The Fox Terrier has been shown in the United States as one breed with two varieties, the smooth and the wire, since it was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1885. In 1984, the AKC approved separate standards for the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Wire Fox Terrier, and the breeds were recognized as fully distinct effective June 1, 1985. Experts believe that the two coat-type varieties of fox terriers developed very differently. The Wire Fox Terrier is thought to have descended from the old rough-coated black-and-tan working terriers of Wales, Durham and Derbyshire. The Smooth Fox Terrier is thought to have descended from the smooth-coated black-and-tan terrier, the Bull Terrier, the Beagle and the Greyhound. Both the Smooth and the Wire Fox Terriers were bred for their excellence as ratters and to aid British farmers in eradicating vermin. Traditionally, the fox terriers would go to ground to bolt foxes, whereafter the hunters and their pack of foxhounds would carry on the chase. With rats and other small rodents, the fox terriers worked independently and needed no assistance from others to complete the task.
The Wire Fox Terrier entered the show ring after its smooth-coated cousin. The first class devoted to the Fox Terrier was at a London dog show in 1862. In 1863, at the Birmingham show, three Fox Terriers - who later became known as the founding fathers of the breed - were shown. The appearance of Old Jock, Old Tartar and Old Trap in the ring boosted the Fox Terrier’s reputation as a competitive show dog apart from its working talents. The two then-varieties (smooth and wire) were crossed many times, particularly to give more of a white coat color to the Wire Fox and a cleaner silhouette. That practice was discontinued many years ago. However, the mostly white coat has remained in both breeds, originally desired because dark-coated terriers could be mistaken by the hunting hounds for prey when they emerged from bolting the fox from its lair.
By the late 1800s, the Fox Terrier had skyrocketed in popularity and was one of the most popular terrier breeds in all of Great Britain. In 1873, more than 275 were entered in a single Fox Terrier class at an English dog show. The Fox Terrier Club of England was created in 1876. So well drafted was its breed standard that it remained virtually unchanged for decades. The American Fox Terrier Club was formed in 1885 and adopted the British standard for the breed. The Fox Terrier was accepted into the American Kennel Club’s Terrier Group, with a Smooth and a Wire variety, that same year. By the early 1900s, the smooth Fox Terrier had become the most popular dog breed in England. By the 1920s, the wire-haired variety gave it a run for its money. Eventually, both varieties declined in Britain as other terrier breeds became more fashionable.
Today’s Wire Fox Terrier is the more popular of the two Fox Terrier breeds. However, like its close smooth-coated cousin, it retains its hunting instincts and traits, making it arguably less commonly seen as purely a house pet than many other terrier breeds. It excels at flyball, agility and other activities that let it satisfy its natural desires to run, chase and explore. The Wire Fox Terrier can be stubborn, scrappy, aloof and snappy. Its fanciers, however, understand and value these attributes and adore this fiery little terrier.
The average life span of the Wire Fox Terrier is 12 to 15 years. Breed health concerns may include cataracts, congenital deafness, distichiasis, pulmonic stenosis, insulinoma, glaucoma, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, shoulder luxation, mast cell tumors, cerebellar malformation, epilepsy, corneal ulceration, lens luxation, progressive retinal atrophy, ectopic ureters, congenital idiopathic megaesophagus and skin allergies.