you.

Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament is less predictable than the inheritance of physical traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.

  • You can avoid some negative traits by choosing an ADULT dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. With an adult dog, you can easily see what you're getting, and plenty of adult Fox Terriers have already proven themselves not to have negative characteristics.
  • If you want a puppy, you can avoid some negative traits by choosing the right breeder and the right puppy. Unfortunately, you usually can't tell whether a puppy has inherited temperament or health problems until he grows up.
  • Finally, you can avoid some negative traits by training your Fox Terrier to respect you and by following the 11-step care program in my book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.

More traits and characteristics of the Fox Terrier

If I was considering a Fox Terrier, I would be most concerned about...

  1. The dynamic terrier temperament. Most terrier breeds are remarkably similar. The same words are used over and over -- quick to bark, quick to chase, lively, bossy, feisty, scrappy, clever, independent, stubborn, persistent, impulsive, intense. Smooth and Wirehaired Fox Terriers are active go-getters. A walk around the block is not enough. They need regular opportunities to vent their energy and to use their busy minds to do interesting things.
  2. Potential animal aggression. Fox Terriers are a determined force to reckon with if they decide to initiate or accept a challenge to fight. Most terriers have strong instincts to chase and seize small fleeing creatures. This can make for conflict if you own a cat. It may be much worse than that if you own a pet rabbit or hamster!
  3. Fence security. Many Fox Terriers are clever escape artists who will go over or under fences in search of adventure. You may need higher fences than you might imagine for their small size. You may also need to sink wire into the ground along the fence line to thwart digging. Gates should have the highest quality locks.

    Terriers cannot be trusted off-leash. They will take off -- oblivious to your frantic shouts -- after anything that runs.

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  4. Potential barking. Smooth and Wirehaired Fox Terriers are often too quick to sound the alarm at every new sight and sound. You have to be equally quick to stop them. If you work all day and have close neighbors, terriers are not the best choice for you. For the same reason, terriers should never be left outside in your yard, unsupervised. To make matters worse, some terriers have high-pitched barks that can set your teeth on edge.
  5. Mind of their own. Fox Terriers, though more amenable to training than many other terriers, must be taught at an early age that they are not the rulers of the world. The toughness that makes them suited to killing vermin can frustrate you when you try to teach them anything. Fox Terriers can be stubborn and dominant (they want to be the boss) and will make you prove that you can make them do things. You must show them, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say.
  6. Defensive reactions. If you need to physically chastise a terrier, and you go beyond what THEY believe is a fair correction, terriers (as a group) are more likely than other breeds to growl or snap. As an obedience instructor, I'm always extra careful when putting my hands on any terrier for a correction.

    I do not recommend terriers for homes with small children. Many terriers will not tolerate any nonsense from little life forms whom they consider to be below themselves in importance. Many terriers are quick to react to teasing, and even to the normal clumsiness that comes with small children (accidental squeezing of their ears or pulling of whiskers or stepping on their paw). Many terriers are possessive of their food and toys and will defend these from all comers, including children.

  7. Shedding. The Wire Fox Terrier sheds lightly, while Smooth Fox Terriers shed a lot. Those short white hairs come off on your hands when you pet them, and stick tenaciously to your clothing and furnishings.
  8. Grooming. The Wire coat needs much more care: clipping and trimming every few months. Breed purists may say that terrier coats should never be clipped because it makes the coat softer and more prone to matting. Instead they advocate hand-stripping (each dead hair pulled out so a new one can grow in its place). But in my opinion, stripping is too time-consuming and uncomfortable for the dog. Many groomers won't do it anymore. For pet dogs, I think clipping is just fine.

    Obviously, Smooth Fox Terriers don't need trimming, but you should brush them frequently when they're shedding, because hairs that end up in the brush don't end up on your clothes and furniture!

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.

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