Border Terrier Personality Traits

Indy and His Favourite Toy

When it comes to dog breed personality traits, Borders have bagfuls of them.  Like most dogs, the Border Terrier breed is loving, loyal and gives that very unconditional love without chatting back – exactly what a mother of a teenage kid needs, now that her human baby is no longer such. But Borders are equally good family dogs (though I would never recommend having a dog with younger children than age 10, as unwillingly children might have a reaction to evoke over-excitement or sudden shock or fear, to which a dog may react boisterously and not acceptably) and enjoy exercise and plenty of energetic activities. Likewise, Borders adapt very easily to lower energies of older families, and can adjust to shorter walks or to more cuddles time over play time.


Who is the pack leader?

Where Borders however excel is in exercising their right to independence. When we adopted Indy, he was fully house trained, nevertheless I read that Borders are easily trainable. And I myself have found Indy very quick in picking up new habits, like using the dog flap to access the garden, or getting used to a new travel / sleeping cage, even a new house – all with the help of a few treats. This to me denotes how highly intelligent Borders are. But I equally believe Borders show their high level of cleverness in expressing their independence. If their nose wants to go right towards a green patch where a neighbouring dog may have had a wee, but you want to turn left to the local post box, rest assured you are not going to post your letters today! Nor do I agree that Borders should be pulled by their collar, or harness, as this may damage their neck or back – exactly what happened to Indy only a couple of months ago, and thankfully he has just about recovered (see my recount under Health Issues). I have watched so many programmes by the inspiring Cesar Milan, or the beautiful but strict Victoria Stilwell – I admire both their approach to training and obedience, but I was grateful that I didn’t have to train Indy, as I would have been a total failure. When it come to leadership, I’m told Indy is the pack leader of the Giulia-Indy pack, he has me wrapped round his little paw, as I know I could never bring myself to tell him off in a meaningful way – to me Indy maybe 12, but he has reached his full development of a clever toddler, where he will always need me.

Naturally, as I mentioned, the driving force of Borders in whichever activity is their sense of smell, more so being terriers. I think I can safely consider my Indy as the prototype when it comes to what gets Borders going:


  • Indy at the Dinner Table

Border Terriers and Food

Food was not much fun for Indy initially and not until the vet discovered that his teeth were not in very good shape. Indy had some 9 teeth removed shortly after he came to us, and shortly after then he was neutered – we thought he was a little too advanced in age for pups, and so were we (and inexperienced), and the vet recommended the ‘snip’ also as preventative measure against prostate cancer. However, the combination of the 2 surgeries re-awakened the feeling of right and proper hunger in Indy, or starvation, as he would tell you if he could talk! Since that day, Indy has been eating anything and everything, including half a box of chocolate, unbeknown to us, a few Christmas Eves ago – very dangerous, as chocolate causes liver poisoning in dogs, but luckily it was only milk one and the vet advised playing a waiting time game, during which Indy kept throwing it all up till he was cleared!!

Indy the scavenger

Indy is still a scavenger, especially after his second dental surgery last summer, during which he had another 8 teeth removed. In spite of been rather toothless, Indy still has enough teeth to have dry kibble at breakfast and a mixture of dry and wet food in the evening, with a dental stick and another savoury stick at lunch time. He also has his two regular Marquee biscuits for ‘pudding’ or dessert whilst watching a bit of evening telly with us. At one point some few years ago we had to put Indy on a diet, as he had reached an almighty 9kg (big belly!!!), which in turn aggravated on his skinny legs and on his back. In order to loose weight, I had to reduce portions dramatically, and since then Indy has been on a healthy 7.5-8kg. If portions at mealtime are reduced, Indy becomes rather resourceful when picking up absolutely any edible thing during walks, from his ever favourite horse manure (yes, the horse poo, which he loves to roll into as well if he’s fast enough to do so before we realise!!), to stale bread, to biscuit and bacon crumbs, to chewing gums, you name it.

