Dog Breed Profiles

Terrier Dogs

The Terrier group consists of both big and small dogs, but members of this group more than any other share a common ancestry and similar behavioral traits. Terriers were bred to rid barns and stables of vermin, to dig out unwanted burrowing rodents, and to make themselves generally useful around the stable. Terriers were used in the "poor man's recreation" of rat killing, especially in England where most of these breeds originated. Upper classes used terriers in foxhunting. They also were bred to fight each other in pits--hence the name pit bulls. During the late 1900s, dogfighting was outlawed in most states and countries of the Western world, and these dogs were thereafter bred for a friendly temperament rather than for aggressiveness.

Terriers, because they had to fit in burrows and dig underground, were bred to stay relatively small, although large breeds are not uncommon. Their coats are usually rough and wiry for protection and require minimum maintenance. Unlike hounds or sporting dogs, which only found or chased their quarry, terriers were often required to make the actual kill as well, giving them a more pugnacious temperament than their size might suggest. They are usually lean with long heads, square jaws, and deep-set eyes. However, as with most breeds, form follows function: terriers that work underground have shorter legs, while terriers bred to work aboveground have squarer proportions. All terriers are active and vocal, naturally inclined to chase and confront.

The small terriers, which were often carried on horseback during foxhunts, were bred to be put to the ground. These dogs have very specific origins. In general, their names reflect the locale where the breed first took shape under the guidance of a small group of dedicated breeders. They are the Australian, Bedlington, border, cairn, Dandie Dinmont, Lakeland, Manchester, miniature schnauzer (of German origin), Norwich, Norfolk, Scottish, Sealyham, Skye (see photograph), Welsh, and West Highland white. The larger terriers include the Airedale, Irish, Kerry blue, and soft-coated wheaten. In Canada, Lhasa apsos are part of this group. Britain claims the Parson Jack Russell and the Glen of Imaal terriers, both of which are found in the United States but are not registerable with the AKC.