History of the Norfolk Terrier


Nearly 200 years ago, gypsies travelled through East Anglia accompanied by small, red, lop-eared terriers, poacher's dogs that were said to be the toughest terriers imaginable.

East Anglia is grain country. Rats, rabbits and mice were a major problem for farmers if not effectively controlled. Small, agile, terrier-like, reddish-brown dogs were therefore quite common on farms, and they had to ensure that the rodents were kept at bay.

Ratting in a stable, around 1850

There were even professional "rat catchers" who came to particularly badly affected farms with around a dozen of these terriers, sent their dogs there for a week or so to catch predators and then moved on to the next farm. These dogs did indeed gain a great reputation as predator catchers; it is described how one of them killed 80 rats in one day during threshing. A Youtube video showing some Norfolk Terrier and Norfolk Terrier crosses in organized rat hunting can be found
here. Today, Norfolk Terriers are no longer bred for this purpose, but live mainly as companion dogs.

Interestingly, around the same time in East Anglia there are also said to have been heeler dogs, which were relatively small, red and rough-haired. Unfortunately, they are now extinct. It almost seems as if there is a relationship between the East Anglian landscape, the red colour and the rough hair.

Around 1870, the master of the Foxhounds of Ballybrick in Ireland was annoyed that so many foxes were escaping because his dogs were too big to follow them into the dens. He began to breed a line of particularly small dogs from his Irish Terriers and is said to have had a terrier of 10 inches shoulder height after numerous generations. However, it was not until after his death that some of these dogs arrived in England in the Cambridge and Norfolk area. These "Irish mites", as they were called, and the dogs of gypsies and farmers may have been the origin of the Norfolk Terrier.

Norfolk Terriers around 1910, before their recognition as a breed
(sitting next to Lewis Low)

Towards the end of the nineteenth century they began to appear in Cambridge, where they were sold in Trumpington Street near the major colleges by a dog dealer, "Doggy Lawrence". These "Trumpington" or "Cantab" terriers were particularly popular with students, who used them in rat-biting competitions. Horse breeders from nearby Newmarket, one of the largest and most important thoroughbred breeding areas in the world, also showed particular interest.

Starting from Cambridge and the surrounding area, various people endeavoured to further develop these small red terriers, almost all of whom were "horse people" or hunters: Jodrell Hopkins, Lewis Low, Frank Jones, Jock Cooke, Jack Read, to name just the most important. They worked specifically to create a certain type that they had set as their goal. However, it was still a long way to today's Norwich and Norfolk Terrier.

Recognition and Ear Problems

Ch.Biffin of Beaufin (left), born 1932,
and Little Jane (right)

Ear carriage was of little importance to the early breeders of the small red terrier. Temperament and courage were the deciding factors. Often the ears were even cropped.

It was certainly not the intention of the early breeders to create two breeds, but with the ban on docking, it was inevitable that a distinction had to be made between the prick-eared and the lop-eared, and both types had their supporters, so that it was not possible to agree on an ear carriage. When the Norwich Terrier was recognised as a breed by the Kennel Club in 1932, the standard allowed the dogs to have prick or lop ears.

Although it was permitted to cross the types with each other, breeders realised early on that this would not produce good results, namely "flappy ears", which are still often found in Norfolk Terriers today. All attempts at the Kennel Club to obtain the addition of "tipped ear" and "prick ear" when registering the dogs were in vain. It was a tough battle before, after many years, the Kennel Club agreed in 1964 and the drop-eared dogs were given a new name: "Norfolk Terrier". According to British breeders, both breeds benefited from this separation.

The photo of Ch. Biffin of Beaufin shows an example of flappy ears. If Norfolk Terriers have flappy ears today, they are often glued at the age of about 4-5 months for a few weeks to correct the ear carriage.
Here you can find a Youtube video showing how it is done.

Differences to the Norwich Terrier

There is more between the Norfolk and Norwich Terrier than just a difference in ear carriage. Here are some views from breeders who know both breeds: Norwiches are deeper, shorter and more compact in build overall. The Norfolk is a touch longer in the back and lighter, even closer to the "working terrier". The deep red, hard coat is more common in the Norfolk, but you will see considerably more "black and tan", "grizzle" or "wheaten" among the Norwiches. But the main differences lie in the nature of the two breeds. Norwich Terriers are generally always around their owner's feet and are therefore more likely to go for a walk without a lead. Even in the house, they follow their "master" at every turn. Norfolks are somewhat more independent in their nature, sometimes going their own way and staying in their place at home if their "master" just happens to go into another room. While the Norwich Terrier has an almost exuberant temperament, the Norfolk is often more calm and imperturbable. He is quieter in the house, less lively, but also not as "showy" as his stand-up cousin. As a "pointer" in the show ring, the Norwich is almost a natural, something the Norfolk usually has to learn first. In any case, it is wrong to compare the two breeds in the show ring. They were separated to prevent this. After all, a judge would never think of comparing a West Highland White Terrier with a Cairn Terrier, even though they have the same origins.

The typical diseases of the breed are also quite different and even in movement the expert sees differences between Norwich and Norfolk Terriers.

(Source: Joan R. Read)