UK's former favourite breed falls in favour

Wire Fox Terrier. Credit Diane Pearce Collection and The Kennel Club
  • The Wire Fox Terrier, known by many as ‘Snowy’ from The Adventures of Tintin, looks set to enter The Kennel Club’s list of ‘at risk’ breeds for the first time ever
  • This terrier breed was the most popular dog in the UK a century ago but has seen its numbers plummet
  • More British dog breeds are at risk than ever before, with more than 40 classed as vulnerable or ‘at watch’

The Wire Fox Terrier, one of Britain’s most historic breeds, looks set to enter The Kennel Club’s list of dog breeds ‘At Watch’ for the first time in their history.

Annual puppy numbers from the dog registration body shows a significant fall so far in 2023 for the breed, with just 281 Wire Fox Terrier puppies born – a 21 per cent decrease in popularity compared with the same period in 2022, where there had been 359 puppies recorded in the first three quarters of the year. The breed has already declined by nearly 30 per cent in the last five years, and an overwhelming 94 per cent drop since the breed’s peak in 1947 when over 8,000 puppies were born.

The small and distinctive wiry-coated breed was historically a Royal Family favourite during the Edwardian era, with King Edward VII and Queen Victoria both reported to have owned one, and later was favoured by Agatha Christie. The breed is perhaps best known as Snowy, the canine sidekick in The Adventures of Tintin comics, which were first published in 1929. At this time, the friendly and fearless terrier was the most popular dog in the UK, a trend which continued throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s.

A century on, however, the outlook of this once beloved British breed has changed and it is likely to enter The Kennel Club’s ‘At Watch’ list, which monitors breeds with between 300-450 puppy births a year. Those with less than 300 puppy registrations annually are recorded on the organisation’s Vulnerable Native Breed list – devised to highlight those British and Irish native breeds which could be at risk of disappearing from our streets and parks.

With 34 vulnerable native breeds recorded as of 2022, and a further eight classed as ‘At Watch’, there are currently more endangered dog breeds than ever before. This is the first time in its history that the Wire Fox Terrier could be added to this list.

Despite the falling numbers, the breed has been one of the most successful at Crufts, having won Best in Show on three occasions – in 1962, 1975 and 1978 – and being in the running to take the title a further 12 times, including as recently as Crufts 2023. However, these crowning moments on the world’s most famous dog stage have not translated into ownership boosts outside of the event.

Bill Lambert, spokesperson for The Kennel Club, said: “The Wire Fox Terrier was the nation’s favourite breed a century ago, and it remained popular for decades, so it is very concerning to see such low numbers for a friendly and lively dog that was once beloved by royalty and families alike, and there is a real danger that we could lose them forever.

“There were just 27 vulnerable dog breeds a decade ago. There are now another eight breeds either vulnerable or at risk, with the Wire Fox Terrier sadly looking likely to join this growing list. We have such a rich diversity of breeds, so we urge the British public to find out more about the lesser-known breeds, especially those who are at risk of disappearing.

“Crufts, taking place in March, will have a dedicated Discover Dogs zone, and we really want to encourage potential puppy owners to come along and not only discover more about over 200 breeds, including those that are vulnerable, but also talk to experts to find out if they are right for them.”

More information and tickets for Crufts are available on the Crufts website: Tickets are free for under 8s, and advance tickets start at £14 for children (aged 9-15) and concessions, and £21 for adults. Please note that tickets are only available through Crufts’ official ticketing partner, The Ticket Factory (fees apply).

More information about vulnerable breeds and The Kennel Club’s campaign to save them can be found on The Kennel Club's website