The original purpose of the Wire Fox Terrier is tied to English Fox hunting. The hounds would chase the fox until he went to ground, at which point the hunt would end unless the fox could be bolted from his hiding place; that was the job of the terriers.
Most of the best dogs of the late 19th century came from strains developed in the kennels of the well-known hunts. The original standard for the breed was drawn up by The Fox Terrier Club (England) in 1876.
The Terrier is one of the ancient breeds discovered in Britain by the invading Romans, in 54 B.C., who described them as fox hunting dogs. They are mentioned in the "Natural History" (an encyclopedia) by Pliny the Elder, published in AD 77-79. This is the origin of the Wire Fox Terrier.
The word terra, from which Terrier is derived, means earth, in Latin. As the word suggests, Wire Fox Terriers in general are a “down to earth” breed. The name describes his job: he was carried in saddlebags on the hunt and released when the hounds chased the fox to ground. The Wire would courageously follow the fox into the den at which point the hunter would pull him back out of the hole by their short (usually docked), strong tail. This tells us their characteristics have been well-defined for centuries.
There are two types of Fox Terriers, Smooth and Wire. They may look similar but actually have quite different origins. The Smooth Fox Terrier is a hybrid of several breeds, among them the Greyhound, Beagle and Bull Terrier. Records exist of the Smooth Fox Terrier in its present form from the middle of the 19th century. The Wire Fox Terrier probably developed from the now extinct rough-coated Black and Tan Working Terrier common to Wales, Derbyshire and Durham England, which was then crossed at a later date with the Smooth in order to arrive at the lighter coat colour.
Artists' paintings depicting dogs in the early 18th century resemble both the Smooth and the Wire Fox Terrier.
The first Wire Fox Terrier which is authentically recorded was Old Tip. He was bred by the Master of the Sinnington Hounds in Yorkshire England, around 1866. The dog was never shown but was bred and used solely for work. Although his actual pedigree is unknown, Old Tip is the source from which all our present-day Wires emanate. Further down the breed line, improvement was noted in the lengthening of the head, ears and conformation (earlier breeders liberally crossed Wire Fox Terriers with Smooths to give the Wire a predominantly white pigmentation, a cleaner-cut head and a more classical outline).
The Breed Club was not established in England for either breed until 1876. However, the first Wire Fox Terriers to arrive in North America (USA), from England, was in the early 1880s.
Charles Darwin had a Wire named Polly, who followed him everywhere until Darwin’s death on April 19, 1882. Polly passed away the following day.
By the 1890’s, type was becoming established, and reasonably reliable Wire Fox Terrier records began with a dog called Meersbrook Bristles, born June 3, 1892, who was the first famous sire to show the hound markings which are so beloved to this day. Earlier records have little credibility. In 1898, the great Wire dog Cackler of Notts was whelped. It is said that all modern day Wires worthy of the name can trace their descent from him.
The suffix "of Notts" will forever have its place in Fox Terrier history belonging as it did to probably the most famous breeder ever of Wires and Smooths, Kathleen, Duchess of Newcastle.
Any one who enjoys English History trivia will know Queen Victoria owned a Wire as did her son and heir, King Edward VII of Great Britain.
Caesar Of Notts, sired by Cackler Of Notts (It is doubtful that there is a Wire Fox Terrier living today whose parentage does not trace back to Cackler Of Notts), was King Edward VII's most favourite dog (circa 1915) and constant companion and did much to popularise the Wire Fox Terrier at the beginning of the 20th century.
Another famous dog to make an indelible mark in Wire Fox Terrier history was Champion Talavera Simon whose ancestry can be traced right back to Old Tip. Born in 1924, it is fair to say that every Wire Fox Terrier living today can trace his ancestry back to Simon - a truly great dog in every sense of the word.
However the Wire Fox Terrier became popular as a family pet in the 1930s, when The Thin Man series of feature films was created. Asta, the canine member of the Charles family, was a Wire Fox Terrier and the popularity of the breed soared. Milou (Snowy) from The Adventures Of Tintin comic strip (publication 1929-1976), known internationally, is also a Wire Fox Terrier!
In the early 1960s, another Champion, Zeloy Emperor, bred by Ernest Robinson in March 1960, had an enormous influence on the breed. He was the sire of 22 British champions and 33 US champions, as well as siring numerous champions throughout Europe, Japan and Australia.
Billy, as he was known, first appeared in the show ring at Cruft's in February 1961, where he won a puppy class of 14; he also won the Undergraduate class with 7 entries and Graduate with 8 entries.
When Ernest died, in 1972, Billy left England to live out his remaining years in Holland as the house pet of the Van der Hoevens, long-time Wire fanciers of the Pickwick Kennels which already had Ch. Zeloy Select and Ch. Zeloy Escort in residence. Billy passed away in 1973 and as a tribute to Billy, Mrs. Van der Hoeven had a mausoleum built for him which still stands today.
It has been fifty years since the first champion from Emperor emerged and since then, nearly three quarters of those champions in the UK carry one or more lines to him. In the United States, his champion descendants number many hundreds. No dog has had a greater influence on the breed in modern times.
As a group, Terriers are fearless, independent, inquisitive and have a sense of humour. They can also be mischievous. This description is appropriate for the Wire Fox Terrier who is an intelligent, energetic, stubborn, small-medium sized dog.
The Wire is no longer used for hunting but the instinct still persists in their nature. Wires are definitely not lap dogs, so if you are looking for this in a breed, then a Wire Fox Terrier is not for you. However that said, the Wire will follow you around all day. They will sit next to you whenever they can and their facial expressions say it all!
There are thousands of pages written attempting to illuminate the dim past history of Fox Terriers, but the actual origin of this wonderful breed remains a mystery. Today, they are valued as happy, active companion dogs.
References & Acknowledgements; Wire Fox Terrier Association UK & Wikipedia.