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The Norfolk Terrier: A Guide for Owners

Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte. He has 15+ years of experience with dogs and various pets.

The Norfolk Terrier: A Guide for Owners.

The Norfolk Terrier: A Guide for Owners.

Around the world, there exists only a handful of dog breeds that can be consistently described as courageous, fearless, fun-loving, and intelligent. One of these dogs is the Norfolk Terrier.

Although this breed was originally designed for “ratting” and fox bolting, it is now favored for its companionship and capacity as a show dog in the modern era.

This work examines the Norfolk Terrier and provides an in-depth analysis of the animal’s behavioral patterns, temperament, and general traits. This includes a discussion of the Norfolk Terrier’s personality, health concerns, grooming needs, and feeding requirements.

It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of this remarkable breed will accompany readers following their completion of this work.

Dog Quote

"If you don't own a dog, at least one, there may not necessarily be anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life."

— Roger Caras

Scientific Classification

  • Common Name: Norfolk Terrier
  • Binomial Name: Canis Lupus Familiaris
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Canis
  • Species: Canis Lupus
  • Subspecies: Canis Lupus Familiaris
  • Other Name(s): Trumpington Terrier; Cantab Terrier; Jones Terrier
A beautiful wirehaired variety of the Norfolk Terrier.

A beautiful wirehaired variety of the Norfolk Terrier.

History of the Norfolk Terrier

  • Life Span: 13 to 15 years
  • Group: Terrier
  • Area of Origin: England
  • Date of Origin: 1800s
  • Original Function: Fox bolting; Ratting
  • Family: Terrier


The Norfolk Terrier is believed to have originated in eastern England during the 1880s when British sportsmen began to cross Irish and Red Terriers (for the purpose of ratting and fox bolting).

Originally referred to as the Cantab Terrier (or Trumpington Terriers), the breed quickly gained prominence as a companion dog, however, due to its small size and playful demeanor. This was particularly true for students attending Cambridge University, where the dog became both popular and fashionable for students to own (a trend that lasted several decades).

Following the conclusion of the First World War, the Cantab was officially recognized by the English Kennel Club in 1932, where it was renamed the Norwich Terrier. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that a separate type of dog was distinguished from this lot based on ear-type.

Dogs that were prick-eared remained Norwich Terriers, whereas drop-eared varieties were officially reclassified (and renamed) as the Norfolk. To this day, there remain only minor differences between the two breeds, with both dogs being virtually indistinguishable to the untrained eye.


The Norfolk Terrier was originally bred for the purpose of hunting foxes and ratting during the 1800s. At a time when rats were extremely common throughout England (due to the expansion of cities and industrialization), the Norfolk proved vital in keeping their population numbers down. This was an important role, as rats were known to carry a wide array of fatal diseases and pests (such as fleas).

In spite of this original purpose, however, the role of the Norfolk Terrier changed dramatically in the 1900s as their small size and playful personality made the dog excellent for companionship in the home. In the present day, the Norfolk continues to maintain this companionship role within a wide array of households around the world.

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Norfolk Terrier smiles for the camera.

Norfolk Terrier smiles for the camera.

Appearance and Body Characteristics


  • Weight: 11 to 12 pounds (male and female)
  • Height: 9 to 10 inches (male and female)

The Norfolk Terrier is a small breed, reaching only 11 to 12 pounds on average. Height is usually directly proportionate to the dog’s weight, with 9 to 10 inches being standard for adults. In regard to length, the Norfolk Terrier is usually slightly longer than their overall height. Finally, females tend to be slightly smaller in appearance than the male.

The Norfolk Terrier’s skull is relatively wide with a rounded appearance. Accentuating the head is a wedge-shaped muzzle with a strong jawline and scissor-like bite. Eyes on the Norfolk Terrier should be relatively small, dark, and oval-shaped. Completing the head is a pair of small ears that drop neatly toward the eyes.


Forequarters on the Norfolk Terrier are muscular in appearance, with laid-back shoulders and straight legs. The legs are completed by a pair of elbows that sit close to the dog’s ribs, along with a series of rounded feet that are accentuated by thick padding and black nails.


Hindquarters on the Norfolk Terrier follow many of the same characteristics as the front. Thighs should be broad and well-muscled, with hocks let down and straight (when viewed from the back). Feet are the same as the front and are generally round with thick pads and black nails.


Tails on the Norfolk Terrier should be docked at a medium length. This provides the dog with a balanced appearance. In addition, tails should be straight and carried high.