Indy the beggar

But where Indy becomes an absolute beggar is at meal times, that is the human family meals. Now, I know that human food is a definite no-go for canine friends – too many sugars, too much salt, and such likes, a bit like the good old tabus to retain human good health. But as I mentioned above, I can never resist my Indy’s cutie face and imploring big dark brown eyes, and I do give in. In saying so, all he gets is literally a few tit-bits of meat and the odd lick of the plate. He is most polite in doing so, as he does not demand to jump on chairs but gently tap on our legs for some, or for more. We give in – and most handlers would horrify at this confession – but we find it quite acceptable. The reality of it all is that we believe our Indy thinks of himself more as a human than as a canine, and as such he doesn’t see why he should be excluded from the inviting smells and succulent degustation of human food, as well as being granted access to dog food and treats. I’m sure Indy feels rather more privileged in this position than most!


Border Terriers and Walks
Indy Marking His Territory

Walks are for Indy, and for Borders in general, the next big source of entertainment, and sometimes it can go alongside food in rank of importance. Terriers are naturally built for exploring their surroundings, driven by the powerful force of their olfactory.

Indy’s nose: his natural tour guide

Indy’s favourite walks have always been in woods and ‘sticks’, i.e. forests, but he equally enjoys walking streets in town (which he more so likes, as he attracts the attention of passers-by who want to stroke him or give him a fuss). When we first adopted Indy, he was some 6 years younger and had energy aplenty. We then gave him 1 hour walk in the morning, 1 hour in the evening and a brisk 10 minutes at lunchtime. But don’t let that deter you if you are considering getting a Border, as our Indy gradually adapted, and gladly too, to our growing older as well. Six years down the line, my morning walk has reduced to 20-30 minutes, and my husband’s evening walks have gone down to 30-40 minutes, pending bad weather where Indy may decide that it’s too cold or hot or rainy – in which case he’ll give it a miss altogether. Where Indy will always be ready for the next adventure no matter the weather is if we plan a trip afield, a day out or, even better, holidays (!!). He loves the excitement of what new discoveries his nose can make, and he literally will revert to his young pup temperament, albeit retaining the good manner he has been trained to. It was only a couple of day ago that I took him on the train for the first time, and he was excited, but never once did he bark or get agitated to cause disruption to other passengers or making them uneasy.

Best on the lead

Walks are a great way for socialising as well. This is where your Border, like all other breeds, will put the socialising skills learnt as a pup to the test. These skills will be tested both on runs in the local parks, or when encountering other dogs walking on the same narrow pavement on the way to the market. And this is where Indy is not the best and friendliest of examples. When we first came across Indy, we were quite happy to leave him off the lead in parks when he was approached by other dogs, as he would wild friendly runs with them, and it was most fun to watch him have fun. However things changed after we left him with relatives to babysit him, and he came across a not-spayed bitch in heat – and we were not pre-warned about this encounter. Somehow I believe he became very protective of her and developed his sense of defence particularly against male not-neutered dogs. As a result, we now never leave Indy off the lead. He is mostly a very good boy with other dogs, and allows them to sniff him, but being an older dog he has not much interest in sniffing back. As his handler, we can now read the signals of when there is a dog he dislikes, and I personally have found that, if I pick him up, this will reassure him and will calm him down.

This is my manor

However what is to be remembered, aside of Indy’s personal bad experience, is that as terriers, Borders can be territorial. Having them neutered will also help cool down their defence/attack mechanism, which in turn will improve their friendliness levels. But they will also need to be trained to the fact that their neighbourhood is not ‘their’ in ownership, but other dogs are also allowed to live there! Having adopted Indy when he was already adult, that instinct was already ingrained in him, but if you can, and your Border is still young enough, I would strongly recommend that you invest in training and socialising classes, as this will be definitely beneficial to your Border and to you as his/her handler.

