May 28

Terrier Breeds

Scottish Terrier

Scottish Terrier

Terriers are among the most diverse breeds, ranging from the tiny toy Yorkie to the large Airedale. Originally developed to hunt and trap small game, the group has largely changed its role in human life over the past 200 years. But the wide range of size, temperament and appearance has caused terriers to continue to be among the most popular group in the world.

Jack Russell Terrier

Jack Russell Terrier

Even within a single subset, such as the smaller breeds, variety is everywhere with terriers. Jack Russells look and behave very differently from Westies. A Scottie and a Yorkie are roughly the same size, but have very different attitudes in detail, while still retaining many general terrier characteristics.

American Staffordshire Terrier

American Staffordshire Terrier

Medium-sized terriers, such as the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Welsh Terrier could hardly look more different. To the novice, it would be hard to find reasons to put them into the same category. Yet both have similar lineage, being developed not far from one another by modern measurements of distance.

Lakeland Terrier

Lakeland Terrier

Larger terriers look still more different from their smaller cousins. The Airedale, the Lakeland Terrier and the Irish Terrier are much more similar to one another, in appearance and behavior, than they are to the smaller breeds. Yet, a Kerry Blue – while much larger than the Scottie – was bred in similar circumstances and show common behaviors. That shows in the stance, the coat and other attributes, such as their high spirits and able mountain herding ability.

Border Terrier

Border Terrier

These are all very different from others that carry the terrier name. The Border Terrier resembles a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, even though the former is quite a bit taller. Both have the same square head, close coat and highly alert nature. Yet, you could hardly find two terriers more closely related, while looking dissimilar, than the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Wire-Haired Fox.

Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terrier

This ‘similarity within diversity’ is no accident, of course. Originally bred to hunt, many breeds were narrowed to perform that service for a group of prey that is equally varied. Fox and rabbit are similar enough to be hunted by the same breed. But animals that live above ground, such as tree squirrels, require a different technique.

Yorkshire Terrier

Yorkshire Terrier

That variation took on even larger dimensions as the generations went by and hunting became much less common. Everything from sports contests to film production, from watchdog and drug-sniffing duty to Border Patrol has called terriers into action. Breeding a dog to perform services for the deaf is naturally going to take a very different turn from one who will simply be a family pet.

West highland white terrier

West highland white terrier

Tastes in terriers run as wide a range as the breeds. Some like the portability and cute look of a little Westie. Others will find their hearts stolen by a miniature schnauzer, with their floppy ears and quizzical look. Still others can’t resist the sweet good nature of an Airedale and enjoy their tall, proud stance and beautiful appearance.

But whether one’s taste runs to the Manchester, looking a lot like a Doberman, or preference is for the tiny Norfolk, there’s a terrier just right for you.

Aug 28

Your Yorkie, The Yorkshire Terrier

Yorkshire Terrier

Yorkshire Terrier

According to the American Kennel Club, the Yorkshire Terrier is one of the most popular breeds. It’s not hard to see why. With its playful attitude and beautiful appearance, Yorkies make the perfect companion, as pet or show dog.

Among the smaller of a mostly small breed (exceptions are terriers like the Airedale), the Yorkshire tops the scales at only about 8-10 lbs (3.6-4.5 kg). He stands only 7-13 inches (15-29 cm) high on average. The head is small, rounded and topped by short V-shaped ears smaller than their Scottish relatives. Yorkshire is an area in northern England, south of the Highlands that were home to Westies and Scotties.

It has a long, smooth coat that is typically tan at the head with black markings between the withers and tail, sometimes with a blue tint. But since they have no undercoat, the long hair is less trouble because Yorkies don’t shed like many other breeds. Small amounts of hair loss is normal with any species that has hair. Shedding is a regular, seasonal process.

But, because the coat is silky and fine it will require regular care to keep it in optimal shape. Since they’re so small that requires much less effort than with many breeds. Trimming is important, though, to keep the hair off the floor and away from the eyes. They also tend to carry less dander and therefore represent a lower risk of producing allergens for those who are sensitive.

