In the 1880s, British sportsmen developed a working terrier of East Anglia in Eastern England. The Norwich Terrier and later the drop-eared variety now know as the Norfolk Terrier, were believed to have been developed by crossing local terrier-like dogs, small, short-legged Irish Terrier breeds and the small red terriers used by the Gypsy ratters of Norfolk.
They were first called the Cantab Terrier when they became fashionable for students to keep in their rooms at Cambridge University in England. Later, they were called the Trumpington Terrier, after a street in the area where the breed was first developed. Then, just prior to World War I, an Irish horse rider named Frank Jones sold vast quantities of the short-legged terriers to the USA, so they were called the Jones Terriers.
In 1932, the Norwich was granted acceptance into the English Kennel Club and the first written standard was created. The American Kennel Club registered the first Norwich Terrier in 1936. In 1964, The Kennel Club reclassified the drop-ear variety as it its own breed, the Norfolk Terrier, and the prick-eared variety retained the name Norwich Terrier. The American Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club both recognized the division of the Norwich Terrier breed in 1979. The Norfolk Terrier was recognized by the United Kennel Club in 1979. After many generations, these two breeds have developed as two distinct breeds both in physical looks and in temperament. Of note, there is literature that suggests that the Norfolk and Norwich were always two distinct breeds and the original mistake was classifying them as one.
The Norfolk Terrier has a wire-haired coat which, according to the various national kennel club breed standards, can be "all shadesh of red, wheaten, black and tan, or grizzle."
They are the smallest of the working Terriers. They are active and compact, free moving, with good substance and bone. Good substance means good spring of rib and bone that matches the body such that the dog can be a very agile ratter, the function for which it was bred.
Norfolk terriers are moderately proportioned dogs. A too heavy dog would not be agile. A too refined dog would make it a toy breed. Norfolks generally have more reach and drive and a stronger rear angulation, hence cover more ground than their Norwich cousins. Norfolk have good side gait owed to their balanced angulation front and rear and their slightly longer length of back.
The ideal height is 10 to 12 inches (25–30 cm) at the withers but this can vary and ideal weight is around 6kg but again there is a lot of variation.
Norfolks are described as fearless, but should not be aggressive despite being capable of defending themselves if need be. They, along with Norwich Terriers and Border Terriers, have the softest temperaments of the Terrier Group. Norfolks work in packs and must get along with other dogs. As companions, they love people and children and do make good pets. Their activity level is generally reflective of the pace of their environment. This breed should not be kept or live outside since they thrive on human contact. Generally, Norfolks are not given to digging but, like any dog, will dig out of boredom when left alone for too long a period. Norfolks can be barkers and are very vocal. They generally cohabit well with other household pets when introduced as a puppy. Outdoors, they are natural hunters with a strong prey drive for small vermin.
Norfolks are self confident and carry themselves with presence and importance, holding their heads and tails erect. A Norfolk that is shy or that carries its tail between its legs is atypical, as is a dog that is hot tempered and aggressive with other dogs; these traits are not the standard. A Norfolk's typical temperament is happy, spirited, and self confident. The greatest punishment to a dog is for his owner to ignore him.
Norfolks were originally bred as barn dogs to rid the barn of vermin. Some literature suggest that they were also occasionally used on the hunt to bolt animals of equal size from their den. To some extent they are still used in that capacity in continental Europe. Norfolks are pack animals and hence expected to get along with other dogs while working or in the home. As a pack dog, they take turns working their prey. They are fearless and their courage is incredible. Today, of course, they are household companions and must have an agreeable disposition for living with people.
The life expectancy of a Norfolk Terrier is 12–15 years, with some growing as old as 19 years. Norfolks do have incidences of mitral valve disease, luxating patellas, and incorrect bites (where the teeth do not align with the breed standard, i.e. overshot or undershot).
Norfolks generally have small litters. Responsible breeders only breed healthy dogs who are of good temperament, good pedigree lineage and best reflect the breed standard. The demand for Norfolk is far greater than the supply. The environment in which they are raised directly impacts the temperament of the puppy for its lifetime.
These breeds have a double coat - a harsh, wiry topcoat and a soft, warm undercoat. Ideally, the coat is combed daily with a steel "greyhound " comb, but all that is really necessary for grooming a companion dog is a good combing once a week to remove the loose, dead hairs and prevent matting. As a minimum, the coat is hand stripped once in the Fall and once in the Spring. Clipping or cutting ruins the coat's colours and harsh texture. A Norfolk Terrier can be washed with a dog shampoo when dirty.