dog training, dog behavior, dog health
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The Terrier Group

by Kay King ( )

Named for "terra" or earth, terrier breeds were developed to eradicate vermin around homes and on farms.  These dogs were trained to dig into burrows to kill small pray and to chase and kill rodents to protect grain bins. These short legged breeds were fast and efficient in controlling pests.

Longer legged terrier breeds were used to eliminate larger pests such as badgers and river rats and were often going after those pests in deep water. 

The Terrier group is a large one and has three distinctive type of coat:  wire (Wirehaired Fox Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer), soft (Wheaten Terrier, Kerry Blue), and smooth (Bull Terrier).  There are coat variations in some breeds such as the Jack Russell which may be smooth coated, have a rough coat or a broken coat which combines both rough and smooth.

Only the wire hair breeds carry the requirement for regular professional grooming.   In part, this is due to the water resistant nature of this type of coat.  For show dogs, a procedure call stripping is used, but to for pet wirehair terriers owners need only regular professional clipping to keep the coat in good condition.

Terriers are high personality dogs.  They are funny, friendly, frenetic, intelligent, spirited, stubborn and uniquely independent.

The small size of many terrier breeds is deceptive because these dogs need a lot of exercise on a regular basis.  These are high energy pets and failure to provide an acceptable outlet for that energy can result in a dog that is hard to live with and possibly destructive to property.

Regular brisk walks or a park or large area where you can play with your terrier will result in an improvement in his behavior in your household.   These are not lay-around-do-nothing dogs.

The same traits bred into them for catching vermin (a solitary job) result in dogs more independent in nature than other breeds.  If you won't play with them – your shoe will.  If you have no time to romp in the yard, a terrier will climb the fence and have a romp on his own.

The smaller breeders are escape artists.   It is not unusual for a 12 inch high terrier to climb a six foot high fence.   if that doesn't work, he'll simply dig a burrow under it. Keeping a terrier breed contained can be a challenge.

Experienced owners will often install a channel of poured concrete mix at the base of a fence to stop the digging behavior.

Fence climbing can be discouraged by attached a loose covering of a roll or two of vinyl netting such as used by gardeners to keep small animals off growing berries or vegetables.   Attached with vinyl pull ties to the top and near the bottom of wire fencing is often effective for discouraging climbing of your dog.  The light weight mesh blends visually into the fencing while the loose mesh provides no comfortable of stable foothold for climbing.

Terriers possess spirited personalities and are known for their "gameness".   Gameness is the willingness to take on any perceived threat, no matter.   This common trait is the reason many terriers are best kept as pets in one dog homes.  A growl of warning from a larger dog might cause a spaniel to retreat.   A terrier would be more likely to take on the thread and issue his own.

This situation can rapidly escalate into a full blown dog fight and the adrenalin rush in the terrier blocks pain sensation. Even when seriously injured, the terrier breeds may continue the attack; preventing this escalation is critical.

In a fight situation this dog is totally focused and anything that comes within range may be bitten – including the hand of his owner.  Terriers in a fight will bite and then quickly shake their head (killing vermin, remember?) and this can result in a wound more serious than expected from a small animal.

Terrier instinct may also be destructive to smaller pets.  A Jack Russell or Rat Terrier should be kept away from a newly adopt kitten – or a litter of them – until the cat is large enough to escape or defend itself.   Small kittens may be viewed as prey even by a well trained pet terrier.

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