Introduction to the Terrier Group and Different Terrier Breeds

Why choose a breed from the Terrier Group?

An exploration of the different terrier breeds offers a fascinating insight into a significant chapter of man’s relationship with dogs. Terriers represent an excitingly varied and popular group.

Although they largely originated in Great Britain these tough and loyal breeds have spread across the globe. The sub-grouping of dogs called pit bulls also fall into this group.

This type of dog has been working alongside humans in pastoral settings for a very long time. They were originally adapted to hunt the smaller wildlife indigenous in places like Britain.

But the legacy of this is a range of bright, alert and inquisitive pets. Most of the terrier types were shrunk to optimize them for hunting and flushing out prey underground. But in terms of temperament, loyalty and ferocious loyalty all terriers remain larger than life.

These dogs never complain and are stoic in the face of illness or injury. They generally do not shed much so are low maintenance in terms of grooming. They make a good companion for active individuals or families as they enjoy plenty of exercise. They also generally do not take up much space

They can be distracted by scents and this combined with their inquisitive natures means they can disappear off leash. So recall training will be a priority. But they can be trained to a very good standard and learn a range of commands due to their intelligence and eagerness to please.

Different Terrier Breeds

What are Terriers?
Characteristics and Temperaments of Terrier Dogs
Examples of different Terrier Breeds:
Airedale Terrier
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Fox Terrier
Border Terrier
Owning a breed from the Terrier Group
List of Terrier Breeds

What are Terriers?

Introduction to different Terrier breeds - the 'earth-workers'
Terrier means ‘earth-workers’ in Latin and these dogs that like to get their paws (and everything else) dirty

Terriers are small, sturdy and alert.  They descended from dogs bred to hunt small animals such as badgers, rats, rabbits and foxes.  These dogs were small enough to bait them out of their underground homes.  In fact, it is this function which gave rise to the name.  The Romans, who brought them over to Britain, called these types of dogs  ‘terrarii’  or “earth-workers”. 

Any idea that the name is based on their owners labelling them “little terrors” is nothing but a cruel rumor!

These dogs became prized during the 18th and 19th centuries when many terriers were transposed off the land into industrial heartlands. Here they would prove adept and efficient in clearing factories and coal mines of rodent pests. Even to this day some Terrier breeds are still used for ratting.   Later on some breeds were bred with longer legs to diversify into other farm duties.  These included hunting fast prey above ground or protecting farm animals.

In Great Britain the different kinds of Terriers were very much working men’s dogs.  They were often named for the area from which they were originally derived.   A notable example of this is the Yorkshire Terrier.  This tradition has continued in the states with the redoubtable Boston Terrier (internal link)

But their main role in our lives today as wonderful companions in the home.  There are many different Terrier breeds but they are all generally spirited and gentle.  You won’t find these dogs malingering or crying off on the sofa. Terriers are hardy little dogs who are very stoic in the unfortunate case of injury or illness. 

Characteristics and Temperaments of Terrier Dogs

Different Terrier Breeds - Greyfriars Bobby the Skye Terrier
A tear-jerking story of ultimate canine loyalty – The statue of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier, in Edinburgh

Given their hunting background, it is no surprise that Terriers are generally full of energy, tenacity and playfulness.  They are very nimble dogs and highly intelligent.   They make excellent pets, particularly if you have children in the family. They can be constantly on the go, enjoying a variety of outdoor games with balls and Frisbees.  They are also always scanning for something to chew.   It might also come as no surprise that these dogs enjoy digging.  So beware if you have a nicely manicured lawn!

Although generally small they are hugely self-confident, you might even say indomitable.  They are not shy to make their feelings known to larger dogs without any sense of fear or favor. Benji, my very large old English Sheepdog has a deep ingrained respect for terriers who always put him firmly in his place.

These dogs are full of energy and might need a little extra effort in keeping their focus when training.  But they are not uncooperative and can be trained to the highest standards of behavior.   Of course, as with all dogs, they need early socialization.

They are also unquestionably and fiercely loyal.  It is a little Skye Terrier in Edinburgh called ‘GrayFriars Bobby’ who became a watch-word for unwavering devotion. Following his owner’s death he spent 14 years guarding his grave.  He refused to leave the churchyard of Greyfriars in Edinburgh.  If you visit Edinburgh you can see a little statue of him (pictured above).  His story also became the subject of a heart-warming film which is a must-see for any dog fan [1].

Examples of different terrier breeds

The following offers a mere flavor of the group as whole.  We have listed an overview of some popular kinds of Terriers.   As you will notice many of the following breeds have heritage linked to other groups and breeds.  These combinations have produced some lovely dogs.  But, for more detailed information on the breeds sketched below and others, please refer to our breed guide.

Airedale Terrier

Different Terrier Breeds - The Airedale
Make way for the king – The Airedale ‘King of Terriers’

Background and History

It would have been rude not to start with the dog known as the King of Terriers.  These dogs are the largest of the Terrier breeds. They take their name from Aire Valley in Yorkshire, England.  

