The Fox Terrier was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1886; the breed was sponsored by the American Fox Terrier club, founded in 1885, which adopted the breed standard established in 1876 by the Fox Terrier Club in Great Britain. This standard was so well drawn that it was not changed for many years except to reduce the weight of a male dog in show condition from 20 pounds to 18 pounds.
The Fox Terrier was registered and shown in the United States as one breed with two varieties, Smooth and Wire. Except for the type of coat the two dogs are very much alike to this day.
The original Fox Terrier is an old English breed. One of the earliest records of the breed, made in 1790, was “Pitch”, a smooth-coated white Fox Terrier. Smooth Fox Terriers were shown as sporting dogs 15 or 20 years before the Wires were considered a breed. In early days breeders frequently crossed the Wire with the Smooth. This was done to give the Wire Fox Terrier the predominately white coloring of the Smooth and to produce a Wire with a clean-cut appearance and outline closer to the classic Smooth Fox Terrier appearance. For many years, however, this interbreeding has been discontinued.
Authorities had always believed that the two Fox Terriers probably originated from different sources : the Wire's ancestor was thought to be the rough-coated working terrier of Wales, Derbyshire and Durham, while the Smooth was considered a mixture of the black and tan terrier, the Bull Terrier, the Greyhound and the Beagle.
In 1985 the American Kennel Club approved separate standards for the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Wire Fox Terrier; the two became separate breeds within the Terrier Group. The differences are mainly those of coat and a difference in temperment of the two as defined by general appearance standards. Additionally, the Wire has restrictions on head width as opposed to the Smooth who, with its Greyhound ancestry, has a naturally narrow skull.
The Smooth “must present a generally gay, lively and active appearance” while the Wire “should be alert, quick of movement, keen of expression, on the tip-toe of expectation at the slightest provocation. Character is imparted by the expression of the eyes and by the carriage of ears and tail.”
Clearly, the Smooth is designated as the lightweight. Both the Wire and the Smooth are highly nervous dogs. Within the Terrier Group they are second only to the Jack Russell in this characteristic. Both are predominately pets in the United States; in Europe and in Australia the Wire is often used for hunting. The French use it in packs for hunting wild boar even though all terriers are bred for hunting vermin, i.e. animals such as the fox which live in holes or warrens in the ground.
The name, terrier, is derived from the Latin word for earth (terra) and all terriers are instinctive diggers. There is a typical terrier personality: feisty, stubborn, and energetic. Terriers are intolerent of other animals, including other dogs. Most have a dense, wiry coat. Terriers range in size from the very small West Highland White to the very large Airedale.
The two Fox Terriers fall midway. The standard for both is not to exceed 15-1/2 inches at the withers, and the length of the back from withers to base of tail is not to exceed 12 inches. The head of a full-grown dog of correct size, measured from the occipital bone to the nostrils, should fall between 7 and 7-1/2 inches. The Wire is restricted to a total skull diameter of 3-1/2 inches at the widest part.
The weight should not exceed 18 pounds. All of these measurements are for the dog, with those for the bitch being proportionately less. Bitches generally weigh approximately two pounds less than the male, although both sexes have a margin of one pound either way.
As little as 30 years ago the difference in the coat color of the two Fox Terriers was quite pronounced; while both were “patchy” with clear-edged brown and black areas on white, the Wire tended to have much more dark pigment than the Smooth. By the time the two were divided into separate breeds in 1985, the standard for color was almost the same: “White should predominate; brindle, red or liver markings are objectionable” for the Smooth. For the Wire, “slaty blue” was also objectionable. Today both Fox Terriers are very heavily white. The Wire tends to have more tan markings than does the Smooth, which generally has mainly black with perhaps some tan bordering black areas on the head.
One other qualification which is much the same for both Fox Terriers and is shared with only a few other breeds within the Terrier Group is the length of the tail. This must be docked to leave 3/4 of the original length. For the Smooth, the standard only states that the tail should be “of good strength”.
For the Wire, the standard specifies that the tail “should be of good strength and substance” because "it affords the only safe grip when handling working Terriers".
Breeders and people who work with the Wire Fox Terrier state : "The tail should be a bit longer than a man’s palm is wide". When a Wire is in a hole after vermin, generally the only way to get him out is to reach in and drag him out by the tail, the “only safe grip” quoted above.
personal knowledge of the breed