The Tenterfield Terrier originated in England. Huntsmen used Terriers derived from the Old English White Terrier. These came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes as well as in a variety of coat types – from quite smooth through to rough or wire-haired.
Two centuries ago when the various different terrier types began to emerge, there were no formal registration records. Terriers of various sizes were born in the same litter. Any dog that performed a particular task well was mated to another adept in that task. It did not seem to matter what the terrier looked like as long as it did the required job.
So, Terriers who specialized in killing rats came into existence. Rats carried disease for both dog and man and were a health threat to both country and city communities in those days before insecticides. Ratting terriers had to be quick and agile so they killed the rat before getting bitten. So, they were usually small in stature as well as very athletic. They were also usually smooth coated because the filth that the rats lived in would have got caked in a long or rough coat.
Early sailing ships that came to Australia with our first settlers carried these small ratting terriers to kill the rats and mice on board. When the ship docked, many of these dogs were left behind to kill the rats and other vermin that escaped from the ships and ran rampant in our pristine countryside. The next two hundred years would see these little dogs established in Australia both as a ratting terrier and a family companion. They became known as the “Miniature Fox Terrier”. There was hardly a farm in Australia that did’t have at least one of these terriers. There was never a reason for any of these people to develop a breed registry for their beloved breed – they were just loved.
Below is a photo taken in the late 1800s of a police party searching for missing drovers. In the front of the photo is a Tenterfield Terrier.
It is believed these terriers were bred quite extensively in and around northern New South Wales. A known large breeder of this terrier was George Woolnough, the Tenterfield Saddler (Peter Allen’s grandfather). We have letters written from elderly Tenterfield residents telling us of how George loved his little terriers and owned “an awful lot”.
In the early 1990’s a group of interested owners, who wanted to secure the future of this terrier, advertised for interested persons to attend their first meeting. This meeting led to the formation of the Miniature Fox Terrier Club of SA. A similar club had been running in New South Wales for some time prior to this. A club was then formed in WA and the breed registry was established soon after, with the first entries being January 1991.
In 1992 it became quite apparent that if we were to eventually have this wonderful little dog recognised by the ANKC, the name of “Miniature Fox Terrier” was extremely inappropriate as the terrier was not a miniaturisation of the Fox Terrier. We, as a club, could understand this valid point.
After consultation with all club members, moves were then made through SA, WA and NSW to instigate a name change for the breed. Numerous ideas were put forward which resulted in a ballot to all members of the SA, WA and NSW Clubs. After much publicity via the media, it was strongly voted (some 85% of returned votes) to embrace the name “Tenterfield Terrier”.