Unlike many terriers of their approximate size, such as Cairns or Scotties, they don’t always have the scissor bite of their northern cousins. It may be level. That makes them less of a fighter and more of a lover. They will much less often try to dominate the home the way many other terrier breeds may.

But that attitude, and their small size, means they require a bit more supervision to ensure that larger dogs don’t represent a risk to them. When well socialized they’ll get along well with other dogs in the home as well as the entire family. Some other terrier breeds tend more often to bond with only one or two people in the household.

Still, they have the typical curiosity of any terrier and will investigate the yard and garden whenever possible. ‘Investigation’ often involves digging if they’re left unsupervised. Bred originally to hunt mice and rats, they still retain those instincts in some form.

But that same lively mentality makes them relatively easy to train and they’re happy to take instruction, which they react to as play. Still, like most terriers, they’re fairly independent and can be a little harder to housebreak as puppies.

Treat your Yorkie right and they’ll give you years of love and affection in return.

Aug 28

Scotties, The Scottish Terrier

Scottish Terrier dogs

Scottish Terrier dogs

The Scottish Terrier isn’t the only native breed of its homeland, but it is probably the most recognizable. These stalwart descendants of Scotland are a favorite of so many for good reason.

They’re shorter than even the average short breed terrier, standing only about 10-11 inches (22-25 cm) high. But their proud stance makes them appear taller. The average Scottie weighs only between 19-23 lbs (8.6-10.5 kg), but it’s all muscle. The length from withers (between the shoulder blades) to the tail is typically about 11 inches.

The coat tends to be on the long side if left unclipped. Facial hair in particular can reach several inches off the muzzle, which can represent a problem for non-show dogs. Black dominates, but a few wheaten Scotties are around and brindle coloring (a mixture of black and tan) is not unknown.

Like all terriers, they’re very lively. But the Scottie outdoes many in his desire to romp and play. Developed in the early 18th century near Aberdeen, they were trained to hunt den animals like rabbit, fox and even badger. Though the practice is much less common today, they retain that fierce hunting instinct, where it comes out if they’re challenged.

That behavior can be seen clearly when playing tug, where even the most loyal family dog can become extremely competitive. It may be exhibited also during grooming. Most are not fond of having their nails clipped and will jerk when their feet are touched. A loud, piercing bark signals their desire for dominance and snapping is possible, too. But in calmer circumstances they’re very loving and become closely attached to one or two members of the family.

That focus makes them good watch dogs, but they will sometimes need to be restrained around strangers until they’ve had a chance to adjust. Biting is unlikely, but a healthy warning bark is common.

They’re very quick, surprisingly so for their size given their tiny legs. But they tend to be muscular and strong, a consequence of genetics that is reinforced by their active lifestyle. They rarely want to sit around very long and require lots of exercise to avoid becoming ‘problem children’.

That active nature is nowhere more evident than in their instinct to dig. An unsupervised Scottie can tear up a garden within a few minutes in its search for a gopher. Because of their small size, fencing them out is difficult. For maximum protection – for the garden, local rabbits and the Scottie – low, close-mesh fencing is best. But the yard is at risk, too, so supervision is always best.

Loving but strong-willed they require firm training, but will react negatively to any type of physical punishment. These are not dogs that will cower at the threat of a swat with a newspaper and that type of interaction is strongly discouraged. But because they can be so stubborn, patient training is a must or they’ll come to dominate the household.

Aug 27

Jack Russell Terriers

Jack Russell Terrier

Jack Russell Terrier

Jacks, Jack Russell’s… call them what you will. They are ‘terrier-rific’ by any name. Smart, energetic and always eager to play or work, they make great companions… for anyone with the energy to keep up with them.

Jacks are generally on the small side, averaging about 14 pounds with a chest size roughly 12-14 inches around. Like most terriers, they were originally bred to chase out small game.

They come in different sub-breeds, with tri-colored brown, black and white coats that are either smooth, broken or rough. All can live as long as 15 years or more. The natural tail is straight and held high, one reason they’re often docked to about five inches in length. Then they swing to and fro like little metronomes.

That ‘musical beat’ tends to be pretty rapid, though, as a Jack Russell will chase a cat, squirrel or anything else around in a flash. As a result, it’s best to leash them when they’re not in a safe, enclosed area, such as the backyard.

