Fox Terriers have a lot of history behind them. They've been companions to kings, entertained the masses in circuses and film, and won more Best-in-Show awards at the Westminster Kennel Club show than any other breed
When fox hunting became popular in England in the late 18th century, hunters quickly discovered that they needed a dog that could "go to ground" (enter foxes' dens) and "bolt" the foxes to drive them out of their hiding places. And so the Smooth Fox Terrier was developed.
While breeders didn't keep many records about the development of the breed, it's likely that the original Smooth Fox Terriers were a blend of black and tan terriers with smooth coats, Bull Terriers, Greyhounds, and Beagles. In 1790, a Colonel Thornton had a portrait painted of his dog Pitch, a Smooth Fox Terrier, which gives us an idea of what the early dogs looked like. They've changed little since then. Well-known Smooths of the 19th century who contributed to the breed's development were Old Jock, born in 1859 at Grove Kennel in England, and Belgrave Joe. By the late 19th century, uniform type had been established.
For many years, Smooths and Wires were considered one breed of two varieties. Their main difference is coat type and, to some extent, head shape. Despite their similarities in size, shape and temperament, they likely had different ancestry. Wires are thought to have descended from rough-coated black and tan terriers from Wales, Derbyshire, and Durham. Early breeders liberally crossed Wire Fox Terriers with Smooths to give the Wires more white pigmentation, a cleaner-cut head, and a more classical outline. This interbreeding no longer continues, however, and has not for many years.
Smooth Fox Terriers entered the show ring about 15 to 20 years before Wire Fox Terriers, and at first they were classified with sporting dogs. England's Fox Terrier Club was founded in 1876. The members drew up a breed standard that remained unchanged for decades, with the exception of reducing the weight of a male dog in show condition from 20 pounds to 18 pounds.
Caesar, a Wire Fox Terrier, was beloved of England's King Edward VII. He wore a collar with the inscription "I am Caesar. I belong to the King." When Edward died in 1910, a grieving Caesar marched behind his casket in the funeral procession.
The first records of Smooth Fox Terriers being imported to the U.S. date to 1879, with Wire Fox Terriers being imported a few years later. The American Fox Terrier Club, the parent club of the breed in this country, was founded in 1885 and has the distinction of being the first specialty club to become a member of the American Kennel Club. The first Fox Terrier to be registered by the AKC was Cricket, in 1885.
The AFTC adopted the English breed standard when it was formed, and it wasn't until a century later that separate standards for the two breeds went into effect. They are still quite similar in their descriptions.
In the 1920s, the Smooth Fox Terrier became one of the most recognized of purebred dogs when RCA used in its logo a picture of a Smooth Fox Terrier named Nipper, head cocked, listening to a record machine. Wire Fox Terriers became popular as family pets in the 1930s, when a film series called The Thin Man was created. A Wire Fox Terrier named Asta was a regular in the show, and the popularity of the breed soared.
In 1985, the AKC formally recognized the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Wire Fox Terrier as separate breeds, but the standards for both are still maintained by the American Fox Terrier Club. Wire and Smooth Fox Terriers are uncommon breeds, ranking 78th and 102nd among the 155 breeds and varieties registered by the AKC. While they might not be seen frequently in homes, they are stars in the show ring, with Wire Fox Terriers carrying off 13 Best-in-Show awards at Westminster and Smooths four, making them together the winningest breeds there.