Norfolk Terrier

Norfolk Terrier dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Norfolk Terrier originated in England and was mainly used for vermin control, as well as flushing out prey during the hunt.The lively breed comes equipped with all the typical Terrier traits that many of the breed’s fans find endearing. They are most definitely not a delicate lap dog! The Norfolks are a big dog trapped in a little dog’s body. They love being on the move, exploring and living life to the fullest and similar to many Terriers, they are feisty and spunky. However, many claim that the Norfolk is one of the more agreeable, friendly and laid back of the Terriers.

They share a striking resemblance with the Norwich Terrier and the only way to tell them apart are the ears: Norwich Terrier’s ears are upright while the Norfolk Terriers support folded ears.

The Norfolk Terriers rank 136th most popular breed according to the AKC. They are quite rare compared to other breeds as the litters are very small. This means that, if you are looking to add a Norfolk Terrier to your pack, you might have to be put on a waiting list.

Breed characteristics

TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsHigh

Dog breed group:Terrier dogs.
Height:9-10 inches tall at the shoulder.
Weight:11-12 lb.
Life span:8-15 years.
Main Highlights
  • The Norfolks were bred to be vermin hunters and the prey drive is very strong in the breed to this day.
  • They are the smallest of the working Terriers.
  • The breed shares a strong resemblance to the Norwich Terriers with the only difference being the shape of the ears.
  • They possess most of the Terrier traits but along with the Border Terriers, they are known to be more laid back and agreeable as well as friendlier to other dogs and people.
  • Derive their names after the town in England in which they originated.
  • Like most Terriers, they love digging and require a secured fence or a special spot they can dig in without getting into trouble.
  • They are very devoted to their owners who they consider as their pack. They love to be involved in different activities and thrive on spending time with their humans.
  • The breed doesn’t shed very much which makes them a good choice for people with allergies and asthma, although they are not considered hypoallergenic.
  • They are well suited for apartment dwelling as long as they sufficiently exercised.
  • The breed is very sturdy and strong despite their small frame and are easy to care for, making them a great choice for novice or inexperienced dog owners.
Breed History

This hard-working breed originated in East Anglia, England in the early 1800’s. It is believed that they are the descendant of the Cairn Terrier, Border Terrier and the Irish Terrier. In the 19th century they became one of the most popular breeds because of their excellent work as vermin hunters on the Cambridge university campuses, where students were allowed to keep the Norfolk Terriers to combat the rat problem they were experiencing. They were known as Cantab Terriers by the university students.

Before their present name was adopted, they were known as Norwich Terriers due to the striking resemblance between the two breeds. They were also known to go by Trumpington Terriers after the street in the town they were first developed as well as the Jones Terriers after Frank Jones who was one of the first exporters of the breed to the United States. In 1904 Frank Jones gave them their present name after the two towns the breeds originated in, Norwich and Norfolk.

It wasn’t until 1944 when the Norwich and Norfolk Terriers were finally recognized as two separate breeds. However, they were recognized as two different breeds only in 1979 in the United States.


The breed measures at 9-10 inches tall at the shoulder, weighing 11-12 lb. The females are generally smaller.

Personality and Character

The Norfolk comes equipped with most of the traits of the Terrier. They are stubborn, have a mind of their own, independent and have energy to spare. Along with the Border Terrier they have the softer temperament among the Terriers, and are more suitable for first time Terrier owners.

Their small frame shouldn’t be confused with a delicate couch potato. No, the Norfolks are not happy simply lounging around, they like exploring and learning new things. They love playing and jumping and digging.

But, most of all, they love sharing their lives with their family. The Norfolks were bred to work in a pack and that mentality stayed with the breed to this date. They enjoy being around their families, actively participating in the pack’s daily life and are very devoted to their families.

They can become destructive if left alone for long periods of time and express their boredom or unhappiness by digging up your beautiful garden, chewing on your prized possessions and excessive barking.

They rarely bark for no reason and are the less vocal Terrier of the bunch. Also they make a great watch dog but shouldn’t be left in the yard unattended. They make a great addition to apartment dwellers, partially for their size and also for their low activity level indoors. As long as they are sufficiently exercised, they adopt quickly to life in the city.

The Norfolks were bred for vermin control and hunt and their prey drive is quite strong. That’s why they shouldn’t be let off leash in an unsecured and unfenced area as they might run off after the unsuspecting squirrel or small critters they might perceive as prey.

The breed maintains their zest and excitement for life well into adulthood and enjoys games and romps around the yard well into their teens.

Health and Potential Problems

The petite breed is generally healthy and sturdy but some Norfolks are prone to health issues due to irresponsible breeding. Most reputable breeders or shelter make sure the puppy or dog has received a clean bill of health prior to adoption or purchase. Never purchase a dog or a puppy from a puppy mill.

  • Hip Dysplasia: Common in many dogs, the condition occurs when the femur doesn’t fit properly into the hip joint, causing lameness and pain. It is usually treated with pain medication or surgery in severe cases.
  • Epilepsy: A condition found in both humans and dogs, it causes unpredictable seizures. Unfortunately the condition has no known cause or a cure. Most dogs who have been diagnosed with epilepsy live long and happy lives. The condition is usually managed by medications.
  • Cataracts: An eye condition that is found in humans and dogs, causing opacity on the eye lens and usually develops in older age. The condition can be surgically corrected.
  • Mitral Valve Disease: A heart condition that is potentially life threatening. A dog with this condition should not be bred.
  • Cardiomyopathy: A condition when the heart muscle is too thin to function properly, having to work harder it becomes enlarged. Symptoms may include loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, weight loss. The condition is usually managed with diet adjustments and medication as there is no known cure.
  • Patellar Luxation: A condition that is usually caused by different growth rates of the calf, thigh bone and knee calf and causes knee dislocation which may lead to pain and lameness. The condition is usually treated with pain medication and surgery in severe cases.
  • Vaccination sensitivity: Some Norfolk Terrier display sensitivity to common vaccinations. Symptoms may include soreness, lethargy or hives. Some dogs may develop complications and should be monitored after the administration of vaccines.