They enjoy attention, though, so it’s not a good idea to leave them out there on their own for long periods. Like all terriers, they enjoy digging and will quickly destroy any manicured lawn or garden. That instinct can be channeled but not eliminated, and only partly curbed. Bred for centuries to ferret out rabbits, foxes and other small animals, a terrier wants to go down a hole, even if they have to widen it a bit. Jacks are no exception.

That same energy level can get them into trouble in other ways. Since, like most terriers, they’re basically fearless, they will fight with dogs much larger than themselves. The results are not always in their favor. Because of their staunch attitude, some larger breeds will run away. Those that don’t will often get the better of a Jack that picked on a larger dog where the size difference is overwhelming.

But that intrepid attitude also makes them loyal and very protective of their ‘terrier-tory’. While they can be socialized to include other pets in the home, they greet strangers with a wary eye and often a harsh bark. They’re not overly inclined to bite, though, and quickly warm up to people to whom they’re introduced by the ‘alpha’ of the pack (i.e., you).

However, when introducing them to young children or those who are nervous about dogs in general, it’s best to proceed with caution. A chest halter and a firm grip can make the process safe for all participants. Getting down to their level reduces jumping, but take care not to get your face close to a Jack that isn’t well restrained. Bites are unusual, but snapping can still be upsetting.

Like all terriers, they can be trained but their behavior is usually somewhat non-plastic. Unlike, say, a German Shepherd or Golden Retriever, they remain independent and strong-willed even with the best of training. Still, the effort is worthwhile. Neglect training and the alternative is uncomfortably close to a wild animal.

Aug 27

Grooming Your Terrier

West Highland White Terrier

West Highland White Terrier

Because of their great variety, it’s difficult to state grooming tips that apply equally to all terrier breeds. But two broad categories are most common. The long, silky hair of the Yorkie who has no undercoat, for example, requires one technique. The dense undercoat of a Westie implies another.

For those with long, soft coats like the Yorkshire or Skye Terrier regular brushing is a must. Clipping the coat to a length that will keep it off the ground when walking will help, too, but it’s not recommended for show dogs. Stripping and plucking is used instead though pet owners might want the same look.

With a stripping knife held down with the thumb, work the tool over the coat to get out dead hairs and return sheen and smoothness to the coat. Take care not to twist the tool taking live hair, too. Move in the direction of hair growth.

Plucking requires taking dead hair between the thumb and fingers and giving a quick, firm tug. Hold the skin down to prevent discomfort. Select only hairs that are well developed. Young growth is firmly implanted. Left on their own, the older hairs would simply shed out.

Clipping works well for Wire-Haired Fox Terriers, Airedales, Lakelands and similar breeds.

To clip, use a #7 Oster blade down the back, starting at the head and moving toward the tail. Then do the chest, elbows and outer thighs. Here again, move in the direction of hair growth, not against the grain. For Miniature Schnauzers, continue inside the thigh. A #10 blade works well for trimming ears, the muzzle and the crown. Eyebrows can be trimmed with a pair of rounded-end scissors.

A pair of thinning shears can make short work of that wiry, coarse coat so common on the above-mentioned terriers. Combined with a good comb, you can work your way over the dense areas rapidly. Use the rounded-end scissors again to work your way around the ears, inside and out.

A wire-toothed comb will help stimulate skin, remove dead skin cells and undo tangles. Work slowly in parts that resist, then give a firm stroke to areas that cooperate. To remove really stubborn mats, use extreme caution and clip the mat away by holding it out from the skin and working the scissors in between the skin and mat. For those close to the skin, snip a small portion at a time and work the hair out gradually.

Whenever possible, perform the procedure on a table or platform. A sturdy kitchen table, well covered, is one possibility. Even a section of plywood over the bathtub, covered with a non-stick rubber mat, can help. Dog grooming tables are available for purchase.

The idea is to use a solid raised surface so you get plenty of light and can walk around to see the dog from different angles. Professional setups typically have a halter attached to the platform to prevent movement. With high-energy terriers, which is all of them, that can be a big help.

