Toy Fox Terrier Information
Overview of the Developmental History of the Toy Fox Terrier
Toy Fox Terrier History
Barbara (BJ) Andrews, SAAB, AKC Hall Of Fame Breeder
An American Original, by the finest craftsmen. It was the hunters, woodsmen, and farmers of America who adopted the “runty” English Fox Terriers for a multitude of practical purposes.
August Belmont, one of the first Fox Terrier breeders, said a terrier has “a natural inclination to hunt and destroy vermin of any kind, pursuing it to its refuge wherever it be within the Terrier’s power to reach it; this trait being accompanied by a sprightly and tense nature, keen sense of hearing, quick vision, a most unerring nose, and an indomitable gameness.” That quote could be the introduction to the Toy Fox Terrier Standard.
The landed gentry in America took the Fox Terrier to heart in the late 1800’s. They began to select the smaller dogs to carry along to rout out old Mr. Fox. Many a time, the littlest Fox Terrier saved the day and the hunt. When the hounds ran the fox to ground, the little dogs were set loose because there was no burrow too small, no fox hole too deep or too tight for the runty Fox Terriers. The smaller ones fit perfectly into the Huntsman or Groom’s jacket pocket, or simply slung over the saddle in a sack.
By the early 1900’s, the Smooth Fox Terrier was such a popular pet in America that the RCA Victor Co. chose one for its logo.
Runts were kept (and cross bred) because they were so scrappy. Sorry, but they had to be in order to survive amongst their larger littermates. Those who lacked “grit” and failed to hold their own simply didn’t survive to reproduce. So the littlest ones became a prize and through hard but natural selection, the toughest of the runts survived to become the Toy Fox Terrier.
Fox hunting wasn’t sport for the farmer. It took him about a slippery second to figure out that the world champion farm dog might be that runty little fox terrier the wealthy folks were so proud of. The small terrier worked all day ridding the place of rodents and then protected the hen house at night. Well yes, some were kept inside because the Missus liked them, but they could hear a problem in the chicken yard even when sacked in with the children!
Long before the Great Depression, people of the Appalachians hunted not for sport, but to put food on the table. Too often it was no more than a squirrel to season the soup pot but they could depend on the “fiest dog” to spot that squirrel and by George, it could really “tree” a squirrel or coon!
Eliza Hopkins describes a typical TFT rat hunt in the excellent OTR Publication The Toy Fox Terrier, co-authored with Cathy Flamholtz. “The handlers would poke the rats from under the old log houses and the little dogs would catch them. When the day ended, the dogs had accounted for 74 rodents.”
During those times of no television (!) there was the occasional barn dance, church socials, traveling Medicine Show, and the “Dog and Pony Show.” The Toy Fox Terrier was an ideal choice for the traveling entertainer. He was easy to carry along and feed, great on the ponies, agile and smart enough to perform any trick, and an excellent watchdog in lonely roadside camps. He is a dog of many titles - the “trick dog” and later, “circus dog” and Ameri-Toy, but to many admirers, he remains, a little feist dog.
In 1912 the United Kennel Club began to register Smooth Fox Terriers, including the Toy size. TFT Fanciers asked for their own classification in the mid-20’s but it was 1936 before the UKC granted official registration for the Toy Fox Terrier.
Rural families were justifiably proud of their little dogs, and not much concerned with the struggles show people were experiencing. Frankly, the breedings that occurred in rural America insured a strength and hardiness seldom seen in such small dogs. Most Toy breeds have been sheltered and pampered for decades, if not for centuries whereas the feist dog just whelped and nursed her pups under the porch or in a bale of hay. The lustiest pups came toddling out in a few weeks. The others did not. Some learned to avoid the swift kick of the family milk cow. Some didn’t. Some proved tough and quick and had that unusual instinct to “look up” for squirrel. They learned to be death on varmints and to announce anyone coming up the lane well before they arrived. Those stayed. Others did not. The best of them lived a long healthy productive life. And therein lies the unique hardiness of the Toy Fox Terrier.
It was (and is) a challenge to keep them small enough to fit in a groom’s jacket - or down a rat hole! An article in the 1959 issue of UKC Bloodlines stated it was easy to go “…towards the Standard Size Fox Terrier … to go to the small size takes years…” The UKC agreed and supported the efforts to keep them small and keep them hardy as demonstrated in the photo (left) of Gr. Ch. PR Gorden's Madam Butterfly. But as Eliza Hopkins and other early breeders acknowledge, some show breeders took shortcuts that haunt today’s breeders.
There were various outcrosses to Toy Manchesters and Chihuahuas in lazy efforts to reduce size. Finally, in August of 1960, the United Kennel Club closed the stud book and that was that. Well, pretty much. We still see signs of the apple head as on the dog (right), the smaller eye and expression of the Manchester, or the overly large or protruding eye of the Chihuahua. The low tail set of rogue breedings plagues today’s breeders but the dog at right has good balance, topline, and “ ;up there” tail set that speaks to her great temperament.
But by and large, the Toy Fox Terrier breeds exceedingly true today, thanks to a meeting that occurred in 1949 in Ohio. Thus was born the National Fox Terrier Assoc. and strong commitment to responsible breeding, meaning preservation of both type and the “functionality” (an unheard of term back then) in the Toy Fox Terrier. And they meant to keep him a terrier, which is still his UKC classification.
It is amazing how many people “remember” the Toy Fox Terrier or knew someone who had them. Memories are turning into active interest and support as the breed nears AKC recognition. The American Toy Fox Terrier Club was formed in 1994 and AKC approved the club’s Constitution and Bylaws in 1999. The first Toy Fox Terrier National Specialty “A” Match is/was in Pleasanton, CA October 20, 2001.
Judges are curious, breeders are looking, especially those in other Toy breeds. The public doesn’t care. Like American families since the 1900’s, they just laugh at the antics of their little feist dog, they go rabbit and squirrel hunting with them, they depend on them to “keep the place clean” and warn them of anything out of the ordinary at night.
The children of America hold them tightly, whisper secrets into big ears that understand every childhood dream. And let’s admit it, somewhere right now, a Toy Fox Terrier mom is curled up in an unused stall or under the house, nursing her babies. Self-sufficient but absolutely and totally bonded to people. "Terrier tough" but gentle, loving and full time lap dog. Suspicious of any unknown sound or scent yet so trusting that they are limp as a rag when picked up by their owner. Dan Greenwald (Sethfield) once said to me about the Fox Terrier “they sleep with one eye open.” And so they do.
We are standing at the doorway of tomorrow with a little dog that has lasted since the 15th Century because he is physically and mentally sound, incredibly intelligent, happy in lap or field, useful, practical, handy, and hardy. What will the Toy Fox Terrier be in a ten years? Or fifty? It depends on you, the judge. What you choose in the ring during the next five years will determine whether or not the Toy Fox Terrier retains his heritage and his place in the hearts of the farmer, the family, and the fancy.
As American as apple pie, The Toy Fox Terrier is an original, and he’s...