Coat and Coloration

The Norfolk Terrier comes in a variety of colors, including red, black and tan, grizzle, and wheaten. Generally speaking, the dog’s fur is comprised of both a protective coating along with an undercoat. The outer layer is typically described as straight and wiry with an overall length of 1.5 to 2 inches. Undercoats are quite short and usually lie close to the skin for protection against the elements.

Hair on this breed will usually be longer on the neck and shoulders, while fur on the head and ears should be relatively smooth and short.

Norfolk Terrier playing with sprinkler outside.

Norfolk Terrier playing with sprinkler outside.

Are Norfolk Terriers Right for Your Home?

General Characteristics

  • Energy Level: 4/5
  • Exercise Needs: 3/5
  • Playfulness: 4/5
  • Affection Towards Owners: 1/5
  • Friendliness Towards Other Animals: 3/5
  • Training Difficulty: 3/5
  • Grooming Level: 3/5

Note: Scale of 1 to 5 (1=Lowest, 5=Highest)


The Norfolk Terrier has a robust personality. Despite their small size, they are an incredibly energetic dog with a love for life. Often described by experts as alert, fearless, and loyal, owners will be pleased to know that the Norfolk is also good-natured with an unwavering desire for playtime and fun.

It should be noted that this tireless energy can be quite exhausting for some individuals. As a result, this breed is usually not suitable for individuals who are incapable of providing their Norfolk with regular attention and exercise.

The Norfolk Terrier is also quite independent and stubborn (a trait typical of the terrier breeds). For this reason, the dog can be somewhat difficult to control at times. Barking, digging, and chasing are major behavioral issues for the Norfolk Terrier that many owners find difficult to break. With training (and a good deal of patience), however, these issues can be remedied to a degree.

Are Norfolk Terriers Good With Children?

Yes! Due to their playful attitude and zest for life, the Norfolk Terrier is a great pet for families with children. Generally speaking, kids are great at providing this breed with attention and exercise on a daily basis. This is important since physical and mental stimulation is crucial for maintaining a well-balanced and happy lifestyle for the Norfolk.

It is crucial to note, however, that families with smaller children (such as toddlers) are usually not recommended for this breed. This is due, in part, to the Norfolk’s small size and stature. Smaller kids are more likely to accidentally injure a dog of this size from improper handling. This can lead to serious injuries that can impact the quality of your Norfolk’s life. For these reasons, most experts agree that the Norfolk Terrier is best-suited for families with older kids that understand the need for gentleness.

How Smart is the Norfolk Terrier?

The Norfolk Terrier is a smart and intelligent breed renowned for their ability to learn and adapt to new situations with ease. And while this breed doesn’t make the top 10 list of smartest dogs (coming in at #56), they are incredibly easy to train with an eagerness to learn new tricks and commands.

Early training is key for the Norfolk Terrier, however, as the dog can be quite stubborn (to a fault). In spite of this issue, owners regularly report that this breed can be taught good manners and that they respond well to basic obedience skills. For best results, experts suggest using praise and reward-based incentives (such as snacks) when teaching your Norfolk new commands.

Norfolk Terrier poses for the camera.

Norfolk Terrier poses for the camera.

Grooming and Training Requirements

Grooming Requirements

The Norfolk Terrier possesses a straight and wiry coat that requires moderate grooming on a regular basis. Coats should be trimmed every few months by a professional groomer, whereas stripping should be performed twice a year to prevent matting and clumping.

In addition to these basic necessities, potential owners should also plan to brush their Norfolk Terrier weekly to remove excess hair and dirt from their pet. Although bathing can also help with this issue, frequent baths are not recommended for this breed as it can dry out their skin.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, owners should pay close attention to their Norfolk Terrier’s nails, ears, and teeth. Nails should always be kept short (to prevent injuries to the dog’s feet), whereas ears should be checked periodically for hair and dirt buildup. Teeth should also be brushed on a regular basis to prevent the onset of serious dental issues (such as gingivitis, gum disease, bad breath, and tooth decay).

Training and Exercise Needs

As a highly energetic breed, the Norfolk requires daily exercise to maintain a healthy and happy life. Generally speaking, owners should plan to devote 30 minutes a day (minimum) to exercise and playtime. This includes walking, jogging, running, and other activities. Owners can choose to do this once a day, or split exercise into two separate sessions (15 minutes each). Exercise is crucial to your dog’s overall health and well-being (both mentally and physically). Failure to heed this warning can result in the development of destructive behaviors in your Norfolk such as digging, chewing, and excessive barking.