Aug 27

Fox Terriers

Fox Terriers

Fox Terriers

Fox terriers are among the oldest type of a very varied breed. Once used most often for hunting fox and other game, they’re now primarily pets. And what great pets they are, too!

The name actually refers to two fairly different looking terriers, the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Wire-Haired. There are sub-breeds, though, such as the Toy Terrier. Both tend to be about 14-16 inches high and weigh 15-20 pounds. The Wire-Haired is on average a little larger than the Smooth. Well cared for and in the absence of any major illnesses they can live 15 years or more.

Smooth Fox Terriers are, like the name suggests, a smooth-haired coat variety, which is usually made up of a white base with a black or brown saddle. The head is typically brown, topped by floppy but not loose ears, often with a white-tipped muzzle. The body is short, but somewhat stocky.

Wire-haired Terriers, by contrast, often have much less distinct markings, with the colored portion (which can be grayish or black) blending into the white. Partly, this appearance is the result of the curly hair. The face is often tan. The ears are often more sturdy than the Smooth Fox type.

All share a common ancestry and so the behavior of contemporary Fox Terriers is similar. They’re high energy, alert and smart. As hunting dogs, they would spot game, run it into a hole, then stay for the hunter to close in. The modern form of that behavior is still on display. They’ll chase a cat in a heartbeat. Squirrels should beware when a Fox Terrier is nearby.

That behavior can’t be eliminated, but with training it can be shaped. Because they’re intelligent and eager to please, they enjoy a good challenge. An obstacle course is a good idea for these active dogs. When they’re not allowed to exercise those high spirits, many will engage in undesirable behavior.

They will pick a fight with much larger dogs. Because of their assertiveness, some big dogs will flee. But equally aggressive dogs that are larger will often get the better of the exchange. Outside an enclosed area walking on a leash is always a good idea. Like all terriers, they love to dig.

When they get the attention they crave, they make very loving and loyal companions and can be trained to carry out tasks. The dog in the famous Thin Man films (Asta) was a small, wire-haired fox terrier.

When introduced young to other pets in the home, whether dogs or cats, they can often get along well. But long-bred-in instincts are hard to overcome and the limits should not be pressed. Keep hamsters and others at a safe distance. Fox terrier behavior can be shaped, but training will not erase the odds of them going after a small pet. They’re loving and loyal to their intimate friend, but will generally always be a little stubborn.

Aug 27

Common Diseases Among Terriers

Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terrier

Because the group of terrier breeds is so diverse it’s difficult to find a single set of diseases common to all. Even calling a condition common is a little misleading, since it means only that it tends to occur more often within that breed. It does not mean that most individuals get that disease.

That said, here are a few things to watch out for when buying a terrier puppy or caring for your dog…

von Willebrand’s Disease

Also referred to as vWD, von Willebrand’s disease is an inherited condition that may lead to excessive bleeding, similar to hemophilia in humans. The absence of a certain protein may cause some dogs to bleed profusely when their quicks are nipped during nail grooming, for example. But it can occur at other times, producing bloody urine, bleeding at the gums and nose, and elsewhere.

Several breeds can have the condition, with pure breds at greater risk than those of mixed parentage. Jack Russells acquire vWD, but less often than others. It’s more common in Scottish Terriers and Miniature Schnauzers.

Testing prospective parents can help avoid the production of new puppies with this genetic disorder.

Legg-Perthes Disease

Another condition that has a strong genetic component, Legg-Perthes causes the tip of the femur (the thigh bone) to degenerate. The result is pain and a limping gait. While it occurs in only a small percentage of individuals, it’s most common among Yorkshires. The cause is thought to be insufficient circulation around the hip joint more common in these than in other terrier breeds.

When it does occur, it’s most likely to be seen within the first 6-8 months of life. Surgical treatment can usually correct the condition, though, by removing the affected portion of the bone. Fibrous tissue then forms, which prevents the wear on the joint. The procedure does, however, leave the dog with a slightly shorter leg so it should be discussed thoroughly with your vet.

Patellar Luxation

Patellar luxation is another genetic defect more often found in Yorkies than other terriers. Their weaker ligaments and tendons supporting the knee joint can cause the cap to slip out of the V-shaped groove in which it naturally lies.

