While they've been put to work in quite a lot of fields of labor, from hunting to police work, the Norfolk terrier is probably most famous for its reputation as a rodent hunting dog. In the European countryside in the nineteenth century, farmers and ranchers had a lot to contend with. Without the advent of preservatives, spoilage was much more of a problem a hundred years ago than it is now. Not to mention the fact that they had no vehicles to transport the product quickly, so the food was more likely to spoil en route. Weather, of course, was a problem as well, as preventative measures such as aluminum siding and advanced weather tracking technology were still years and years in the future. One hindrance the agriculture workers of the time managed to thwart, however, was the problem of rodent infestation. Rats, mice and other little critters could sneak around in haystacks and tunnel through barn walls and single handedly destroy an entire harvest, if not by simply eating it, then by spreading dangerous viruses through food intended to be eaten by people all over the country. Without food-safe pest poisons or on-call exterminators or any way to sterilize food of possible viruses before consumption, the resourceful growers turned to small breed game dogs to help in confronting the pest control problem.
The Norfolk and Norwich terrier were amongst the most popular breeds for this task. The two breeds had previously been classified as one and the same breed, and soon after (not to discredit the also-virtuous Norwich terrier, mind you), the Norfolk terrier made an individual name for itself showing to be unusually courageous and hard working for such a small breed of dog, not to mention smart, expertly tracking mice and rats through barns, silos and farm houses, not to mention combating mice infestations in horse stables. Having previously been employed by hunters to catch small game such as rabbits and squirrels, the Norfolk terrier seemed a natural choice for the demanding task of pest control and proved itself up to the job.
While, thanks to advancements in agriculture technology, their use as pest control workers is certainly less widespread today than it was over a hundred years ago in the European countryside, the breed can still be found here and there, and especially in less developed parts of the world, hunting down rodents in barns and horse stables. Thanks to their tremendous courage and their intelligence, the breed is still quite popular for small game hunting, but aside from the occasional dog show, the majority of Norfolk terriers anymore are generally found serving families as humble companion dogs. Not that there's any shame in this role, but it would nevertheless seem self evident that the Norfolk terrier deserves no small thanks for keeping the western world well fed.