Indy’s arch enemies: squirrels

Nor must be forgotten, during walks, that strong sense of independence typical of Borders. The recall command will be particularly tested in Borders when they come across small creatures, such as moving cats, vermin, and the beloved squirrels. This passionate interest naturally goes back to the innate instinct Borders were originally bred for: hunting and catching vermin. This does not necessarily mean if Indy sees a small breed dog, he will go for them – on the contrary, he will know from the different smells and scents that he is dealing with a canine. And likewise, Indy will not be bothered by a cat that will have frozen in his presence, or will be half asleep. What will get Indy is the scattering movement – associated with the different smell – of vermin, and small rodents. When we first took Indy home, we still had our beloved guinea pigs Max & Freddie with us, which I had bought a few years back for my son. And the guinea pigs lived with us in their cage indoors. Once Indy joined the family, we didn’t want to move the guinea pigs outside, but for the next 18 months to a couple of years of Max & Freddie’s lives, it was hard work to ensure that we never left the cage with the boys and Indy in the same room by themselves. And again at the time we felt we were pushing Indy’s natural instinct to the limit of suppression by forcing him to live with scattering creatures which however we stopped him from getting to. And yet, and again to testament of Indy’s sense of adaptability, everything eventually fell in place nicely – he sort of learnt to ignore them, and when Max first and then Freddie after went to the greener fields in the sky, I’m sure they left a void in Indy as much as in us.


Indy Play Time

Border Terriers and Play

Indy, and Borders’ love for scattering and for squeaky sound, which is normally made by small rodents, leads me to play time for Borders. Again Border, like other breeds, will balance walk, play and sleeping time during the day nicely of their own accord – when younger, their activity time will be more intense, and then they will drop asleep dead to the world equally intensely and suddenly. As Border grow older, they will still love activity and play time, but it might be shorter or less intense, and sleeping times will increase. As a rule, Indy likes his play after breakfast, after lunch and before his evening walk. In spite of his advanced age, he will still have his ‘mad’ attacks of playing if he’s waken up in the middle of the night, but that does not happen often at all.


Squeaky toys

So, this said, best toys to entertain a Border are definitely squeaky ones. I would recommend investing in most expensive but more long lasting ones. This will prove a money saver in the long term, as unlike other breeds Borders not only will like to hunt their pretend prey, but they will want to shake it and tear it – yes, Indy can still do so in spite of the not many teeth left. The likes of Kong brand toys has turned for Indy the best teeth resistant, and the squeak inside the toy again longevous enough. Another reason for not purchasing easy to break plastic toys is that your Border can easily ingest the pieces, and this can cause stomach upset.


Tennis balls

Another source of entertainment is tennis balls. Some you’ll find on the market are squeaky too, but this is not an essential requirement when it comes to balls, as I think the fact that Borders can catch them easily, the fact that they are fluorescent colours, the actual material, all of these factors contribute to entertain your dog. Mind you, Borders are not fetchers like for example Labradors or Border Collies, so once they have caught the ball, they will run towards you to show you their catch but then vier away from you and run as fast as they can for fear that you might want to steal their catch. Again, this is not a game I would want to play in the park with Indy unless on a long training lead.


Tug of war

Tug of war game is another all time favourite for Borders as well as for other breeds. Again, Borders will associate it to catching the prey, the prey fighting their corner and Borders try to get the best. There are a lot of rope made toys on the market, readily available from your local supermarket shelves as well as from pet shops or online, but one of the reasons why I am particularly pleased that Indy enjoys these toys is for the fact that, if he eats a few threads, he will chew bits nicely and they will not affect his digestive system.
Finally, and probably the cheapest way to play with your Border, is by hiding treats or tennis balls in old socks, or under a cushion, or in nooks and crannies in your home. Borders again will replicate their instinctual hunting, but having you involved in the activity will make the hunt even more fun than ever.
Indy and I

I love my family

As Border Terrier owners we should never forget that above all Borders are loving dogs, and one of the most rewarding things for them will be to just spend times with their family members, should this just mean cuddling next to them on the sofa whilst watching Crufts!  Without forgetting Borders are not lap dogs, nevertheless we should not neglect Borders of their daily belly rub or tumble on the floor.  Because firstly and foremostly your Border will not be just a dog, but a full member of your family.