The result is considerable pain and lameness. A similar condition can occur to humans and any who have suffered from it can report that it is very uncomfortable. Here again, surgery can correct the defect, often with excellent results. However, the procedure doesn’t strengthen the components that help hold the joint in place. Affected dogs should maintain a less vigorous lifestyle than otherwise.

Heart Disease

Terriers can suffer from various heart ailments, most of them the result of a genetic defect.

While unlikely, cardiomyopathy is one of the more common. This abnormality of the heart muscle can lead to lung edema (fluid into the lung). One of the symptoms is weakness during mild exercise. It occurs in Jack Russells and others. In other diseases, valves may not open and close properly, causing abnormal blood flow. American Staffordshire Terriers are somewhat more prone than others to this defect. Among Bull Terriers aortic stenosis is more common.

Like many other breeds, worms can be responsible for heart problems if proper vaccination schedules haven’t been followed. That can affect any breed. A series of heart tests is always wise when any heart malfunction is suspected.

Most terriers, at least until old age when many body systems weaken, will lead healthy lives. They’re energetic and have great endurance. Simply be on the lookout for any unusual dampening of those high spirits and seek professional advice when they occur.

Aug 27

Cairns and Westies, Highland Terriers

West highland white terrier

West highland white terrier

The Cairn Terrier and the West Highland Terrier or Westies are close cousins, and related also to their Highland neighbor: the Scottie.


The Cairn is closest to the original breed developed in the Highlands of Scotland over 200 years ago. These intrepid small dogs would chase small game from cairns (rock piles) and generally help in the hunt. Today, that behavior has changed to take on new challenges, but the instinct remains.

They retain the large feet and teeth of their ancestors, but the latter are rarely used to harm these days. They’re feisty but among the friendlier terriers to strangers and other small animals. They may chase a cat, but rarely try to harm one.

They strongly resemble their Scottie cousins, but tend to be a little taller, reaching 12-14 inches (31.5 cm) on average and weighing up to 18 lbs (8 kg). The ears are pointy and erect, always alert to their surroundings. The eyes reflect that same attention to the environment.

They make perfect traveling pets, but long car trips should be punctuated with occasional walks to let them work off some of their perpetual energy. Fortunately, they’re easily trained and respond quickly to requests without the excessive willfulness common to some terrier breeds.


Westies are a close relative, but their coat is typically all white, as distinguished from the black or brown of their cousins. The topcoat is straight over a dense undercoat so they will shed somewhat and regular grooming is important to keep them in optimal health.

During the 18th and 19th centuries when the breed was being developed, their white coat was selected for since it helped distinguish them clearly from game during a hunt. A brown terrier in flight can resemble a fleeing fox from a distance.

A bit smaller than the Cairn from whom they descended, they tend to range from 10-12 inches (22.5-26 cm) but weigh anywhere from 15-20 lbs (6.8-9 kg). Females, as is usual, are a bit lighter and shorter.

Despite their natural high energy, Westies (like virtually all dogs) sleep a lot more than people, anywhere from 13-15 hours out of 24, though longer is not abnormal. They’ll sleep through the night usually, taking dog naps throughout the daytime.

But when they’re up, they’re up. They love a good walk and play comes as naturally to them as to children. Lack of exercise can lead to behavior problems, so though they live well indoors make sure they get plenty.

They love companionship but can tolerate stretches of time alone, since they tend to be a little on the independent side. Given the proper environment – the right toys and a safe area – they can amuse themselves for long intervals. Like all terriers, though, they were bred to hunt and digging will occur with unsupervised dogs. Take care that your garden isn’t accessible.

Jul 28

Training Your Terrier

American Staffordshire Terriers

American Staffordshire Terriers

Smart, really smart. That’s a good description of just about any terrier. That fact would suggest they should be easy to train. Unfortunately, they’re also stubborn, really stubborn. Bred to be independent, fearless and intrepid, the terrier is a natural high-energy dog. But they can be and should be trained.

It will take considerable patience. That’s true of any training program for any breed, but it goes double or triple where terriers are concerned. A contest of wills with a terrier will rarely result in satisfaction to dog or human. They like to do what they like to do, not necessarily what you want them to do. The trick is to make those two things the same.

