Friday, August 21, 2009

Know Your Dog: Terriers

Last I heard, the Terrier Group has won more Westminster Best in Show's than any other group. This is no surprise to me. Terriers are dogs with a spring in their step, confidence in their bearing--and that certain something--Attitude. Many terrier breeds blast the top off the Adorableness Scale. They inspire "aww", not awe. From my totally biased perspective, the "least terrier of terriers", the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, is the most adorable of the adorables. With its long, soft, wavy blond coat, warm brown eyes, black nose and merry gait, it comes close to being the Platonic Ideal of Dog.

But I would not recommend a terrier to a first time dog owner. Not even my beloved Wheatens. The reason lies in the original purpose for which they were bred. There is no way to put this delicately. Terriers were bred to kill. (Ooops! Should I have put a Content Warning at the top of this post?) Not only were terriers originally bred to kill, they were bred to be Independent Contractors, not Partners, as are Sporting and Herding breeds. Given their own territory--yes, the Latin word for "earth" is the root for both "terrier" and "territory"--terriers as small as Yorkies and as large as Airedales roamed at will, searching out vermin "with extreme prejudice". Their territory might have been as small as tenant cottage or as large as a farm. Terriers were also used to control rat populations in mines. My beloved Wheatens "assisted" poachers. You don't need a gun when you've got a terrier.

Terriers are high energy. I observed one Jack Russell for more than a year before I saw him stationary. My Wheatens, Champers and Britches, could jump from sitting position to human eye level, their preferred way to welcome guests. My preferred way to see the rapid departure of door-to-door solicitors.

And dig. Terrier = of the earth. Enough said.

And hang on to whatever is in its mouth. I am sure there are terrier good citizens who obey the command "Drop it!" But if you are too weak or too cowardly to pry your terrier's jaws opened to guarantee that he "drops it", you shouldn't own that dog.

I am convinced that terriers are very bright. They DO understand your commands. They'll get back to you on the compliance part.

But for all their spirit and attitude, terriers need human companionship. I once overheard a conversation between two Airedale people discussing the lengths to which their Airedales went to get back into the house when they had been left alone outside.

I am not convinced of the wisdom of leaving any dog outside alone without access to indoors--preferably the house. But leaving a terrier outside is a Big Mistake. What they can't dig under, they can jump over. And given their independent spirit, it is essential that terriers be well socialized and learn to love and identify with their humans.

There are Dog People. And there are Terrier People. If you are not a Terrier Person, don't invite one into your life. You will both be miserable.

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