They fall into the long-legged variety of terrier and are the result of crossbreeding the Otterhound with terriers during the nineteenth century.  This resulted in a rounded dog able to hunt on land and flush out prey in water. It consequently became known as the Waterside Terrier but the name Airedale Terrier started to become more common in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.

This breed’s intelligent adaptability made them tremendous assets in war.  The breed has deservedly been commemorated for their outstanding contribution in WW1 [3].  They were adept at finding injured soldiers on the battlefield. The medical packs on their backs saved many lives. They were also frequently running messages through the trenches.  They proved excellent sentries and were alert to any furtive approaches of the enemy. The time-honored function of the terrier also proved useful.  These dogs were invaluable in ridding the trenches and  living quarters of rats!

This breed is placed at the intelligent end of this smart group of breeds and were judged by Stanly Coren as overall the 29th most intelligent breed of dog [2].

They deservedly remain a popular breed of dog. They are currently ranked as the 69th most popular breed according to the AKC’s 2020 registration data.

Character and Temperament

The Airedale Terrier is a tenacious, sturdy and athletic dog.  They enjoy chasing around at every opportunity, are very good swimmers and love being in water.  Though this comes as little surprise considering their Otterhound heritage.  

What makes Airedale Terriers so impressive is their versatility.  They were highly prized on farms as all-rounders during hunting (here they rub shoulders with the HRP dogs in the Sporting Group).  They can fulfil all the functions of other dog specialists.  The Airedale Terrier is an adequate pointer.  This means they can spot or find prey.  Also, like spaniels can flush this prey out.  Finally, in place of retrievers, they are able to carry quite large game back to their owners.  

In terms of sentry duty in the modern home these dogs are good watchdogs. They will bark an alarm and are protective towards members of the family

Another advantage of this breed is that they are easy to groom.  Their wiry coat, designed to protect them during their hunting duties over land and water, does not shed very much.  Even if their digging makes a mess of your garden or yard, at least they will not drop too much hair around the house.

For more detailed information on the Airedale Terrier and other breeds please visit our breed guide.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier (aka “Staffie”)

Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Staffordshire Bull Terrier – The ‘Nanny Dog’

Background and History

Like other Terriers the forebears of these dogs became popular for their skill in the gruesome sport of rat killing in England during the 1800s. Sadly at this time dog fighting also became popular among the working classes. The Bulldog (internal link) had gained reputation as a strong and powerful dog used in Bull baiting. This became the ideal founding dog for a breed designed for the pit. Breeders combined the strength of the Bulldog with the speed and killer instincts of the terrier. The result was the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Fortunately humane laws were introduced in 1835 in the United Kingdom which led to the demise of these cruel sports although sadly they continued to some extent underground.

But without dog-fighting, the continuation of this breed was threatened. A group of enthusiasts managed to rescue the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and gain them the acceptance of the UK Kennel club which officially recognized them as a breed in 1935.

They are currently ranked as the 82nd most popular breed according to AKC 2020 registration data. They fare even better in the UK and are ranked as the 9th most popular breed. Although sadly they prove difficult to rehome due to their appearance and an unearned reputation [1].

Character and Temperament

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a much-loved dog in both the United Kingdom and the USA.  

The Stafffie was originally bred to have all the strength and sturdiness of a Bulldog (link) combined  with the killer instincts of terriers (link).  Sadly the intention was to produce a breed designed  for dog-fighting and bull-baiting.

However, with any well-socialized Staffie these cruel origins are long-forgotten.  This brutal and sad origin story is nearly untraceable except in the sturdy and muscular build.  In fact many owners report that the only time these  tactile dogs fight is to get on to the laps of their owners.  A far cry from the bear pits of yesteryear!

But this is not to suggest these dogs are docile. Like all terrier-based dogs they can be excitable and energetic (link).  This little dynamos require consistent recall training.  Otherwise you may not curb their enthusiasm to run wild.

This strong, brave and intelligent dog offers another very successful Bulldog (link) and Terrier cross.  The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is  very affectionate and loyal.  However, they can be distraught and destructive when left alone without sensitive and consistent training. Early training to soften separation anxiety is highly recommended.   This should be prioritized amongst other socialization strategies.

Staffies are very people-oriented. This springs from the fact that they were bred to fight against other dogs but at the same time to be compliant with their handlers. But Staffies take their friendliness ot humans to another level.  You might find your walks punctuated with them stopping to say a warm hello to other human passersby.  They do get on with other dogs, but definitely prefer humans.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are good with children.  This is how they gained the nickname of “nanny dogs”.  This reflected their protectiveness towards smaller members of the family.

It is ironic and sad that Staffies count as one of the most rejected dog breeds for rehoming.   This is due to very shallow judgements made on their ‘aggressive and frightening appearance’ [4].

It is true that if you have small pets then you might want to be careful about introducing any Terrier-based dog into your home.  This is particularly true if the dog has not yet been fully trained and socialized.

But Staffies are wonderful dogs when given the chance of a loving home.  Any dog-owner who has met them during walks can vouch for their lovely, affable nature.

For more detailed information on the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and other breeds please visit our breed guide.

