Whether your dog is a terrier or a terrier mix, learning about their breed can explain a lot about your pet’s personality, habits and overall health. Or maybe you’re interested in adopting a terrier, but you want to do some research first — we can help.
If you’re interested in adopting a terrier, you’ll need to be a little bit more specific. Just as Bulldogs include a wide range of dog breeds, such as English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, American Bulldogs and Bullmastiffs, the terrier dog is an umbrella term for a selection of breeds that have similar characteristics.
Because there are so many terrier varieties, there’s lots to learn about what makes each dog unique — especially if you’re planning on welcoming one into your family.
“The terrier group is a very large selection of dog breeds,” Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, a veterinary consultant for Fetch, reiterates. “Some of the most popular breeds include the Yorkshire Terrier (Yorkie), the Parson Russel (or Jack Russel) Terrier, the rat terrier, the West Highland White Terrier (Westie), the Scottish Terrier (Scottie), the Cairn Terrier (think Toto in the “Wizard of Oz”) and the American Staffordshire Terrier (one of the breeds commonly referred to as a pitbull).”
Even though each terrier breed carries some similarities to one another, they have differences, too.
“Before adopting a terrier, make sure that the needs and personality of the specific breed line up with your lifestyle and family makeup,” Dr. Singler emphasizes. “This includes evaluating the presence of children, other animals, costs for grooming and veterinary care, ability to provide exercise and mental stimulation.”
Because the terrier breed is a broad group of different dogs, each variety has their own look and physical characteristics. “While the majority of terriers are on the small side, there are terriers that are medium-and-large-sized as well,” Dr. Singler says. “Grooming needs will depend a lot on the hair coat length. Yorkies, for example, will need very regular brushing if their hair coat is kept long, and professional grooming every 4 to 6 weeks, most likely. In general, nail trims and bathing are recommended every 2 to 4 weeks.”
So if you opt for one of the shorter-hair breeds, like the Jack Russel or Staffie, the grooming requirements will be less than a long-haired variety, like the Yorkie or Scottie. As a whole, though, if shedding is a concern because of your allergies, Dr. Singler says that even though they do shed, it's not a large amount.
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It’s a little bit easier to generalize about terriers’ personalities than their physical characteristics because each variety was originally bred for the same two general purposes (although we don't promote these activities today!): hunting and protecting the family unit.
“Many terriers were bred to hunt and chase after vermin, which may predispose them to digging behaviors. They usually have high energy levels,” Dr. Singler explains. “As a general group, they can be described as energetic, spunky, feisty, loyal and intelligent. They tend to be protective of their family and property and easily trainable.”
As a whole, terriers can make excellent family pets. Still their high energy levels need to be well-managed to help prevent destructive behavior resulting from boredom and lack of exercise. “Daily walks are advisable, but they also benefit from regular active play, as this taps into their ingrained desire to hunt and chase,” Dr. Singler emphasizes.
Before introducing a child to any breed, terriers included, it’s important to teach them how to properly socialize and engage with dogs. Some terriers thrive better in homes without children because of their appreciation for being alone and protective nature, Dr. Singler shares. Staffordshire Terriers are often more patient with children, but you’ll still want to keep an eye on them while they’re interacting, she adds.
Since there are so many types of terriers, Dr. Singler says it’s difficult to generalize about common health issues to which the breed is susceptible. But smaller and larger terriers tend to have somewhat different health concerns.
According to Dr. Singler, smaller dogs, including terriers, might develop kneecap issues, which can present through hopping or limping. Little pups can also struggle with tracheal collapse (look for a dry cough when they’re exercising or excited) and periodontal disease, which is a mix between gum disease and gingivitis (where plaque builds on their teeth and eventually becomes hardened tartar). You should talk to your veterinarian about heart disease, too, as it can affect small dog breeds, causing coughing, labored breathing, collapsing and lethargy.
“Larger breeds can be more at risk for hip and elbow dysplasia, both of which can cause limping, trouble walking or being active, and can lead to arthritis down the road.”
As far as specific terrier breeds, Dr. Singler shares a few examples of how health concerns can vary from breed to breed. “Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers are predisposed to developing a type of kidney disease called protein-losing nephropathy (PLN). Westies are susceptible to skin allergies from food or environment. Scotties are at increased risk of developing transitional cell carcinoma (TCC, a type of bladder cancer) when compared to other breeds.”
Most breeds, not just terriers, are predisposed to specific health issues, which is why it’s important to research the breed you’re adopting before bringing your new pet home. That knowledge can lead to important conversations with your vet about prevention, spotting symptoms and the treatments necessary to care for your pup.
Are you interested in adopting a terrier, terrier mix or any pet at all? Check out our shelter partners to find your new best friend.
The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.
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