An Introduction to terrier breeds

Terriers are usually small breeds (with the exception of the Airdale – King of the terriers!) that are bred for hunting. Many terrier breeds come from England and Scotland where the terrain is rough and the weather can be harsh in winters. They are sturdy little dogs with a strong prey drive. Let’s take a look at the terrier breeds in more detail.

Where does the word ‘Terrier’ come from?

The word terrier actually comes from the French word ‘terre’ which means earth or ground, because these dogs would be going underground to get to their prey which traditionally included badgers or foxes.

What kind of work do working terriers do?

Working terriers were bred for chasing prey such as foxes, rats, badgers, voles, and other general vermin. In fox hunts, the terriers were used to ‘flush out’ the foxes so that the hounds could then rip apart and kill the foxes. This method was used to control the number of foxes in the UK but was also a ‘sport’ that became deemed as cruel to animals. It was banned in England by the Hunting Act of 2004.

Since the banning of fox hunting in England, fox hunting has not been possible, but terriers are still used for keeping farmland vermin free and even for pest control in urban areas (ratting). They are also great guard dogs and make good family pets.

Do terriers make good pets?

Terriers make good family pets because they tend to be loyal and affectionate towards their owners. Terriers such as the Jack Russell Terrier are like human company and most terriers are a good size to sit on your lap. However, it’s important to remember that they will need a lot of training for on lead and off lead walking. They may be dog aggressive if not socialised. They can also be a bit snappy around young kids so they should always be supervised with children around (but that goes without saying for any breed of dog).

Characteristics of terrier dogs

There are several characteristics that we often observe in terriers which include…

  • Prey drive – a natural inbuilt desire to chase their prey
  • Speed – these little dogs are fast and agile
  • Robustness – a ‘hard as nails’ attitude
  • Long snout – they usually have a long nose and strong jaws
  • Coat – can be long or short depending on their job and terrain that they work in

Top Terrier breeds

Some of the most popular terrier breeds include the Border Terrier, Jack Russell, Patterdale and West Highland terrier. Let’s take a look at some of these terrier breeds in more detail…

Border Terrier

The border terrier is an agile terrier with a rough coat and is recognisable by the longish hair around his muzzle, which gives him the ‘rough and ready’ look! The breed originates from near the England-Scotland Border (hence the name Border terrier).

Jack Russell Terrier

The Jack Russell is a small and tenacious terrier that is often used for ratting on farms. They come in a smooth or rough-coated variety. They are recognisable by their tri-colouring (white, back, and brown) and mask-type facial markings. They are popular pets in the UK.

Patterdale Terrier

The Patterdale terrier was bred in theLake District (Cumbria) and was originally used in Fox hunting. They are a longer-legged terrier with a stocky and sturdy look byt a very cute face indeed! They are now predominantly used for clearing farms of rats and other vermin since fox hunting was banned in England. They are usually black or brown in colour and they can have a rough or smooth coat.

West Highland Terrier

The cute little West Highland terrier was bred in the Scottish Highlands and they often are informally referred to as ‘Westies’. They are famous for their beautiful long white fur and make great family pets.

If you are interested in finding out more about terriers, other popular terriers include the Bull terrier, Cairn terrier, and Airedale terrier. If you are a terrier owner, life will never be dull and you will always be well exercised as it’s not a type of dog to sit at home and relax!  But they are great dogs and owning a terrier is totally worth it.

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By Lee Chun Hei