Each group contains breeds that have certain characteristics in common.
This article is about the Terrier Group of pedigree dogs.
The word terrier means ‘of the earth’. And our terrier breeds were selectively bred by man to hunt underground.
Many of our British Terrier breeds were specifically bred for fox control and are relatively small dogs that can fit easily down a fox earth.
Others were bred with ratting in mind. Many terriers are very versatile and will turn their hand to a range of roles.
A popular group
Terriers are typically fairly small, compact little dogs, but some of the bull terriers can be substantial dogs.
Terriers are our fourth most popular group of dogs, and there are twenty-six different breeds embraced by the group.
Over twenty-four thousand terrier puppies were registered with the Kennel Club in 2013, and because there are still many working terriers here in the UK, there are many more terriers that go unregistered within the rural community.
These are popular and characterful pets in both urban and rural households.
History and role of the breed
Terriers go back a long way, and in the 18th century were divided into just two types. The short legged terrier, and the long legged terrier!
Being bred in small isolated local communities meant lots of different terrier breeds, often named after the location they originate from. Hence we have Norfolk terriers, Patterdales, West Highland terriers, Manchester terriers and so on
Several of these breeds of terrier still work today, as do some of our popular Border and Jack Russell Terriers.
The border terrier is one of the top ten most popular dogs in the UK and is the smallest of our longer legged terriers.
The well known and widely recognised Jack Russell terrier, is a popular dog within the rural community, often short legged, and often weighing less than 15lbs.
These little working dogs, unregistered with the Kennel Club are favoured by the hunting community. They were bred for foxing, and excess puppies were and still are, often sold as pets at very reasonable prices.
Bull terriers differ quite substantially from our traditional working terrier breeds and are a type of terrier produced by mixing terrier and bulldog lines together. The sport of dog fighting has been illegal for some years in Britain but the practice still goes on in places, and some bull terrier breeds are bred and trained for this unpleasant purpose.
The most popular of our bull terriers is the Staffordshire, whose reputation has taken quite a blow in recent years. Like all terriers these are robust and good natured dogs if well socialised, but if isolated or ill-treated their feisty nature can bring them into conflict with people and/or other dogs.
Perhaps one of the most famous bull terriers is the fictional Bull Terrier owned by Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist.
Sadly, selective breeding has led to an obscure exaggeration of the Bull Terrier’s nose by modern breeders, but the Staffordshire Bull Terrier has retained his traditional appearance.
Though most terriers are quite small dogs, we do have a couple of larger breed terriers in the UK and those are the Beddlington, and the Airedale.
Most popular terrier breeds
The most popular breed in the terrier group is the Border Terrier. You can find out more about these little dog in this article: Which breed of puppy: looking at border terriers
- Border Terrier
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- West Highland White
- Bull Terrier
- Cairn Terrier
- Scottish Terrier
- Fox Terrier
- Norfolk Terrier
- Airedale Terrier
- Parson Russell
A good number of our terrier breeds are fairly long lived, soundly constructed, and relatively free from health problems.
With the exception of the bull terrier’s face, we have perhaps not interfered too extensively with the conformation of these little dogs. However there are some breeds that have some serious health issues that need to be considered.
These include the Scottish Terrier which has a number of health problems including a very high rate of bladder cancer (18-20 fold higher risk than other dog breeds)
So it’s important that we don’t just assume a dog breed is healthy because it is a terrier, and that we research any breed thoroughly before making a decision on ownership.
Terriers like hunting and chasing wildlife and need to be well trained and socialised in order to prevent them running riot, or annoying the neighbours cats.
Most terriers are people-friendly and good natured dogs, if well socialised.
They have a reputation for mischief, but in reality, are really no more mischievous than any other hunting dog. They are however, very tough little dogs and really do need to be trained using positive reinforcement.
Most terriers have easy-care coats and require no more than a regular brushing. They need a moderate amount of daily exercise, some of which can be achieved with games and retrieving.
Many terriers enjoy sport like agility and flyball, and love nothing better than a long hike across the moors.
Working terriers are exempt from the anti-docking legislation of recent years in England, and if you buy a terrier from working parents, it will probably have had its tail docked soon after birth.
This won’t affect your puppy and contrary to myths, dogs can still balance properly and communicate happily with other dogs with a shortened tail.
Tail docking is only permitted if puppies are intended to go to working homes, so if you buy a puppy from show or pet breeding he should have a full tail.
If a terrier appeals to you, you should be able to find a pedigree breed that is in reasonable shape, provided you do your research.
Alternatively, there are many unregistered terriers from working lines to be found in rural communities throughout the UK.
Make sure you meet the mother of your puppy and that she is friendly. And make sure that your terrier puppy has not been isolated from everyday human contact. You can use our step-by-step Puppy Search guide to choosing your puppy.
Socialise your puppy thoroughly and you should have many years of fun together.
Further links and information
- Kennel Club
- The National Working Terrier Federation
- Bull Terriers, then and now
- Scottish Terriers, then and now