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The Toy Fox Terrier has a unique distinction in being the only breed whose AKC standard implies that a fondness for televi­sion viewing is a breed trait. Don’t believe it?

The introduction to the breed standard states that not only is the Toy Fox Terrier an athletic, bold, lively pup who will happily go to ground all day and night searching out varmints, but the dog also “appears to know the latest in television entertainment of his household.” Does this mean that rather than having to program your VCR, you can rely on your Toy Fox Terrier to give you a detailed play-by-play of who Tony whacked the night before on The Sopranos? No, of course not. The Toy Fox Terrier is a dog.

But if you are looking for a courageous, independent, playful, and hopelessly devoted couch-potato (until you decide to raid the fridge, that is), the Toy Fox Terrier may fit the bill for you. It has been an unusual and long road for this diminutive breed, which had its origins among the fox hunts of 18th-century England, and was born again here in the United States.

Historical image of the Toy Fox Terrier
AKC Library & Archives

An American Experience

As its name indicates, the Toy Fox Terrier descends from the larger Smooth Fox Terrier, whose purpose in the English fox-hunting kennels was to work indepen­dently from the hounds and tenaciously wrestle vermin out of their holes all day long. Owners of these Smooth Fox Terriers found that the smallest, runtiest offspring tended to be the scrappiest as well. These diminutive dogs, weighing in at about seven pounds, were also prized for their good temperaments.

As the Smooth Fox Terrier grew in popularity in the United States during the early 20th century, so did the popularity of the smaller offspring that occasionally resulted. Despite their petite stature, these proved invaluable on farms across the heartland as excellent ratters, as well as hearty companions to children on the farm. Farmers began to breed the smaller Smooth Fox Terriers, looking to create a line of miniatures.

It was also at this time that the breed first entered the ring-the circus ring, that is. Breed fanciers say that the diminutive terriers easily found employment under the big top as “trick dogs,” performing for laughs-and, no doubt, peanuts-in many of the regional circuses that crossed the country. It was a role that well suited the agile and comical little dogs, says Rick Beauchamp, former vice president of the American Toy Fox Terrier Club.

In 1915, a group of Toy Fox Terrier fanciers approached the AKC to propose a registry for the smaller version of the Smooth Fox Terrier, but they were turned down. In 1949 the National Toy Terrier Association brought stability to the breed by writing a standard, offering conformation shows, and serving as the parent organization for state clubs.

During all of this time, fanciers became concerned with the breed’s often inconsistent size. In order to see that the dog remained small yet powerful, breeders for many years had been crossing their Toy Fox Terriers with Toy Manchester Terriers and Chihuahuas.

“You would not see what we see today without those crosses-the breed is not merely a shrunken-down version of the Smooth Fox Terrier,” Beauchamp says. Many fanciers believe that the crossbreeding with other toy breeds gave the Toy Fox a milder disposition, while the breed retained its terrier gameness, courage, and animation.

Toy Fox Terrier running outdoors.

In the early 1990s, a group of Toy Fox Terrier fanciers formed the American Toy Fox Terrier Club, and in the mid-1990s the club asked Laura Perkinson, Margi Hill, Karen Brancheau, Susan McCoy, and Anne Gendron to seek AKC recognition for the breed. In April 2001 the breed entered the AKC’s Miscellaneous Class.

Truly a Toy and a Terrier

According to the breed standard, the Toy Fox Terrier’s genetic makeup of both Toy and Terrier traits should influence his person­ality and character. He should be a well-balanced, athletic, agile, and graceful toy dog. His body should be lithe and muscular, with a smooth outline. Breed characteristics include an elegant, balanced head, a short, glossy, and predominantly white coat, and a short, high tail-set.

This dynamic combination of attractive qualities will suit the Toy Fox Terrier well in the show ring, but it is not only in conformation where fanciers say the breed will excel.

The breed also does well in Agility, Obedience, and Flyball, and some fanciers are eager to see how it would fare in Earthdog trials. Because of the breed’s happy disposition and keen mind, it also excels in service work. For instance, one Toy Fox Terrier works as a seizure-alert dog, and others have been trained as hearing dogs for the deaf.

Those who love the breed all say that there is something about a Toy Fox Terrier that makes him stand out. “They are incredibly perceptive,” says former American Toy Fox Terrier Club president Michael A. Massey, “and I’ve never had a dog that seems to want to be with me so much and be a part of our lives. They are just cuddle-bugs,” he says.

Sounds like these little cuddle-bugs and circus clowns are mighty fine dogs. But will they steal the T V remote?

Related article: English Cocker Spaniel History: Standing As a Breed of Its Own
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