Terriers are typically energetic, feisty and independent. The American Kennel Club recognizes 40 terrier breeds, 30 of them in the terrier group. Today's terriers' ancestors were mainly bred for hunting and killing vermin. A few breeds performed pest control and other jobs around the farm. Others are bull-and-terrier types, dogs bred for bull baiting and pit fighting. Some miniature terriers are in the AKC's toy group. Terriers, whatever their type, make lively and fun pets for owners who have the experience and determination to match their terriers' personalities.
The Vermin Hunters
Most terriers were bred for pest control and may not be safe for other small pets. Some were ratters, like the miniature schnauzer; others, including border terriers and fox terriers, hunted underground. Digging out prey is instinctive; so gardeners beware. Bedlington and Manchester terriers were bred for speed, used to hunt rabbits. English coal miners raced their Bedlingtons for sport. Designed to work alone, terriers tend to be independent, tenacious dogs. This can be a challenge for their owners. But terriers can be quick learners if their training is lively, challenging and fun. Other examples of vermin hunters are Parson Russel terriers, cairn terriers, lakeland terriers, West Highland white terriers and Scottish terriers.
All-Around Farm Dogs
Some terriers were bred for other roles on the farm. The Irish terrier, the Kerry blue and the tallest terrier, the Airedale, were guard dogs and versatile hunters. Soft-coated wheatens -- gentler than most terriers and good with other pets -- were hunters, guards and herders. In wartime, Irish terriers and Airedales were messengers and sentinels. Airedales were among the first breeds trained for police work. They're protective of their families. The smaller Glen of Imaal terriers allegedly were "turnspit dogs" who ran in exercise wheels that turned spits over kitchen fires. According to "The Dog Breed Bible," Glen of Imaal terriers have a lot of stamina, but they
tend to be less excitable than most terriers.
The Tough Guys
In the past, the bull-and-terrier types were used for bull baiting and dog fighting. They include the American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, the bull terrier and miniature bull terrier. Boston terriers were also originally bred for fighting. The bull-and-terrier types are powerful and tough, and they can be aggressive with other dogs. They can be stubborn but are usually biddable. Staffordshire bull terriers tend to be people-friendly dogs who get on well with children. Bull terriers are typically affectionate and devoted to their human families. All the bull-and-terrier breeds can make good pets, but they need experienced owners.
The Toy Terriers
The six toy terriers are typically energetic, playful, inquisitive and bold -- everything a terrier should be. While most toy terriers were bred to hunt small rodents, some also became companions. Affenpinschers, from Germany, were ladies' lap dogs who kept homes free of mice. Toy fox terriers in the United States were family pets adept at controlling small rodents. Yorkshire terriers caught rats in clothing mills in the 19th century but later became European high society companions. They are popular pets today. Other members of the toy group include Australia's silky terrier, the bold miniature pinscher and the toy Manchester terrier. Toy Manchester terriers tend to be gentle, sensitive pooches, but they retain all their hunting instincts.