Is A Fox Terrier Right For Me?
by Dena Lebo-Funk, VMD
Rescued Fox Terriers are fine companions in an appropriate home but their "terrier ways" make them unsuitable for some families. Maybe you know someone who owns a Fox Terrier or have met one that you like. Maybe you are interested because you have seen one on TV or in the movies. Or maybe you have shared your life with a Fox Terrier, or several, before. In any case, before you envision your rescued Fox Terrier living happily ever after while he charms you with his intelligence and antics, please take time to carefully consider whether or not a Fox Terrier is a good match for your household and lifestyle.
Puppies are almost never available through rescue. Adult Fox Terriers become available for adoption for a variety of reasons. Sometimes their owner dies, moves to a retirement home or finances no longer allow them to keep a pet. Sometimes adults are rescued from puppy mills. But most commonly, the reasons are because he doesn't get along with another dog or cat in the house, doesn't get along with small children in the house, isn't housebroken, runs away when outside or has more energy then the family can deal with. These adults are typical, normal, Fox Terriers given up by families who didn't realize what a Fox Terrier was all about.
While on the subject of personality, not all Fox Terriers are alike in their personality and behaviors. If you owned a Fox Terrier before and think that you know the breed very well, please consider that perhaps your dog was not typical for the breed. For example, if you owned a quiet, calm, Fox Terrier that loved all children, got along well with every dog and cat and could walk off leash without any problems, that was not a typical Fox Terrier! In all fairness to any dog you are considering adding to your family, it is important that you clearly express specifically what personality and behaviors you do and don't expect from that dog. This way the rescue volunteer can better determine whether a particular available dog's personality will mesh with your own. In short, clear communication of your expectations is the key for a successful match since some available Fox Terriers will not fit your expectations.
Fox Terriers, both Smooth and Wire, are working breeds developed to chase fox into the ground then burrow, dig and bark furiously to annoy the fox out of the ground so the hunter could shoot it. Fox Terriers were bred for stamina that allowed them to run with the fox hounds for hours at a stretch several times per week. This work requires a Fox Terrier to possess intelligence, problem-solving skills, high prey (chase) drive, confidence, fearlessness, and an independent attitude. These characteristics make them excellent hunters and endear them to owners who love a bold, rash and determined companion. However, these are the same characteristics that make them a poor fit in many households. The very characteristics that land many Fox Terriers in shelters or in foster care with a rescue group!
While every Fox Terrier varies in personality and energy level, considering the breed as a whole, they bark, they chase moving objects, they have never-ending-energy and they are relentless when they want something (prey, food, toy, a Barbie Doll's head, etc.) They are typically territorial and "quick to react" so they often don't get along well with other dogs if they haven't been well socialized, especially dogs of the same sex. In fact, many rescued Fox Terriers must be placed as the only dog in their new home. Most Fox Terriers will chase cats. Some will even kill cats. There have been instances of Fox Terriers who seemed to get along with the cat beautifully until one day when the owner arrived home to find the cat slaughtered by the dog. Most Fox Terriers will kill birds and small pets like hamsters, chickens or guinea pigs. If you have other pets , confining the Fox Terrier to a crate or a small room when you are not home is highly recommended for the safety of the other pets. Most will chase squirrels, rabbits and deer. If you don't have a safe, fenced area for them to exercise off leash while outside then the dog should remain on leash at all times. Unless trained otherwise, many Fox Terriers are excited by and will chase moving bikes, skateboards and cars. This can be an annoying habit to a family lacking the time and patience to teach the dog to ignore these moving objects. It can also be dangerous to the dog and the persons involved if the dog gets loose.
Fox Terriers require an enormous amount of daily exercise. The truth is, a tired Fox Terrier is a well-behaved Fox Terrier. An hour a day of aerobic exercise like jogging, swimming, biking or ball chasing is the bare minimum. Ask any self-respecting Fox Terrier himself, and he will tell you three hours is more like it! Does your family have this much time to devote to just exercising the dog every day, no matter the weather? A ten minute leash walk twice a day will not come close to satisfying their daily exercise requirement. Putting them out in the backyard while you stay inside the house will not satisfy their exercise requirement either.
