Jun 28

The Terrier Temperament

West Highland Terrier

West Highland Terrier

Like any group of breeds, terriers share some common attitudes. At the same time, any individual dog is just that, an individual. This mix of similarities and differences defines the terrier temperament.

Jack Russells, for example, are high-energy, high-activity dogs – as are Scotties, Westies and many more terrier breeds. Still, many of their characteristics are different. Jack Russells are taller, short-haired, with different coloring than a Scottish Terrier or his West Highland cousin. At the same time, they all have that intelligence, tenaciousness and fearless demeanor common to so many terriers.

Within those broad outlines individual dogs will vary in ways other than coloring, height and so on. Nature plays a large role in providing terriers with a certain form and attitude. But nurture is still significant. The experiences an individual has early in life matter a great deal.

This mixture comes out most clearly during training. Like all dogs to one degree or another, terriers can be trained. Fox Terriers and Yorkies alike have starred in films, seen service as game hunters and more. Training can shape and channel behavior.

It’s best to have realistic expectations when training terriers. That strong-willed spirit is never going away. It can be molded, but attempting to suppress it can only result in unhappiness for the dog and trainer. Dogs can ‘act out’ like children who are unfairly punished. The person becomes frustrated along with the dog. Working with the terrier’s nature, not against it, is the way out of the dilemma.

‘High energy’ can result in a restless dog who often gets into trouble, simply out of boredom or lack of direction. Training can redirect those high spirits into more acceptable and even productive behavior. That can cover anything from being an efficient rat catcher (one traditional role for terriers) to simply enjoying directed play in the park with a human companion.

Within the different breeds there are differences of temperament, too. Yorkies are typically more friendly than, say, Pit Bull Terriers. But within a breed there are still individual dogs, and their temperament can vary widely. Even with the best training methods and practice possible, individual dogs will react, well, individually.

Some will learn more quickly than others. Some will be naturally more wary of strangers, others more spontaneously friendly. Some will be content to be alone for longer periods. Others will want a great deal of attention. Some will bond tightly with a particular family member. Other dogs will be happy in the presence of anyone in ‘their pack’.

Training will have a limited effect in those circumstances. It’s easy to produce a terrier with a defective personality, or one that feels abused. But even the most loving training won’t eliminate individual traits. Nurture is important. Nature is at least as much so. But, like people, at the end of the day neither accounts fully for the result. Every terrier isn’t just a Cairn or an Airedale or a Kerry Blue. He (or she) is Fido, or Scott, or Asta, the individual.

May 28

Your Terrier

Playing With BallSaying you have a terrier doesn’t tell a bystander much. They’re among the broadest group of breeds around. They range everywhere from a tiny toy Yorkie to the huge Airedale, from the scrappy but small Westie to the sometimes sweet, sometimes ferocious American Pit Bull Terrier.

In between are a whole smorgasbord of breeds. Jack Russells remain a great favorite, thanks to their happy nature and endless energy. Cairns and Scotties retain their ranks near the top, thanks to a good dose of Scottish charm and their stellar good looks. Fox Terriers, whether Wire-Haired or Smooth, are another breed that captures the hearts of many, just as the famous Asta did decades ago in the Thin Man films.

Most of these breeds began over 200 years ago as working terriers, developed to hunt game, control rat populations or chase off varmints. The attributes that were selected for to produce the needed behavior – fearlessness, endless endurance, great strength in a small size and others – have sometimes come back to haunt modern owners. Terriers can be a trial.

Their temperament remains all these generations later. The sometimes stubborn, but always-ready-for-play attitude can make training a mixed endeavor. Terriers, even more so than the average, require great patience and persistence. The rewards are great, though. Terriers are extremely loyal. They bond well with their family or special person.

They do require a moderate amount of care, however. Long-haired, silky Yorkies need regular brushing. But they have no undercoat so shedding is minimal. The dense undercoat and rough fur of a Kerry Blue, similarly, will take regular clipping and good treatment to keep the dog in good condition.

Because they’re so competitive and high-energy, many terriers won’t take well to regular hair and nail grooming, either. More so than most breeds, it’s important to establish early in their lives that you are the alpha dog and will allow no rebellion.