Terriers love to play. They love attention. They have endless energy for chasing, running, jumping and more. Those attributes are your keys to training your terrier without strangling him or yourself out of frustration.

Whether Scottie, Westie, Jack Russell or any of the other dozens of terrier breeds, find something your individual dog wants. Then, make sure he understands that to get it he has to cooperate. That ‘thing he wants’ can be attention, a ball, the freedom to play or a wide variety of other things, including all of the above. But every terrier wants something.

Sit, stay and other basic routine dog training moves will come with difficulty when working with most terriers. As independent, high-energy dogs, sit and stay are not behaviors they enjoy. But they will ‘trade’ a successful move for something they want.

Take care not to depend on treats to get the desired behavior, though. Most terriers can easily become overweight and have an imbalanced diet when treats become too numerous and frequent. Instead, use a clicker or a finger snap or other attention getting method, then reward with high praise and lots of love. Most terriers are friendly and enjoy attention and good cheer. You’ll get much farther with positive than negative reinforcement with terriers.

An expandable obstacle course makes for an excellent training aid with terriers. Because they love to burrow, jump and have fun, setting up different stations and working with them gradually increases the odds of success. Introducing your Jack Russell or Wire-Haired Fox Terrier first to a low barrier, then a tunnel, then a short maze can satisfy them.

They enjoy jumping the barrier, wiggling through the tunnel and working through the maze to satisfy their curiosity. That engages their need for activity, works with their historically bred-in nature and exercises their native intelligence.

Having realistic expectations will help curb your frustration. Unlike German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers or some other breeds, terriers don’t automatically want to do what you ask. But, like strong-willed children, they can be led to when they perceive the task as connected to something they want to gain.

Jun 28

Working Terriers

American Staffordshire Terrier

American Staffordshire Terrier

Terriers were bred from their very beginnings to perform services. In Great Britain that often took the form of breeding programs to produce a dog that would hunt fox, chase badgers or kill rats. While those activities still take place, the average modern terrier’s working life has changed a great deal.

In many instances, their role is simply that of a watchdog. Many, as diverse as the Staffordshire Pit Bull Terrier or the Fox Terrier perform that function extremely well. Territorial and loyal to the family they bond with early in life, they will guard a home and alert at the first sound of a stranger.

As with any watchdog, a terrier needs to be trained to perform that job correctly, of course. Snapping at random strangers can lead to problems that are larger than the ones they were intended to solve. Acting as a barrier to intruders is good. Forbidding the plumber to come into the house when the basement is flooding is not.

American Staffordshire Terrier

American Staffordshire Terrier

American Pit Bull Terriers are often found among professional working dogs. They’re used by the Border Patrol, DEA and other government police organizations. They are extremely strong, have great endurance and can track well when trained properly. For many of the same reasons, they’re often used as police dogs where they may see duty as narcotics or explosives sniffers.

But even for people requiring gentler services, the terrier can often be a terrific working dog.

Bred to chase small game, they can perform well as a gopher or rat catcher. Cairns, Jack Russells and others do this naturally. The only challenge, and it’s not always a small one, is to train them to stop before they’ve dug up the entire yard. There again, without proper guidance, the solution can be worse than the problem.

Farmers often employ terriers to control grey foxes, raccoons, ground hogs and others that prey on chickens and geese. The prey often survives to be relocated to a safer area and life goes on for all. Jack Russells, Fox Terriers and other smaller terrier breeds are used, since the key is a chest circumference no larger than the animals they chase in order to get inside burrows.

The terrier is still put to work in hunting. They’re not retrievers by nature but they can locate and alert with the best of them. They can trap with ease small game, such as rabbits and fox – no mean feat given how alert and quick are these prey animals.

Still, more peaceful pursuits are possible with a well-trained terrier. Many are high-energy, but that nature can be put to good use. Though most are too small to serve as effectively as other breeds as guide dogs for the blind, some make first-rate service dogs for the deaf. With their intelligence and keen attention to the right stimuli, they may alert someone to a ringing phone, a visitor at the door or just someone entering the yard.