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High Energy, High Reward: Understanding the Unique Needs of Terrier Breeds

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If you ever think about owning a terrier, you should instantly forget about “laid-back character” or “low-maintenance”. Any terrier owner will tell you, that is an exception, not a rule. Yes, some terrier dogs are laid back and low-maintenance. But you should not expect that.

Owning a terrier is like having a dog that has the energy of a toddler on a sugar high, the stubbornness of a mule, and the vocal range of an opera singer. And they never get tired. But that is exactly why we love them.

The simple fact is that terriers are not for everyone. I’ve owned several terriers in my life, including an Airedale terrier, a Jagdterrier, a Wire Fox Terrier, and now a Jack Russell Terrier. Can a terrier dog breed be the perfect pet for you? Of course. But you have to love the challenge and accept the personality as a positive, not a negative.

Today, let’s take a look at which terrier has the best temperament.

Understanding the term terrier

First, let’s start with a trip down memory lane. Let’s talk about the origin of terrier breeds. Now, while each terrier dog has its history, the general consensus is that these dogs were working canines. The term comes from the Latin word “terra”, translating to “earth”.

cairn terrier 4472147 1920

For centuries, these small dog breeds and large dog breeds were the norm for working dogs on farms around Europe. Most of them originate from the United Kingdom. And for many terriers, their primary job was to root out and control pests.

Fun fact, many of them are toy dogs nowadays. Take the Yorkshire terrier for example. People love it because of its beauty and cuteness. But the Yorkie was one of the most ferocious vermin catchers on farms in his heyday. Some similar dogs like the Yorkie include the Cairn Terrier, Border Terrier, and Silky Terrier.

But you also have dogs like the American Pit Bull Terrier. Back in the day, this dog was used for bull baiting and dog fighting. Centuries later, the Pittie cannot shake off that bad reputation. Even though the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier are two of the sweetest dogs.

With that in mind, their history as farm dogs has made terriers fearless, tenacious, independent thinkers, and vocal high-energy dogs with a strong prey drive.

What makes terriers such a challenge?

yorkshire terrier 1

Most dog owners agree that training a terrier and living with one are some of the biggest challenges in the canine world. Yes, other dogs possess a challenge, like the Husky and its stubbornness. But terriers are just legendary. Let’s break down some of the challenges.

  • Digging is a natural instinct for terriers. They were bred to hunt and dig, to get vermin out of holes. My Jack Russell Terrier, for example, had to dig and chase foxes out of holes so that hunters could get them
  • Barking was the primary tool terriers had to hunt and get vermin. They were not bred to attack their prey. Instead, they were bred and trained to chase them out with their barking. That is why they are some of the most vocal dogs you will find
  • Next, we have chasing. It is another instinct. They chase everything that moves quickly, ranging from squirrels and cats to other dogs
  • Persistency and tenaciousness are something we love about terriers, but also hate. Then they put their mind into something, they will get it done
  • Let’s finish off with their legendary stubbornness. These dogs have a mind of their own, a character of their own. They were not bred to please people. They were bred to do things their way. And if they want to do something, there will be nothing there to stop them

Is it worth the effort?

Well, I can tell you firsthand hand, once you own a terrier, you never get another dog breed. Of course, if you have managed to handle their personality.

If you can find a way for the relationship to work, and if you work on that trust and communication, there is no better dog than the terrier. It is so rewarding to raise a terrier. Why?

Because you get a loyal companion with a boundless personality and energy to follow you day in, and day out. Yes, they can wander at times. Milo will go missing for a split second into the woods because he sniffed something or chased something. But he ALWAYS ALWAYS comes back when I call him. He doesn’t leave my sight or presence. And he is loyal to the bone.

Ask a terrier to fight a bear for you, he will do it. Other dogs might hesitate and think about it, but terriers will die for you. I am not kidding. But hey, do not try it.

These dogs are also great for people who love outdoor activities. Terriers enjoy spending time outside, be it hiking, swimming, or simply exploring new areas.

American Pit Bull Terrier2

They love life. These dogs are always up for a game, an adventure, or anything that they can spend time with you, their dog owner. I have to say, even though most of them are small dog breeds, they have a huge personality.

And there is no right answer to which terrier has the best temperament. They are all pretty much similar. Now, you might want a calmer dog like a West Highland White Terrier, Norfolk Terrier, Border Terrier, or here is a surprise, the Bull Terrier.

The difference between terriers is in their level of stubbornness. The Jack Russell Terrier might be the most stubborn of them all.

How to train terriers?

When we talk about terriers and their temperament, training is a huge commitment. There is no easy way to train a terrier dog. But the trick lies in understanding their temperament and origin.

Remember, these were all bred to be working dogs. They have high exercise needs and mental stimulation needs. If they get bored, they get destructive. As simple as that.

So, how do you do it? Well, first you need to start with early socialization. That can solve most of the barking issues. Socialize your puppy with everything you can think of, from different people, different animals, different scents, environments, situations, and so on.

The more you socialize your terrier breed and the more familiar he gets with things, the less prone he is to bark. That is a win-win situation for you.

Next stop is obedience training. With terriers, the trick is to use the right motivation. These dogs love working in short, intense sessions. They are not working dogs like the Doberman or German Shepherd that can train for 20 to 30 minutes. No, five to ten minutes is all you need.

tug toy3

Always use positive reinforcement. And the motivation, for most terriers, is toys. They love toys that will bring excitement and that they can chase. For example, think balls, flirt poles, tug toys, and so on. My Jack, Milo, would do anything for a ball.

Here is a dirty little secret. Use their tenaciousness and persistence to your advantage. When these dogs get fixated on something, they will move mountains to get it. So, use that to train your dog to show good behavior, and then reward with the toy.

Also, use plenty of puzzle toys at home to combat boredom and provide some mental stimulation.

Final Words

Commitment is the key to raising a happy terrier, no matter which terrier type. Think before you get one. Can you provide everything your dog needs to be happy? If the answer is no, then I suggest you try a different breed, like a Golden Retriever, a Shih Tzu, or a French Bulldog.

Terriers are high-maintenance dogs. But once you understand their personality and learn how to handle it, they are the best family dogs out there. No terrier will ever get bored of playing with your children or following you on an adventure.

With the right guidance, terriers can bring immense joy to your household.

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