  1. // Reply

    Your dog is the cutest! I love how you have paid such close attention to Indy just like a human child!

    You are an excellent writer and you have such great content on Indy! You sure are the best dog care giver out there. You even know how to deal with Indy’s emotion! Excellent content 🙂

    1. // Reply

      I’m not sure I am the best carer, as we’ve learnt from each other. But you are right, I can’t help treating him like my fur child. Thank you for your kind words Silole2, really much appreciated :

  2. // Reply

    Hey, thanks for the information on Borer terrier’s! They seem to be awesome dogs. I really would love to get a dog, and this dog seems to be a good one, but i will not get a dog for two reasons, 1 being i live in a apartment, and 2 i have a toddler.
    What are your thoughts on having dogs in a apartment? Me personally I think they need more room to play and such! I do see many people in apartment complex’s having these dogs, I guess they are small, so it may not be soo bad… but i still think it isn’t right….
    Thank you again for this post 🙂

    1. // Reply

      hi Jesse, I agree with you, I probably would not have a Border in a flat, in spite of the fact that they are not a big breed at all. In saying so, Indy has lived in a flat for a few months with my step daughter before we took over, but he is sooo unusually lay back! Now, regarding your children, I do mention in my pages caution to introduce a dog to a family with little ones, but in saying so I equally believe that Borders are very fond, protective and respectful of boundaries with children, and very patient if children end up pulling their tails – but again, it is something you need to feel comfortable with.

      Sorry I couldn’t be ofmore help, but thanks for your interest Jesse 🙂

  3. // Reply

    Dogs are pretty much my favorite subject on the planet so I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I’ve not had the pleasure of being able to spend time with a Border Terrier, but you have given me some true insight into the character and charm they possess…and intelligence! It sounds like they are very adaptable and trainable. I adore the top photo with the tennis ball…no doubt Indy is a lucky little fella!

    1. // Reply

      Oh believe you me Carol, we are the lucky ones to have him. I’m pretty sure all dogs are jewels to their owners, but Borders are really special little ones, and our Indy to us is the one in a million. I keep saying, I’m no expert at all, but of the many different breeds I have learnt about since having a dog, Borders are certainly the ones most suited to us. If and when you get ready to get a dog, by all means I suggest you do your research. Borders are very easy to find on the market, less so to adopt as always in high demand – and this factor should speak for itself. But if you want to buy, I would suggest that you do so from a Kennel Club registered breeder, and if you want to adopt, you choose a charity specialised in Border Terriers (please also see my post Buy or Adopt).

      And thanks for your kind comment on the pic, my son the photographer will be elated :

  4. // Reply

    I love Indy ❤️❤️❤️❤️

  5. // Reply

    Hi Giulia,

    Thank you for this beautiful post! It’s such a pleasure to read about how much other people love their pets! They really are our children, aren’t they?!

    Indy is very special and it really makes me want to get one, but I have a cat who would not be happy at all and it sounds like border terriers don’t like them either! 🙂 It is sweet how Indy eventually learned to tolerate the guinea pigs though!

    Wonderful story – Indy is a lucky little guy to have you as his owner!

    1. // Reply

      you are very kind Anna. Indy is our one in a million Border! A lot of Border owners have cats as well, but I guess you would have to ensure they are very well adjusted to each other’s company, as what sets off Borders is the skittering about of our feline friend more than their smell or their presence in terrier territory. I’m afraid I can’t advise any better, sorry. But thanks for taking your time in visiting my site Anna

  6. // Reply

    Giulia, I really like your site. I don’t have dogs as our property is not fenced but I did grow up with a Wire Haired Fox Terrier. Unfortunately he had a rough period when he was young and was quite timid. The fun thing was the kennel had called him Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Wrong sex, wrong attitude!