And most Fox Terriers cannot be exercised off leash at a "dog park" because they are not likely to get along with all of the other dogs running loose there. If you don't have time to exercise the dog properly every day or have someone reliable to do it for you, your Fox Terrier companion will likely invent his own fun and it probably will be something you don't approve of like running away when outside, chewing your furniture, barking at anything that moves, digging holes in your yard and pestering everyone in the house because he is too "pumped up" to simply relax. Fox Terriers remain active well into their teen years. It isn't just the puppies and young adults that need daily aerobic exercise though a middle-aged to older Fox Terrier has an energy level that is generally a better fit for most working families.
If you have children, grandchildren or neighborhood children, keep in mind that some Fox Terriers don't tolerate or are unable to cope with them. There are, of course, Fox terriers who are great buddies with children but finding a dog like this available for adoption will generally require a longer wait. Many reputable breeders and rescue volunteers will not place a Fox Terrier in a home with children younger than 7 years of age. Unless properly and socialized and raised from puppyhood with small children present, many Fox Terriers will be stressed by the awkward, unsteady movements of a toddler or overly aroused by the quick movements and high-pitched noises made by active children. In such stressed conditions, even an innocent nudge or an accidental trip and fall over a sleeping Fox Terrier can startle him and result in a snap or bite. Like some other terrier breeds, Fox Terriers have practically zero tolerance for their ears, tails or feet being pulled on. Unlike a Golden or Labrador Retriever, most Fox Terriers do not make special allowances for very boisterous children. They instead perceive them as a threat or a challenge. This is another common reason for a Fox Terrier to end up in need of a new home.
Because Fox Terriers are bred to think and work independently of their human companions, they have a reputation for being stubborn and hard to train. Actually they are highly intelligent and very willing to learn if you are a patient teacher and provided all of their requirements for physical and mentally exercise are met on a daily basis. Fox Terriers do best in an active but calm household where the rules are clear and consistently applied by everyone in the family. This cannot be over emphasized. Without rules and benevolent guidance to clearly establish the family's leadership role, a Fox Terrier will tend to be reactive, anxious and ignore instruction. This can escalate into behavior problems.
Fox Terriers, in fact terriers in general, can also be difficult to house train. Yet another common reason why they end up in need of a new home. A Fox Terrier tends to quickly learn to potty outdoors but is slower to realize that pottying indoors is not appropriate. In order for them to clearly understand what is expected, it is critical to keep them within your sight at all times during the acclimation period to a new home. How long is that? It could be a few weeks for some dogs, several months or longer for others. Are you and the rest of your family willing and able to keep your new companion constantly within your sight and to clean up after the dog for potentially several months?
Rescued Fox Terriers can and do make wonderful family pets, for families prepared for and able to properly train and exercise them. Most Fox Terriers available for adoption are not there because they have something wrong with them. But rather because they are a typical Fox Terrier turned over by a family that didn't expect what they got. If you remain interested in adopting a rescued Fox Terrier, please visit the website at www.foxterrierrescue.net This site lists Fox Terrier rescuer volunteers by state and also lists dogs currently available for adoption. You can complete an adoption application form online and send it to the volunteer nearest to you. That volunteer will then get in touch with you about the next steps in the process. Remember that no matter how wonderful a home you may be, you are not going to be the best home for every Fox Terrier. The key is finding a dog with the personality traits and behaviors that will mesh with your home, family and expectations. In order for this to happen, you must have open and frank communication with the volunteer about what you are looking for in a new companion.
If you decide that the Fox Terrier breed is not the best match for your family, be proud that you have done your research. With more research, you will find the right dog for you!
Reprinted courtesy of Dena Lebo-Funk
"I was a little unprepared for the constant perpetual motion: biting, chewing, running, barking, but he eventually wears himself out & hasn't done great damage yet apart from a few close calls--carrying my eyeglasses around, chewing up money, the usual. Shoes are the latest obsession"