Terriers are known for their fun-loving, vivacious personalities and also for their ability to focus intently on the jobs they are given. Their enthusiasm for catching any sort of prey, from a ball to a badger, made them very popular hundreds of years ago. Terriers have always been good at their jobs and even today, with the move toward developing companion dogs instead of working dogs, it is impossible to find a terrier who isn’t always “game.” These dogs are loyal, courageous and friendly when it comes to people, though often a bit hostile when it comes to other animals (especially small prey).
Terriers require a firm hand and consistent training. They are great with kids but should be supervised while around small children. Terrier breeds are usually very active – long walks across the moors are not necessary but several walks a day around the neighborhood are. Terriers are at their best when they have a job, whether it be fetching a toy, helping with chores or chasing the kids around the yard. They are often big diggers and, if they don’t have a yard to dig in, will sometimes try to dig through the couch.
These tenacious dogs are documented as far back as the Middle Ages in the British Isles, which is the origin of their group. The name “terrier” was borrowed from the French, with Latin origins, and means “go to earth.” Owners of Terriers know this to be literally true as they deal with mud-covered terrier faces all the time. Along the way, terriers have been bred with many different types and breeds of dogs. In the 1700s, they were bred with hounds to increase their hunting abilities and in the 1800s, with bully-type dogs to create a successful fighting dog.
Terriers are usually informally divided into four groups: the working terrier, the toy terrier, the bull terrier and the companion terrier (though all terriers can make good companions). The working terriers are still used to track prey, the toys are often bred-down versions of larger terriers, the bull terriers are descendants from the fighting dogs, and the companion terriers now warm laps.
Yorkshire Terrier – The Yorkie is a very small member of the Terrier group, weighing in at around 7 lbs. They are brave and loyal and don’t seem to realize how small they are. They can become very protective of their owners and family so proper socialization is essential. They are sometimes called the “Walking Jewel” or “The Yorkshire Terror.”
Boston Terrier – The Boston Terrier was bred down from much larger fighting dogs who were around 44 lbs. Today, Bostons weigh in between 10 and 25 lbs. They are gentle, intelligent and well-mannered. Bostons have the terrier enthusiasm and gameness, though they are naturally mellow as long as they get enough exercise. Their common nickname is “The American Gentleman.”
West Highland White Terriers – Westies come from Scotland where they were bred to track rats, foxes and other vermin. These are alert, hardy, friendly dogs who prefer to be active most of the time. They weigh in around 13-22 lbs and, like other terriers, they love to dig and make good watchdogs. The Westie is easily recognizable with his bright, white coat and his mug is seen on cans of Cesar dog food.
Scottish Terriers – This Scottish breed produces self-assured, feisty, territorial and, perhaps surprisingly, fast moving dogs. Their temperament makes sense, considering they were originally bred to fight badgers. They can make excellent family dogs as long as they’re socialized early.
Cairn Terrier – This small dog is one of the oldest terrier breeds. Also hailing from Scotland, they used to hunt prey on the cairns, or hills. The Cairn is between 13-17 lbs and is alert, loyal and adventurous. They should be trained as puppies as, without a strong leader and training, they become willfully stubborn. Like all terriers, they love to dig and prefer to have a job. The Cairn Terrier was made famous when one played Toto in The Wizard of Oz.
Terriers have so much to offer their owners – affection, loyalty, companionship and much more. The traits that can make them difficult – brashness, willfulness, tenaciousness, a strong prey drive – can be managed with proper training and a defined human alpha in the home. They are energetic and need to be active both physically and mentally. With a bit of investment in time and energy, a terrier will make an excellent family dog.