    So we now have cats. Noting your dog flap to the garden, we put one in our screen door. One cat took to it immediately. The next soon used it but looked like a contortionist doing so. The third one had to be pushed through the first couple of weeks until he got the message. We put a bolt lock on this flap so wild critters couldn’t get in at night (possums, Antechinus, etc). Miss first cat, showing off the first night of installation) sped across the yard and dove at the flap. Unfortunately we had already locked it. She bounced off and looked rather bemused!

    1. // Reply

      Thanks for your kind words Helen. Yes, we too have tales to tell about the flap, the most recent of which was when we moved to this current house last year, and the flap for Indy was no longer in a wooden panel but on a clear glass. He’s had to get used to see it properly and he’s had initially a few misses where he’d bump his head in the glass instead. But with Indy what worked in the end, and would you believe it, was the good old treats, a lot of them. I think he was stringing us along ?

  7. // Reply

    Giulia & Indy:

    I love reading about your adventures together! And I’m happy to learn that despite losing some teeth, Indy is still able to enjoy some tasty meals and snacks.

    I love dogs, and especially like small dogs, since they are easy to have up on my lap. So a Border Terrier sounds like a good choice, especially since they are amenable to “snuggles.”

    My wife and I had a couple of dogs (now passed). One was a miniature dachshund, Klein (German for “small” or “little”), who also loved walks on the street so he could persuade other walkers to pet him! He was so friendly and cute, no one could resist. But his favorite from me was a belly rub. He’d be in our yard, running around, doing his business, then he would run back to me, lift his head, turn it and fall down onto his back with his belly exposed for rubbing. And he didn’t mind you rubbing for a long time! In fact, if you stopped, he just lay there and gave you that “but I need a belly rub” look.

    Indy being a beggar is all part of the fact that you have chosen HIM to be the leader of your pack. That will also make it more difficult to make him “back down” if he feels someone is intruding on him manor.

    It’s surprisingly easy to teach dogs that YOU are the pack leader (as you must know from watching “The Dog Whisperer,” and it won’t diminish Indy’s terrier personality at all!

    In any case, I wish you and Indy many happy years of walking, sniffing, digging, and — of course! — rolling in horse poop!


    1. // Reply

      Aaaah Roger, you hit the nail right on the head! I know, I need to be more assertive with my Indy. You know, I used to be so good at being strict with my son when he was ‘not’ a teenager – in a positive and constructive way of course, not for the sake of it. And now, when my Indy looks at me with those big sweet eyes and that unruly fluff round his face, my heart melts downs! Cesar Millan would be so disgusted at hearing this. You are right, it is never too late to teach your dog good manners. Watch this space, today is a new day when training is going to be implemented.
      Thank you for taking your time to go through my pages again, and watch this space ?? Giulia

  8. // Reply

    I can tell that you truly love Indy and the post has been very interesting and quite captivating to read. I fell in love with him as well! I too love dogs, I have two wonderful and sweet rescue dogs that I don’t know what I would do without. Dogs do bring a joy into your life, and as you say bring unconditional love. GREAT post, I have enjoying browsing your website.

    1. // Reply

      Thank you for your kind words Leah. Frankly I come from a family of non-pet lovers, but I have always wanted to have a dog, and when Indy found us – as I always say – well, it was match in heaven as far as we were concerned. As you will have read, our Indy managed not only to become my 2nd baby, but has melted my grumpy husband’s heart, and as far as my teenage son goes, he’s besotted with Indy as well. Don’t tell Cesar Millan, but I think you know who the pack leader of the family is, don’t you.
      Therefore Leah, it’s nice when you find people that understand ‘where you come from’ with your love for your passion. Once again, thank you ever so much for your support ??

