The word “terrier” comes from the French, meaning “to go to ground.” Terriers were traditionally small, aggressive dogs that were bred for pursuing vermin such as rats, badgers, and foxes. In the nineteenth century, small dogs like Yorkshire Terriers were bred almost exclusively for the sport of ratting, when owners competed to see how many rats their terriers could kill in a given time. Many members of the modern terrier group, such as the Airedale, Fox, or Kerry Blue, are considerably larger, as they are also descended from hunting breeds.
In the days when transport and local communications were poor, terriers were bred regionally, and selective breeding emphasised whatever features would best equip the animals to cope with local conditions. The Lakeland Terrier, for example, from the Lake District of northern England, is especially nimble, enabling it to cope with the rocky outcrops of the local hills and dales. Similarly, the appealing small Scottish breeds (among them, the Skye, West Highland White, and the eponymous Scottish Terrier) have exceptionally thick double coats to protect them against the more severe conditions of a Highland winter.
The terriers that originated in Ireland are larger than those from Britain, partly because they were crossbred with hunting dogs to circumvent a law forbidding peasants to own hunting dogs. Today’s Irish terriers, such as the Kerry Blue and the Soft-coated Wheaten, are all-round working dogs, skilled at retrieving, guarding, and herding.
Self-confident, captivating dogs, terriers make terrific family pets and provide constant entertainment. As a group, terriers are fiesty dogs with tremendous energy. Though most are affectionate, they can be noisy, sometimes intolerant of children, and some may nip when irritated so owners should remember this when training and socializing a terrier puppy.
Terriers generally love to dig, and to the sound of their own voice. The can be highly excitable, and can be stubborn and assertive so are not recommended for families with young children. When properly socialised, they will accept other family pets, even a cat, but other cats will be prey, as will rabbits, anything anything small that moves. Most are generally healthy breeds, but some more popular breeds such as the soft coated wheaton terrier have been puppy milled and are thus prone to genetic problems so seek out a reputable breeder. Life expentancy for Terriers averages 13 years.