To help with that task, modern dog owners are lucky in having an array of gear at their disposal. For some individual dogs a simple but sturdy collar and leash is enough. Many others will need, for their sake and yours, a strong chest halter and maybe even a muzzle.

Caring for them requires that form of security, but it also means taking great precautions with their diet. Some breeds have sensitive stomachs. The Boston Terrier is an example that demonstrates this more clearly than most. They’re not alone, though. More than one Yorkie has frustrated its owner by requiring considerable research to find just the right food.

Some terrier breeds are also more prone than others to certain diseases, such as cardiomyopathy and von Willebrand’s disease. On the whole, all dog diseases are relatively rare (today, at least, thankfully). But terriers come in for their share or perhaps a little more.

Still, despite all the challenges of housebreaking, training, grooming and diet owning a terrier is one of the most rewarding options for those seeking a dog. That is, at least according to those who should know best: their human companions.

May 28

The Terrier Diet

Puppy eatingSince the terrier breeds are so varied, their diet is also variable. That’s even more true when considering the individual. But like any dog diet, there are similarities that run across all.

Dogs were historically descendant from wolves. As such, they were primarily carnivores, or meat eaters. But they’re also somewhat like scavengers and can consume some vegetables or plant material without harm. The net result is that a diet suited to their needs can well be a mixture of meats and grains.

Take care with grains, though. Some individual terriers are prone to wheat or corn allergies although this is less common than in other breeds, such as Golden Retrievers. Commercial dry kibbles that contain wheat gluten are fine for most. But animal meal – chicken, lamb or beef – should be the main ingredient.

Any quality commercial dog food will have the proper balance of nutrients that terriers need. Though many terrier owners prefer to cook their dog’s food themselves, the reasons are often less based on good science than personal values.

It is possible to feed a raw or cooked diet from available ingredients, but it requires great care and expertise in order to ensure the meal is healthy for a terrier. Just as one element to consider, prepared meals don’t contain the proven-safe preservatives that make food last without spoilage. That means anything prepared has to be served within a few days at most, unless it’s frozen, which adds to the effort required.

Creating a dog meal that contains the right mix of protein, fat and vitamins is a challenge. Getting the proportions right is even more difficult. It’s possible, but few will devote the time and effort to do objective research, much less the added task of actually preparing meals correctly.

Boston Terriers, for example, who don’t get the proper diet can become flatulent. That represents not only an unpleasant odor for the owner, but is uncomfortable and unsafe for the dog. As in humans, it represents an inability to completely digest certain substances. Unlike humans, though, dogs’ stomachs are more sensitive to failure and there aren’t the wide range of over the counter remedies to alleviate discomfort.

Such stomach difficulties are not limited to a mild discomfort in many cases, as it may be in humans, but is more often a real health risk, particularly in smaller breeds. More seriously, dogs rarely convey clearly what is ailing them. Play it safe and, unless you can commit to developing a diet on your own based on sound nutritional science, rely on your vet’s recommendation.

That recommendation will almost always be in favor of a commercially prepared kibble and/or soft meat food. Most will tell you to look for a dog food with a ratio of about 40% meat meal and no more than 30% vegetable, with the remainder starches and fats. Vets are not just providing commercial dog food companies with free advertising, since they make only a small profit, if any, from them. Their concern is for the welfare of your dog first and foremost. As, undoubtedly, is yours.

Feb 27

Gear For You and Your Terrier

Scottish Terrier

Scottish Terrier

The first tool any terrier owner will need is a collar/leash or halter. Terriers are independent, high-energy dogs and being restrained is not their favorite mode. But for their safety and that of others a sturdy restraint is a must.

For some smaller breeds like Yorkies or Skyes a collar and leash might well be good enough. Provided they’re sized properly to prevent these clever dogs from slipping out, that can work well. Whether nylon or leather, they will provide the security you need.

Larger breeds, such as the Airedale, or even those who may be shorter but still very strong like an American Pit Bull Terrier, will typically do better with a chest halter.