Fox Terrier

Different Terrier Breeds - The Fox Terrier
The foxiest of the terriers – the one on the right can also claim to be pretty smooth

Background and History

Yes, the clue is in the title.  The Fox Terrier offers a more leggy terrier, in fact it is the second tallest breed in the Terrier group after the Airedale Terrier . Like others in this group it was bred for hunting vermin, rabbits and foxes during the nineteenth century. But this breed  was an optimal size to be an all-rounder in hunting.  Not only was it small enough to run foxes to earth, but at the same time was able to keep pace with hounds during the chase.  

Like all terriers this breed also proved invaluable in removing vermin on farms.

The smooth and wire-haired versions were not distinguished and continued to interbreed until relatively recently. In 1985 the AKC officially designated them as separate breeds with different standards for showing. The wire-haired is the most common and finds itself placed at 104th most popular dog in the AKC rankings. The smooth-haired trails slightly positioned at 124.

Character and Temperament

This Terrier breed is particularly alert, and loves to play.  Once more be aware that they very much enjoy digging.  This hangover from their hunting days may play out under your favorite rose bush.  They are also a very energetic breed, capable in the past of maintaining a long chase.  It is little surprise that they need lengthy walks and a high level of exercise.

It is a testament to the fineness of this breed, that they have been used as a foundation breed for other well-known terriers.  These include the Jack Russell Terrier and the Rat Terrier.  

Some owners report that they have an occasional tendency to repeatedly disappear into the distance when off the leash. This comes from their alertness in detecting and pursuing scents which was clearly a blessing on the hunting fields.  But this can be off-set with early socialization and consistent recall training.

These dogs generally make fantastic family pets and great play-mates for children.

For more detailed information on the Fox Terrier and other breeds please visit our breed guide.

Border Terrier

Different Terrier Breeds - The Border Terrier
Bordering on the impossibly cute

Background and History

The final slot must be awarded to the Border Terrier.  This is in honor of it reaching its hundredth year of Kennel Club recognition last year.  It was officially recognized by the Kennel Club in England in 1920.  The American Kennel club soon followed in 1932. 

Border Terriers were favored during foxhunts as they were swift enough for the chase but could also dig and pursue a fox into the ground. This means they would have been often rubbing shoulders with their Terrier cousins, The Fox Terrier. Like this other Terrier they proved fast enough to keep pace with the hunt but at the same time could be called upon to dig out any foxes that had gone to ground. The breed gained its name from its association with the Border Hunt where it was a regular feature alongside the Foxhounds.

A sign of its popularity is its widespread presence in the borders between England and Scotland being found all across a very wide swathe of the north of England near the borders with Scotland. This included the counties of Cumberland, Northumberland and Westmorland.     

Character and Temperament

These dogs are very hardy and endure any form of pain or discomfort stoically.  They are also seen as one of the most trainable and compliant of the Terrier (link) breeds. They are also generally less inclined to yap than most other terriers.  These dogs are definitely at the relaxed end of a group of dogs that are often lovable and fun but quite frenetic and intense.

Border Terriers are very popular.  This may be in part to their adaptability.  They are suitable for apartments or houses.  They can adapt more readily to change than is generally the case with most other breeds of dogs.  Added to this is their reputation for being friendly with other dogs.

They have quite distinguished ‘otter-shaped’ heads and short strong muzzles.  They also have a dense coat with a thick protective coat.  Like the Fox and Airedale Terriers there is little shedding.  But grooming and shaping is still a regular requirement.

For more detailed information on the Border Terrier and other breeds please visit our breed guide.

Owning a breed from The Terrier Group

I hope you have enjoyed this overview of the different terrier breeds.  It is a fascinating group of dogs.

The different Terrier breeds make for small, fun and energetic pets.  Their diverse regional origins has produced wonderful diversification. The above is just a sample of the wonderful breeds that will bring joy to your home and family. 

These dogs are bouncy, fun and loyal. They will need exercise and still like to race around after scents. These dogs are therefore suited to an owner or family with lots of time to spend playing.

These dogs often make a good choice for first-time dog owners. Their size makes them more manageable. Their eagerness to please and intelligence makes them receptive to training. Added to that is their natural affection and playfulness makes them ideal for families with children.

But watch your prize roses, as these dogs love nothing more than to dig in your yard or garden. Although hopefully not in pursuit of rats.

Still digging around for the right type of dog for you?

If you are not sure a dog from the Terrier Group is right for you, the please feel free to browse the other groups including: The Non Sporting Group, The Toy Group, The Hound Group, The Sporting Group, The Herding Group and The Working Group.

Full list of different terrier breeds 

  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Australian Terrier
  • Bedlington Terrier
  • Black Russian Terrier
  • Bull Terrier
  • Cairn Terrier
  • Cesky Terrier
  • Dandie Dinmont Terrier
  • Glen of Imaal Terrier
  • Irish Terrier
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Kerry Blue Terrier
  • Lakeland Terrier
  • Patterdale Terrier
  • Manchester Terrier
  • Skye Terrier
  • West Highland Terrier
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