In regard to training, the Norfolk Terrier is an exceptionally smart breed. And while they can be quite stubborn and independent, experts generally agree that the Norfolk is highly trainable with an eagerness to learn new tricks and commands from their owner.

As with many terrier breeds, praise and reward-based incentives tend to offer the best training results as the Norfolk is highly sensitive and loves to eat. While their stubbornness and independent nature can certainly prove difficult to break, patience, repetition, and consistency will almost certainly lead to positive results with this breed over time.

Nutritional Needs

As with most breeds, high-quality dog food should always be the number one priority for your pet. These meals can be prepared by a manufacturer, or at home following the guidance and supervision of your dog’s veterinarian.

And while it is certainly tempting to give table scraps to your dog, experts typically agree that human-based foods should be avoided at all costs with your pet. Human foods are known to contain toxic substances and particles that can be extremely detrimental to your Norfolk’s health.

The following list details 10 foods you should avoid giving to your dog.

Avoid giving these 10 foods to your Norfolk Terrier.

Avoid giving these 10 foods to your Norfolk Terrier.

How Much Food Should a Norfolk Terrier Eat Per Day?

As with all dog breeds, feeding requirements vary significantly with every pet and depend greatly on your dog’s weight, energy level, and age. For this reason, owners should work actively with their veterinarian to establish a feeding cycle that fits their dog’s specific needs.

Generally speaking, however, most experts agree that approximately 0.5 to 1 cup of dry dog food is adequate for your Norfolk Terrier each day (divided into two separate meals). Smaller or less-active dogs will require slightly less food, whereas highly-energetic (and active) Norfolk Terriers will require more.

Potential owners should take note that this breed is prone to obesity, as they have voracious appetites and love to eat. For this reason, owners should take great care when feeding their Norfolk and monitor caloric intake daily.

Water Needs

Maintaining proper hydration is also extremely important for the Norfolk Terrier. Nearly 70-percent of a dog’s body is comprised of water. Therefore, owners should pay active attention to their dog’s water needs throughout the day as their requirements can change in response to both outside temperatures and their daily activity levels. As with most breeds, standard water requirements are usually determined by your dog’s weight.

For every seven pounds of weight, a Norfolk Terrier should consume approximately 6 ounces of water per day (minimum). For example, a 12-pound dog would require 9 to 13 ounces of water in a day’s time (medium activity level). Active dogs will require more water, whereas less-active terriers will require slightly less. Likewise, hotter conditions will warrant additional hydration throughout the day, whereas colder temperatures will result in a slightly opposite effect.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration in the Norfolk Terrier.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration in the Norfolk Terrier.

What Type of Home is Good for a Norfolk Terrier?

Selecting a Norfolk Terrier as a pet is a major life-decision that should be considered carefully. While this breed is relatively easy to care for and is suitable for nearly any home (including small apartments in the city), potential owners should note that the Norfolk requires regular attention to thrive. For this reason, individuals that are extremely busy or away from home for extended periods of time are generally not recommended for this breed.

Are Norfolk Terriers Good With Other Pets?

Yes and no. Generally speaking, the Norfolk Terrier does remarkably well in a home with other dogs. Due to the dog’s terrier heritage, however, homes with smaller pets are not recommended for this breed as the Norfolk possess a natural tendency to chase. To a Norfolk, gerbils, hamsters, birds, and pet rats are perceived as prey, resulting in confrontations that be extremely dangerous for smaller animals. For these reasons, the dog should always be supervised when in the presence of other animals (including cats).

In households with other animals, early socialization is crucial for the development of positive relationships between your Norfolk and other pets. Introductions should (ideally) be started in the puppy stages of your Norfolk’s development in order to discourage bad behaviors and habits (such as chasing) from forming.

Is the Norfolk Terrier a Good Guard Dog?

Yes and no. While the Norfolk Terrier makes for an excellent watchdog (due to their tendency to bark at strangers and unusual sounds), their extremely small size prevents them from being a suitable guard dog. In the event of a burglary or disturbance, the Norfolk is known to actively protect their family from danger.

