Terrier Class Terrier dogs are a group of dogs that range in weight from a couple of pounds to seventy pounds. Although sizes vary, the common trait among terrier dogs is their attitude, sometimes referred to as “gameness”. Small or large, terriers have a force of character that can make them very entertaining companions.
Terriers come in twenty seven distinct breeds, most of which dog fanciers and farmers developed through selective breeding in the 1800s and very early 1900s. The original terrier dogs were farmer and estate dogs used for practical rodent control. Their name comes from the Latin work terra, meaning earth. This became the root for their name due to the nature of the work they did. Both the short-legged and long-legged terriers we expected to “go to ground” or pursue the rodents to their burrows and even down into the tunnels.
Today’s terriers come in three primary types: toy, working, and bully types.
Toy Terriers are a bred-down version of current or past working terriers that have been selectively bred for smaller size without a loss of the terrier “big-dog” attitude. The individual breeds include the Australian Skye Terrier, the English Toy Terrier, the Russian Toy Terrier, the Toy Manchester Terrier, the Rat Terrier, and the Yorkshire Terrier.
The breeds considered to have directly descended from working terriers are the Welsh Terrier, the Lakeland Terrier, the Border Terrier, the Jack Russell Terrier, the Parsons Russell Terrier, the smooth Fox Terrier and the Wire Fox Terrier. Airedales and Kerry Blue terriers are also considered as having working terrier origins.
The final group of terriers are the bull-terriers. These dogs originated from crosses of the working terriers with the Old English Bulldog.The current breeds within this group include the Bull Terrier, the Miniature Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the American Pit-Bull Terrier.
Although not recognized by any kennel clubs, there are several other terrier breeds including Fell Terriers and Working Lakeland or Patterdale Terriers that exist in a more “natural” state. These dogs are still the working rodent control on farms across the British Isles.
At one point in their history, both the working breed types and the bully types of terriers were part of the sad sport of pit fights. The smaller terriers would be released in a pit with a certain number of rats and expected to kill them. The dog with the fastest kill time was the winner. Other breeds were used in bull-baiting, such as the Old English Bulldog. Many of these breeds spent some time in dog fighting competitions. While most of the other breeds have fallen out of fashion with the fighting community, the American Pit Bull Terrier is still bred in some areas specifically for participation in illegal dog fights.
Terriers as a group are highly energetic, smart and quick to learn. They are also easily bored and require a means to burn off their energy. Often, they are poorly behaved with other pets as they view cats as vermin and other dogs as competition for the spot of “top dog”. For the right owner, Terrier dogs can be a very rewarding pet.