My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Understanding Your Terrier


Breeds: Airedale Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Australian Terrier,Bedlington Terrier, Border Terrier, Bull Terrier, Bull Terrier (Miniature), Cairn Terrier, Cesky Terrier, Dandie Dinmont Terrier, Fox Terrier (Smooth), Fox Terrier (Wire), Glen of Imaal Terrier, Irish Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, Kerry Blue Terrier, Lakeland Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Norfolk Terrier, Norwich Terrier, Parson Russell Terrier, Scottish Terrier, Sealyham Terrier, Skye Terrier, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Welsh Terrier, West Highland White Terrier

When people learned to farm they needed, for the first time, to house large stores of grain. With such an abundant food source, the rodent population multiplied. Cats were good, but when rats raided the rations, weasels were in the hen house, and gophers were ruining our fields, we needed reinforcements. We needed terriers.

Hard-nosed, hard-fighting, hard-living, dogs that would be beer-guzzling, bar-fighting, football-playing, barbell-lifting guys if they were human.

Imagine a small dog going down a hole in pursuit of some panicked animal. Many feet below the surface, the animal and the dog have it out. The animal is fighting for its life – biting and scratching for all he is worth. The terrier takes the pain and keeps on going. In fact, the pain spurs him on. Humans call that a “game attitude”; terriers call it just plain fun.

Once a terrier goes down a hole, he often finds it impossible to back out. That’s why they bark. The owners located their terriers by the yapping then dug them free. All the silent terriers perished long ago down various beasties’ holes.

What kind of dog does this work create?


Here’s a dog that is not intimidated by much. A larger dog? Ha! The bigger they are the harder they fall. A truck? He’ll try to stop it. They are courageous to the point of brashness. As a terrier owner, it is your job to protect them from themselves by keeping them safely contained in a secure fence or on lead. Not every terrier will start a fight, but few will walk away from one.


Terriers chase. If not trained otherwise, squirrels, mice, even cats are fair game. Once they are launched, they will often fail to respond to command until the chase is completed; that might be across a four-lane highway. They are not to be trusted off lead.


If you don’t mind craters this is not a problem. Some people give their diggers a designated digging zone, others resign themselves to potholes, others confine the dog in a dig-proof kennel and more do not leave their dogs outside unattended. One thing is for sure, punishing a terrier for digging is about as effective as punishing him for breathing


“Barkiness” ranges in all breeds but, for more than a few terrier breeds, barking is simply what they do. They bark when they are excited, frustrated, annoyed, anticipatory, bored, or happy. Redirecting barking by telling the dog to lie down, or to go get a toy can help, but don’t expect to get silence. If you want a nonvocal dog, don’t get a terrier.

Tough When Excited

This is a tricky one. It isn’t that they like pain, it’s just that once they are stimulated, they don’t react to it in a “normal” way. A terrier can be quite sensitive when calm. At those times a firm tone of voice is quite effective. But once your dog is spitting canine cuss words at the neighbor’s dog, even strong corrections may fail to interrupt the behavior. In fact, they are likely to spur the dog into a greater frenzy.

Common Problems: Barking, jumping, aggression (all types), leg lifting, digging, dog fighting, chasing other animals, hyperactivity, and running off.

The Good Home: Households with older children and adults with time for daily romping. Training should be viewed as a spiritual experience where the process is as important as the goal. A sense of humor combined with a will-of-steel is mandatory. If you’re impatient, controlling or self-serious, get another type of dog. Stay calm, be persistent and it will all work out…eventually. Never give up; your terrier won’t!

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.