Due to their small stature, however, they are far from intimidating to intruders and are limited to growling, barking, or nipping. As a result, owners seeking a dog for protection would be better served by a larger breed such as the German Shepherd or Rottweiler which are perfect for home defense (

Health Concerns

  • Hip and Elbow Evaluation
  • Knee Exam
  • Allergy Evaluation

Owners should actively work with a qualified veterinarian in their area to develop a nutritional and preventive-care plan for their Norfolk Terrier. Proper diet, nutrition, and early detection of health issues can go a long way in helping your dog achieve a happy and healthy life.

Although generally considered a healthy breed, it is important to note that the Norfolk Terrier is prone to a variety of issues involving the joints. Hip Dysplasia, in particular, is a common ailment for this breed and occurs when the femur (thigh) is improperly connected to the hip socket.

Likewise, Patellar Luxation (which involves the kneecap sliding out of place) is also common with this breed and can become problematic as your dog ages. Simple x-rays, however, can detect both issues before they become problematic.

With proper care, owners can expect their Norfolk Terrier to live between 13 to 15 years, though it is common for this breed to live several years beyond this.

Signs and symptoms of illness in the Norfolk Terrier.

Signs and symptoms of illness in the Norfolk Terrier.

Pros and Cons of the Norfolk Terrier


  • Although extremely small, the Norfolk is incredibly tough and sturdy.
  • Great watchdog abilities.
  • Requires only moderate amounts of exercise on a daily basis.
  • Minimal shedding.
  • Gets along with a wide array of pets.


  • Requires a great deal of attention from their owner.
  • Extremely independent and stubborn at times.
  • Tendency to bark excessively.
  • Prone to dig.
  • Tendency to chase other animals.
  • Large number of health problems/conditions.

Concluding Thoughts

In summary, the small Norfolk Terrier is a fascinating dog breed renowned for its feisty demeanor, courage, and inquisitive spirit. Playful and extremely devoted to their owner, the Norfolk is a wonderful breed that makes for an excellent addition to nearly any home or household.

And while this breed can be independent and stubborn (to a fault), owners will be hard-pressed to find another dog capable of matching the Norfolk’s intelligence, playfulness, and zest for life. For these reasons, it is highly probable that the Norfolk Terrier will remain a favorite for dog enthusiasts for the foreseeable future.

Works Cited

  • American Kennel Club. The New Complete Dog Book 22nd Edition. Mount Joy, Pennsylvania: Fox Chapel Publishing, 2017.
  • Coile, Caroline. The Dog Breed Bible: Descriptions and Photos of Every Breed Recognized by the AKC. Hauppauge, New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 2007.
  • Dennis-Bryan, Kim. The Complete Dog Breed Book. New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2014.
  • Larkin, Peter and Mike Stockman. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Dogs, Dog Breeds, & Dog Care. London, England: Hermes House, 2006.
  • Mehus-Roe, Kristin. Dog Bible: The Definitive Source for All Things Dog. Irvine, California: I-5 Press, 2009.
  • O’Neill, Amanda. What Dog? A Guide to Help New Owners Select the Right Breed for their Lifestyle. Hauppauge, New York: Interpret Publishing Ltd., 2006.
  • Schuler, Elizabeth Meriwether. Simon and Schuster’s Guide to Dogs. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, Incorporated, 1980.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The German Shepherd: A Guide for Owners.” (PetHelpful). 2020.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The Top 10 Smartest Dog Breeds.” (PetHelpful). 2019.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The 10 Best Dogs for Children.” (PetHelpful). 2019.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Larry Slawson


Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 20, 2020:

I don't have a dog yet. But I'm understanding every person has preference for dog types or breeds.

Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on July 20, 2020:

Thank you, Ann! So glad you enjoyed! And I agree. I typically prefer the larger dog breeds myself.

Ann Carr from SW England on July 19, 2020:

This is a comprehensive guide to the Norfolk Terrier. I like all dogs but have a preference for larger ones, such as Collies and Labradors.

Your research is exhaustive; well done.


Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 18, 2020:

Larry, I appreciate you.

Danny from India on July 18, 2020:

Fluffy creature. I love to get one, but it's not suitable when you have someone taking puffs at home.

Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on July 18, 2020:

Thank you, Miebakagh! :)

Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on July 18, 2020:

Thank you, Pamela! I had never heard of this dog before writing this article. Definitely sounds like a nice pet though.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 18, 2020:

Larry, this is a long and interesting good read. I have not own a dog yet, but I am bent on learn all that I can. Thanks for sharing.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 17, 2020:

This is one adorable dog, Larry. From everything you wrote, I think this dog is perfect for anyone who wants a small dog. His personality sounds very good also.

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