  9. // Reply

    We had a border terrier and he was a sweetheart but he had a problem of fits, something, which we found out, specific to this breed. It is called Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome. It is evidently hereditary and it used to affect our little dog regularly. He would stay conscious, which eliminated epilepsy, but much research is going on in Germany and Canada particularly to try and find the cause.
    It did not seem to affect him adversely after the event but it was not pleasant to see him obviously distressed as he had no control over his body and his muscles seemed to go into spasm during the episode.
    But… we did change his food and that seemed to help a lot. We eliminated anything that had soy in it and he improved dramatically with his seizures becoming very rare. He also had a very fine skin rash and lost some of his hair. This cleared up immediately we changed the food to natural turkey, chicken or beef and rice.
    Have you heard of this from other border terrier owners? We are in the UK. He was such a delightful little dog and very loyal to his family, we do miss him. Lovely article and very useful. Ches

    1. // Reply

      thanks for your input Ches, and foremostly I’m so sorry to hear that your Border was afflicted by this condition, which I have to admit I have never come across. We are based in UK as well and are part of the #BTposse on Twitter – you are welcome to follow us and, why not, join us as an honorary member in memory of your lovey Border. Indy and I are on @Giuloa_Indy. The point why I’m telling you this is because I’m going to research on this condition, but I am also going to ask on Twitter to find out if any of the other Borders have ever suffered. I shall definitely contact you back to let you know.

      Much love


  10. // Reply

    Thanks Giulia, I will look forward to your reply but I’m not on twitter. I’m on google+ though. You can contact me on facebook. I hope you have some success with your research. Ches Power

    1. // Reply

      Sorry for taking so long in getting back to you Ches. I have just been pointed out this website: regarding ‘Spike’s Disease’. Get your tissues to the ready – I got in floods of tears! But you are right, unfortunately it is a disease typical to Borders, similar to canine epilepsy and hereditary. But the good news is that often in some case this horrible disease can be managed with diet, to the point that some Borders stop seizures altogether. I should probably dedicate one of my blogs to this illness – I need to consult with my soulmate Indy of course on the matter, as I would never want to put off potential Border Terriers owners from adopting or purchasing one of the best dogs ever! But I also feel information is necessary, as should it happen to one’s Border, you then know what you are dealing with. Thank you Ches for your input, and once again I’m ever so sorry that your Border was one of the few ones affected much love. Giulia ???

  11. // Reply

    Hi Giulia and Indy

    I just love your Indy he reminds me of a little terrier I once had many years ago….he was a rough haired Jack Russell terrier we had him for 20 years and he was the naughtiest dog on the planet for something so small, he would find mischief if he were in an empty room on his own…I could write a book about the things he got up too in the 20 years that he was with us, but miss him still, and it’s been about 40 years since he was pts due declining health,

    I love your site and the great stories about your furry little man he’s adorable.

    Will be back to read some more.

    Sandra X

    1. // Reply

      Thank you Sandra, for your kind words. I look forward to more of your comments.
      I cannot even bring myself to think of when that time will come … if you know what I mean. I can easily believe that you are still missing your JR.
      Mind you, I know you have your lovely Frank now. To all my readers out there, I strongly recommend you visit this girl’s lovely website if you want to find out all about dog psychology ??
      Once again, thank you for your support Sandra. Giulia

  12. // Reply

    Loved reading you experiences and thoughts. You should write a book I was intrigued. Thank you very much 🙂 very inspiring and lovely to the point of heart warming

    1. // Reply

      Adam, thank you ever so much. That’s why I have this website, and try to nurture it so dearly: because it touches to my deepest core, and wants to deliver to the mass what a wonderful breed of dogs Borders are. Bias? Maybe just a little bit. But, at the risk of sounding cliche, I can assure you that each and every day spent with my Indy is a splash of love and fun that words cannot describe.
      I am toying with the idea of drafting a mini book. Who knows. Maybe, one day…
      Thank you for stopping by, and by all means do come back for more heart warming adventures!

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