One of the questions I am asked most by friends and people referred by friends and family (and occasionally online) is “what should I look for when I’m choosing a Border Terrier puppy?”

To answer that question and help guide new prospective owners, I’ve written this summary of what I think based on my experience both as a breeder and as a long term owner of Border Terriers.

I strongly recommend that you buy from a breeder that is Kennel Club Registered (UK) and has certificates and documents for you to see (both for himself and for his dogs). This link will take you to the Kennel Club Border Terrier Puppy search page.

If you’ve never had a Border Terrier before; please do lots of research and a good place to start is the Border Terrier Club and look at other pages and posts in my blog. The only thing I will say is that they shed hair – a lot; all year round and that is something that some folks will not like. However a vacuum cleaner that is specifically designed for pet owners is a good solution as they pick up hair efficiently and filter out all the dust. This link takes you to some of the best selling Pet Hair Vacuum Cleaners. Personally I prefer the bag-less pull along type with a long flexible hose as it is the most versatile.

My book to help Border Terrier owners groom their dogs (available on Amazon).

Remember that the Border Terrier is a hardy and very intelligent dog and learns very quickly, so assess the breeder first as the early weeks environment is very important. Are the puppies exposed to family life and noises (like vacuum cleaners and washing machines) or are they kept outside in a barn or a shed? Does the breeder own both parents? If yes make sure you see them, if not ask to see some photo’s of the Father and see copies of the stud dogs certificates.

Visit the Breeder twice (first at around 7 weeks and again the week before you collect) and try and see several Breeders if you can. Border Terrier puppies seem to be available all the time but peak times seem to me to be during January / February and again during August / September.

You may get very excited and want to see the puppies before they are seven weeks old, but it it really isn’t worth it as you will not be able to assess them effectively.

Genetic Disorders

The first thing to be aware of is that there are some genetic disorders that may be present. Thankfully they are very rare and I have only covered the ones that you can spot during your visits (although there are others like early stage cataracts from one year old and heart problems and very rarely gut problems that only a Vet will find after testing the dog).

These disorders don’t mean the dog is not suitable for you but they may cause problems in the dogs later life and that usually means cost of ownership is higher. If you knowingly take on a dog with a birth disorder love it as you would a normal one (because the dog doesn’t know he / she is not normal but please don’t breed with it). disorders are;

  • Overshot or undershot bottom jaw, (meaning that the bottom jaw is either too long or too short). What it means for the dog is that the teeth top and bottom will be out of sync and will not mesh together when chewing. As the second teeth come through they could be distorted and your Vet may recommend taking some out as they come through to improve the bite.
  • Hip Dysplasia. This is where the hip ball joint does not fit snugly and deeply into the hip socket. You can feel this when you pick the puppy up. Use your thumb to gently but firmly stroke up the hind leg and over the hip. If the joint feels knobbly or the puppies leg does not move fluidly it may be an early sign. Ask if the puppies have seen a Vet yet as all Kennel Club puppies will have seen a Vet and been tested.
Finally remember that genetic disorders can skip several generations and may only affect one puppy in a litter and that most litters are born healthy with no disorders. Only a Vet can diagnose any condition and advise you on a treatment or care of a specific puppy.

The Visit.

Take someone with you and arrive when you said you would. Take an old sock or an old unwashed tee shirt as well. If you’re going to be late phone ahead and say when you expect to get there as the breeder may have several appointments scheduled. If you buy a puppy (reserve) on your first visit leave the breeder your old tee shirt or sock so that the puppy becomes used to your smell.

Listen carefully to what the breeder tells you about the breed, about the parents and about themselves. This will tell you what the motives of the breeder are and the environment the puppies are experiencing.

Border Terrier pups at 3 weeks old; exploring the kitchen.

Ask to see all the puppies including any that are already sold or that the breeder is keeping. If the breeder is keeping any ask why? It may be the breeder wants one for competition showing or future breeding or because the puppy has a disorder. Seeing all the puppies together gives you the chance to see them interact with their siblings.

If the breeder is Kennel Club registered they will show you their certificates and registration documents and this is when to ask if they have “shown” any dogs in competition. Ask how many litters the Mother has had and when as this will give you an insight into the Mothers underlying health.

Choosing Your Puppy.

All Border Terrier puppies are beautiful but which one is right for you? Lets look objectively at the puppy pack.

Watch all the puppies with their Mother before you interact with any. Some will play with each other, some may stay close to their mother and some will be exploring away from the others. Notice also the difference in sizes.

There is always at least one greedy one that grows quickest so ask the breeder if they have given supplementary feed to any puppies and if so which ones. These ones I think make the best pup for a new owner. They are healthy and have already learned that there is life outside their Mothers suckle so they adapt quickly to new settings.

The greedy one who is bigger than the rest makes a good working dog. Already used to getting it’s own way by pushing others out of the way it adapts quickly to hunting. This dog also makes a good solo companion dog.

The ones who explore are the ones that are ahead of the development curve and already testing the boundaries. These puppies will be easy to train but in my experience they are “the escapers.” They are bold and courageous but will need a firm upbringing. Watch them when the front door opens and make sure your rear garden is secure. That said they make great family dogs and if you already have a dog this little explorer will fit in easier than the greedy one who will try to be top dog when he / she begins to mature.

The ones who stay close to their mother or stay mostly in a small group if she is not there are the ones who are also easily trained; but this time it’s because they are a little behind the development curve, and so they will also take a little longer to get used to their new life. These dogs make the best companions for children as they become playful and full of life once they are settled. They also make the loyalist of companions as they know and value their place in the pack. Don’t get me wrong all Border Terriers are very loyal, but these little puppies will grow into dogs that know they belong in the family pack and are loyal to every member of the pack (whether it’s a parent or child or another dog), as opposed to being rather more focused as a one person dog in the family pack.

Do not automatically choose the puppy that seems to choose you, as one will come wandering up to you. Think about it rationally based on what I’ve said because I know the impulse to choose the puppy that chose you can be overwhelming. This is when your friend or partner steps in and talks about the pups based on my summary above and any other research you have completed.

If you like one buy it there and then (this means normally leaving a deposit with the balance due on collection). Make sure the price includes vaccinations, vet checks and certificates. If you don’t want to buy; trust your intuition and walk away.

Finally on a sober solemn note. Puppies at seven weeks are still fragile and it is not unheard of for a puppy that was chosen and deposit paid to suffer some trauma, maybe an accident when the tired mother crushes the pup overnight or an illness takes it’s life. If that happens to you the breeder may offer you another puppy. Do not say yes automatically without seeing the puppy and making a rational assessment.

It is hard but try not to get to excited about your new puppy until you have him or her home.

This little dog will be your companion for many years and whilst you will have to work at training him / her (and there will be periods of exasperation for both of you), you will not find a better family dog. 

One of mine is nearly seventeen (see my others posts at and still a happy active (if not very stiff) family member.

I hope my thoughts will help you choose the right Border Terrier puppy for you.
Have a great day.