With proper diet, plenty of exercise and regular vet visits your companion will remain by your side for many years to come.

Care Features

The Norfolk Terrier, like all other breeds, requires early socialization. The process of introducing the puppy or dog to new people, children, animals, various environments and scenarios should start as soon as possible and is very important to your companion’s mental development.

Puppy kindergarten is highly recommended for your puppy to be introduced to the world in a healthy and supportive manner under professional guidance, helping you develop a deeper bond.

Crate training is another essential tool in you puppy or dog’s development. The Norfolk Terriers tend to be stubborn, a stubbornness which may translate to a difficulty with house training. The puppy treats the crate as their den and most dogs and puppies don’t like their dens soiled. Therefore, it helps them develop a habit of when and where they go. As long as they are allowed consistent bathroom breaks with plenty of praise afterwards, the crate proves highly effective with house training.

Because the crate is perceived as their den, it acts as a safe and secure spot they can retire to when tired and needing space.

Another issue crate training effectively addresses is separation anxiety. The Norfolks are a sensitive breed that is very devoted to their families. Crate training is designed to show the puppy or dog, time and time again, that even though the human is gone they will always come back, hence eliminating the stress and anxiety of being left by themselves.

Crate training will also help preserve your prized possessions from a bored dog. The Norfolk, like most Terriers, has an independent spirit and a mind of their own that requires a pack leader who can set boundaries and rules which are consistently and calmly reinforced with tasty rewards and plenty of praise. The breed doesn’t respond well to harsh or rough training or treatment, causing them to become fearful and withdrawn, and it should be avoided at all cost.

They are very eager to learn and get bored quickly if training is repetitive. To keep their attention and eagerness training must be kept innovative and interesting. The breed needs to be taught that they are not the boss and can’t run the household which is how small dog syndrome is developed. The owner allows the dog to get away with behaviours larger breeds can’t get away with due to their smaller size. As a result the breed is at risk to develop bad manners, as well as dominance and aggression issues.

Leash training and responding to the ‘come’ command is another necessity when it comes to life with the Norfolk Terriers. Their prey drive is very high and they have the tendency to take off after anything that runs. It is recommended not letting them off leash in open areas at all as their prey drive might prove stronger than any training, and have them give chase to small critters, putting both the critters and the Norfolk Terrier in danger.

The Norfolk Terriers are avid diggers and will do so whether you like it or not. It’s easier to provide them with a special designated spot they can dig without getting into trouble, rather than trying to train it out of them.

They need moderate exercise in the form of daily walks, play in the yard and light jogs. Enrolling them in earth-dog or agility events is also highly recommended as it allows them to vent their energy and put their hunting and digging abilities to good use.

They are active outdoors but fairly laid back and calm indoors which makes them the perfect choice for apartment dwellers.

Feeding Schedule

The breed requires 0.5-1 cups of high quality dog food a day, divided into 2 meals.

Each dog’s nutritional requirements are different and depend on their size, activity level and age. It is highly recommended to feed your companion high-quality food, without unnecessary additives such as grain and other fillers, rich in meat protein.

The higher nutritional value of the diet, the less of it the dog will need as it goes a long way in nurturing your four legged friend. Another thing to consider is that the little breed is prone to obesity and requires a balanced diet which is formulated specifically for their needs as well as daily exercise.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Norfolk Terriers have a weather resistant double coat. The outer coat is wiry and the undercoat is soft and downy. They shed very little and make a good choice for people with allergies or asthma. It is important to note however that there is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog as the allergens are mostly found in the dog’s saliva. Allergies can also build over time and the only way to tell if one is allergic to a breed is to spend plenty of time with them.

Common colours are wheaten, grizzle, shades of red, black and tan.

The coat needs to be brushed and combed a few times a week and stripped at least twice a year. Cutting or clipping of the coat is not recommended as it ruins the texture and colours.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The Norfolk Terriers are easy going and reliable with children for the most part as long as they have been properly socialized. The children will find a devoted companion that can keep up with their energy levels in the Norfolk Terriers.

It is very important to teach children the proper behaviour and approach to dogs, they must understand that a pet is not a toy, they deserve respect and should be treated with such at all times. Any tail or ear pulling must be discouraged immediately. Many dogs are put down yearly simply because the adults have not reinforced proper etiquette when it comes to handling a dog. Play time must also be supervised by an adult at all times.

The breed gets along with other dogs and enjoys other canine company, they are also good with cats as long as they have been properly socialized and raised with them. However they are not as reliable with other small critters and may give in to their strong prey instinct, chasing them and possibly hurting the smaller animal.

The dog’s temperament strongly depends on their breeding, environment, handler and training.

The Norfolk Terrier is sweet, happy, and easy going. They are definitely the calmer and the soberer of the Terriers, but have many of the Terrier traits such as impulsiveness, bossiness, independent spirit and a mind of their own. People who are not familiar with Terriers, might find the little bundles of sass frustrating.

They make a great addition to any family and adjust to life in the city as well as the country, as their activity and energy levels depend heavily on the pace of their environment. They are generally active and busy outside, calm and laid back indoors.

They are not very common in the United States as litters are small and less than 300 puppies are born each year. Most reputable breeders will have a waiting list with a year of a waiting period. The Norfolk Terriers are worth the wait though and bring many years of happiness and joy everywhere they go.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.