A Staffordshire Bull Terrier, for example, has a fairly broad chest for a shorter dog. Yet, it has tremendous pulling strength. It’s under such circumstances that an unbreakable chest halter is both easy on the dog and yet still gives the owner needed control.

Nylon straps with good plastic clips may work, given how strong these modern materials have become. But leather straps connected with metal rings are a sure bet.

For many individual dogs, especially those trained as watchdogs or working terriers, it can be very useful to have a muzzle. In fact, some counties, states or countries allow certain terrier breeds in public only when they are muzzled.

Like halters and leashes, muzzles come in a wide range of materials and designs. Many are leather, but even with that material there is a large variation. Any that doesn’t block the nose for easy breathing and prevents snapping is acceptable.

Some designs take the concept a step further and have a kind of metal-rod cage that fits to the leather. These have the advantage that not only do they prevent snapping, but they allow easy breathing and even treats to be passed in. However, they may not be suitable when young children are nearby, since small fingers can easily pass through the ‘bars’.

On the more fun side, for owner and dog, play toys are a practical necessity for terriers. They like nothing so much as play, play, play. Here, there is a world of things to choose from.

Strong fabric ‘bones’ with knots at both ends are great for playing tug, which many terriers love. But take care with certain breeds, such as Scotties, that can become very competitive during a game. It’s still important for you to be the alpha of the pack.

New synthetics offer a lot to choose from. French linen puppy bite tugs are small rectangular ‘pillows’, often with short looped rope handles. They make for great aids to provide that assertive terrier with something to struggle for while giving you control over the game.

Terriers, like any dog breed, will also benefit from chew toys that offer a means of cleaning tartar from their teeth. Take care to size the rawhide or synthetic bone properly, though. Ones too small can easily be swallowed by larger breeds. Those that are too large eliminate the benefit for smaller dogs, since they’ll generally ignore the chew toy.

Nov 21

American Pit Bull Terrier

American Pit Bull Terrier

American Pit Bull Terrier

The American Pit Bull terrier is quite a bit different from his smaller relatives. The product of an historical cross between the Bulldog and Terrier carried out in the UK in the mid-1800s they are a bit of both. The combination, though, is a unique dog.

They typically weigh between 45-60 lbs (20-27 kg) and stand 20-24 inches (45-54cm) tall at the shoulder. The coat is usually short, dense, and beige or gray, though white is far from unknown. Their lifespan is about 10-12 years on average, given good care. They’re muscular and seek exercise to keep them not only fit but calm. The eyes are somewhat triangular.

These fighting dogs were bred for ferocity, strength and fearlessness – qualities highly valued in hunting and illegal sports, such as bull-baiting and dog fights. Because of their fierce reputation, not always justified, they’re illegal to sell or breed in the UK and Canada. Many areas of the U.S. and Australia allow ownership but place restrictions on use, such as requiring a muzzle when the dog is out in public.

But the breed is a mixture in ways other than its ancestry. Selective breeding practices aimed to eliminate aggressive behavior toward people, while retaining it toward other animals. Yet, as a watchdog, the opposite attitude is preferred. As a result, training an American Pit Bull Terrier requires care and consistency.

While their reputation as being dangerous to people is often overstated, attacking strangers is not unknown. In the case of this breed, the training regime plays a large role in outcome. That’s somewhat unlike many other terrier breeds where the training shapes behavior but the dog retains much of its instinctive behavior regardless.

Fortunately, like any dog, American Pit Bull Terriers can definitely be trained and trained well. They’re extremely athletic, intelligent and have tremendous endurance. They’re outstanding on the obstacle course and perform well as Border Patrol or Police dogs where they’re often used for drug or explosive sniffing duties.

Because of their strength and intelligence, they may also get ‘jobs’ providing services to the deaf, where they help keep their companion out of harm’s way. Today, their usual role is often much more mainstream. They are frequently used as watchdogs, a job they do extremely well.

While they can be aggressive, many owners know that their personal pet is loving, loyal and even friendly. American Pit Bull Terriers can enjoy play and will chase a ball or Frisbee until long after the human is worn out. This again is evidence of a flexible nature, highly influenced by training and early experiences in the dog’s life.