It’s true - terrier breeds can be a little sassy. They were originally bred in the United Kingdom in order to find and kill foxes, moles, badgers and rats or for use in foxhunting and, sadly, dogfighting.
And while there’s certainly still an aspect of this strong prey drive and a naturally feisty nature in terrier breeds, they’re now bred to hold a much friendlier temperament and can be very well-behaved if trained well. However, it’s still essential to understand and respect a terrier’s natural instincts.
“Owning a terrier is a unique experience. These little bundles of canine determinedness often behave quite differently to other types of dogs: they can be noisy, feisty and always on the move” explains Dr Smiley Blanton in Terrier-centric Dog Training.
Terrier breeds personality traits
- Extremely energetic
- Highly intelligent
- Can be aggressive
- Significant prey drive
Loyal and loving, but they don’t show it
These interesting dogs are very friendly at their best but aren’t the most affectionate or cuddly breed. They don’t come across as very attached to humans in comparison to other dog breeds - though they do still need plenty of care and attention.
Even though they might not show their love as much as other breeds, terrier dogs are extremely loyal to their owners and will naturally protect their family.
Smart and intelligent, yet stubborn and scrappy
Terrier breeds are quick to learn and highly intelligent, so they behave well when trained and understand their owner’s needs well. However, their stubborn streak can make training a lengthy process.
As we’ve already mentioned, potential terrier dog breed owners should be aware of the slightly scrappy, feisty, personality traits of terrier dogs. Because of their past, terrier breeds have a tendency to chase after anything and everything which passes by.
Some terrier breeds can also be aggressive towards other dogs and have a natural instinct to dig. For all these reasons, they don’t make a good pet for those with other animals in the family.
Caring for terrier breeds
If you’re thinking of adopting a terrier dog, make sure you’ve got plenty of time to dedicate to training and socialisation right from the get-go. The best terriers are trained and socialised from a young age. Without it, your dog will naturally give in to its instinctive characteristics. This means they’ll begin to challenge any dog or human they come across and might even begin to stand up to you.
Reward-based training is best for these feisty yet friendly pups. As they’re highly intelligent and enjoy solving complex problems, clicker training is a great method for them, too. Punishment should be avoided at all costs - terriers, in particular, will repeat any behaviours which got you worked up. Stick to positive reinforcement with plenty of treats.
Want a terrier? You’re going to have to be up for lots of walks, playtime and exercise. Terrier dog breeds need regular exercise for both their physical and mental health and to keep their behaviour in check. As soon as they become bored and restless, they could begin lashing out.
The natural instincts of a terrier dog mean they absolutely love playing hide and seek and joining in with sports. Bursting with energy, they’ll need at least 30-60 minutes walking every day, without fail - as well as plenty of garden time. For this reason, they make a great match for runners or hikers - they don’t tire out easily!
Popular terrier breeds
Though a Staffordshire bull might look pretty fierce, in reality, they’re a bundle of love and one of the more gentle terrier breeds. However, they’re definitely still feisty if challenged and will not always get on with other dogs. Staffy’s are one of the larger terrier breeds, with a muscular and strong build and a playful personality. A great family dog.
These compact pups are popular dogs in the UK thanks to their playful, happy, energetic, smart and loyal personalities. Though Jack Russell’s are small, they sure have a ferocious side to them and notoriously become a real ‘terror’ without the right training. Be aware that the hunting instinct is distinctive in these pups, so they absolutely cannot be paired with hamsters, guinea pigs or other small animals.
Unlike some other terrier breeds, Yorkshire Terriers absolutely thrive on human companionship and love to be included in all the family activities. These tiny dogs are very adaptable and are happy in apartments, so long as they get regular walks. They’ve still got that classic feisty terrier nature, though - they’ll bark loudly if anyone unfamiliar comes near the house. We think they’re great for elderly people who want a protective companion, who can still give their pup a daily walk.
These loyal pups are a true working dog, meaning they need lots of physical and mental stimulation if kept in a home environment. A truly happy Border Terrier requires a lot of daily exercise - without it, they could cause havoc around the house. A great thing about this breed is that they often cope well with other dogs within the family - a rarity for terrier breeds in general.
Other terrier breeds:
- Airedale Terrier
- American Staffordshire
- Australian Terrier
- Bedlington Terrier
- Bull Terrier
- Cairn Terrier
- Cesky Terrier
- Dandie Dinmont Terrier
- Irish Terrier
- Lakeland Terrier
- Norfolk Terrier
- Rat Terrier
- Scottish Terrier
- Smooth Fox Terrier
A great breed
Overall, terrier breeds make a fantastic companion or family dog, providing they're trained and socialized well. If you do choose to pick a terrier as your new pet, make sure to do your research and dedicate some time to teaching them the ropes - no 'terrors' allowed!