Terrific Terriers — the Joys of Earthdogs

The word “terrier” means “earthdog,” and these brave, tenacious dogs — many of them originating from the British Isles — were bred to hunt and kill vermin on farms. Terriers aren’t the right dogs for everyone, but if you appreciate a bold, bright canine that is always on the go, it’s a match made in heaven.

Because terriers are so prey-driven, they’re not a good choice for households with rabbits, birds or small rodents as pets. Some terriers get along with cats if they are raised with them, but others will always see a kitty as fair game. For older children who know how to properly treat dogs, a terrier makes a great best friend forever. Most terriers love to romp and play as much as kids do.

Terrier temperament

There are plenty of terms to describe terriers, but boring and dull are not among them. Feisty, fearless, rascally, mischievous and determined all fit the descriptive bill. Before bringing a terrier into your life, consider whether you can deal with the following, which are all common terrier behaviors:

  • Barking
  • Digging
  • Escaping 

If your reaction is, “Why would I want a dog like that?” a terrier is obviously not for you. Terrier devotees like their dogs’ spunk, independence and intelligence. They’re a good choice for the active person or family. Terriers are trainable, although it’s going to take more time and effort than, say, a Labrador retriever or German shepherd. The other thing to keep in mind is that terriers, with their abundant energy, are working dogs. Give them an outlet for that, and they make great pets. A tired terrier is a good terrier, so take your dog on long walks, and out hiking or jogging. They do well in competitive canine sports, such as agility, flyball, terrier racing and earthdog trials (more on that later). 

Terrier breeds appear in a variety of sizes, although the majority of terriers were bred to be fairly small (to follow prey into their burrows). Some breeds with terrier in the name, such as the Tibetan terrier, aren’t actually terriers and aren’t included in the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) terrier group. The giant Black Russian terrier — a mix of Newfoundland, rottweiler and some terrier breeds — is a member of the AKC working group.

Toy terriers

Some genuine terriers are so small they are included in the AKC’s toy group. These include:

  • Yorkshire terriers
  • Toy fox terriers
  • Manchester terriers
  • Silky terriers 

These tiny terriers are more likely to live as treasured house pets than working dogs, but they all have terrier attitude in common. They’re alert, smart, spirited and confident.

Small to medium terriers

Some of the best-known small- to medium-sized terrier breeds include: 

  • Cairn terriers — Toto in the Wizard of Oz was a cairn terrier. Like Toto, cairns are courageous and make good family pets.
  • Jack Russell terriers — Also known as Parson Russell or Russell terriers, depending on the breed registry. These smart little dogs are high energy and often hard to train, so they do best with experienced owners.  
  • Norwich/Norfolk terriers — These two small breeds were once the same and are now differentiated by the ears, which are upright in the Norwich and down in the Norfolk.
  • Rat terriers — The “ratties” are an American breed, and while they have some terrier traits, they tend to get along with felines and other small animals better than typical terriers. They’re also a little more laid-back than most terriers, friendly and smart as a whip.
  • Scottish terriers — Smart, stubborn and sensitive, Scotties are excellent watchdogs.
  • West Highland white terriers — “Westies” sport a beautiful white coat and a happy temperament.

Large terriers

Beautiful yorkshire terrier playing with a ball on a grassLarge dog aficionados may be disappointed to find there aren’t many truly big terrier breeds, but what they lack in size they make up for in stamina and tenacity. The larger terriers include: 

  • Airedales — Known as the “King of Terriers,” the largest earthdogs are good with kids and make both a fine family pet and watchdog.
  • Kerry Blues — Large only by terrier standards, Kerry Blues are devoted to their family and are usually easy to train.
  • Soft-coated wheatens — Active and friendly, the soft-coated wheatens boast that namesake soft coat. People allergic to canines might tolerate this breed.

Earthdog trials

Earthdog trials are a great exercise for terriers, allowing them to do what they do best. In these tests, terriers follow a scent, which is designed to lead them to a man-made tunnel. Inside the tunnel is the dog’s natural prey, rats, but the animals are in a cage and won’t come to harm. The terrier must work to get to the caged rat in the quarry, which involves entering the tunnel, digging, barking, scratching, pawing and similar behaviors innate to earthdogs. Dogs can move up the ranks in these trials, from junior to senior to the highest level, Master Earthdog. 

While terriers are not for everyone, their spunk and intelligence makes them great pets. As with any pet, be sure to research the breed thoroughly before making your selection and prepare all members of the family so you can care for and train the animal appropriately.

Next time you cross paths with a terrier, enjoy the energy and enthusiasm of this confident earthdog.

—The Alternative Daily 



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