Australian Terrier

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
 
Photo of adult Australian Terrier

The Australian Terrier (or ‘Aussie’) holds the honour of being the first native dog breed registered in Australia. He’s also the smallest breed of working terrier, but no one has explained this to the Aussie who has a big, bold character. Originally bred to control vermin in the homesteads of early settlers; the Aussie is a terrier through and through. As such, he’s brave, tough, strong-willed, and with a tendency to think independently. But in addition to these typical terrier traits, he’s also a homebody, preferring to live inside with company, rather than in an outdoor kennel. Indeed, the Australian Terrier has a reputation for bonding with his people and being empathetic to their moods.

The Aussie will happily live in an apartment, so long as he gets plenty of exercise. But be warned, a bored Australian Terrier is liable to make his own entertainment by barking, chewing, or digging. His strong prey drive makes him ill-suited to life alongside other pets, such as cats or small mammals, and his bossy nature can cause friction with other dogs.

About & History

The Australian Terrier is remarkable for so many reasons, not least that he’s the smallest breed of working terrier and that in 1868 he became the first native breed registered in Australia. The Aussie’s story starts in the 18th century with the early European settlers. The latter needed a tough fearless dog to control vermin and snakes on their land. The breed developed by breeding the Rough Coated Terrier (whose roots lie centuries earlier in Scotland) with imported British terriers, such as the Yorkshire, Skye, Black & Tan, and Dandie Dinmont.

The resulting Australian terrier was both tough and small, the perfect size for rooting out rat holes. In addition, his coarse coat protected him from both his prey and the climate. With a tireless work ethic and fondness for being around people, the Aussie soon became an invaluable guardian of homesteads, gold mines, and waterfront properties. The Australian Terrier made it to British shores in the early 20th century. The Aussie had become a favourite with English diplomats posted to Australia, and when they returned home they brought this loyal dog with them.

Appearance

Australian Terrier Large Photo

Standing around 11-inches to the shoulder, the Aussie is a small, compact dog. He’s built for activity with short but well-proportioned legs, strong shoulders, and a deep chest. He also has a natural looking face with good muzzle length and features set off by prick ears and bright, intelligent eyes.

The Australian Terrier has a coarse coat, designed to cope with the harsh Australian environment. Over the body and legs, the hair grows to a maximum of two-inches long, but can grow longer round the head and neck. The coat colour is blue and tan, red or tan.

Character & Temperament

Think of the Aussie as a terrier with a dash of softness. This little dog has all the typical terrier traits, such as boldness, courage, and independence, but also loves to be around people. The Australian Terrier is well-known for developing a strong bond with his owner, so much so that he’ll pick on his mood and be calm when the owner is quiet or clown around when the owner is happy.

This love of people extends those with whom he becomes acquainted, such as children and the elderly, although he can be stand-offish when first introduced. These qualities of loyalty and wanting to take part in family life mean puppies do have potential to make great family dogs when well-socialised from the start. However, a strong prey drive and need to be top-dog can make life miserable for cats in the house or other dogs, so if your heart is set on an Australian Terrier, it’s best if he’s a lone pet.

It is a wise owner who understands the Aussie likes to take control, and puts a training strategy in place to stop him ruling the roost. Indeed, Aussies are highly trainable but bore easily, so be sure to motivate the dog using reward-based training and keeping sessions fresh and fun. As to the bored Aussie, he’ll make his own entertainment with his favourite hobbies of barking, chasing, or digging, and to avoid this requires a commitment to daily vigorous exercise. So, whilst the Aussie can adapt to apartment living, you need to devote time and energy to keeping him occupied each and every day.

Trainability

Photo of Australian Terrier puppy
Larry Jacobsen / Flickr.com

The Australian Terrier is innately intelligent and a quick learner… when he chooses to listen. Keep his interest high during training by using treats or toys as motivation, and don’t be afraid to set him high standards, as this provides vital mental stimulation.

The downside of the terrier intelligence is that he’ll quickly pick up bad habits. If you accidentally reward bad behaviour, such as silencing barking by offering a chew stick, he’ll readily learn the wrong message and the barking will get worse.

Health

The Australian Terrier is basically a healthy breed with relatively few breed specific health problems. If he does develop issues these are most commonly related to allergies, diabetes, or his back legs.

Allergies

As a breed, the Australian Terrier suffers from more than its fair share of allergies. He can be sensitive to any number of allergens in the environment, ranging from natural ones, such as pollens and mould spores, to manmade, such as air fresheners or scented candles.

Dogs absorb allergens through their skin and so the classic symptoms are itchiness and reddened, inflamed skin. Whilst allergies cannot be cured, they can often be controlled with a mix of avoiding known allergens, promoting healthy skin, and modern medications.

Diabetes Mellitus

Sugar diabetes results from a mismatch of the amount and action of insulin to blood sugar levels. This leads to raised glucose in the bloodstream and signs, such as excessive thirst, frequent urination, and weight loss. Left untreated complications set in such as cataracts and a toxic state.

Other risk factors for diabetes include obesity and being an unneutered female dog. Therefore, the wise Aussie owner will keep their dog trim and neuter females.

Luxating Patellas

An alternative term for this condition is ‘wobbly kneecaps’. The patella’s (or kneecap's) job is to provide a fulcrum for the thigh muscles to pull on when the leg straightens. When there is too much sideways movement in the kneecap, this can cause the leg to lock in the wrong position, forcing the dog to skip a step.

Luxating patella can range in significance from minor (skipping the odd step) to major (debilitating lameness). Treatment varies according from occasional pain relief to reconstructive surgery.

Legge-Perthe’s Disease

This hip condition occurs in young dogs, aged less than one year old. A poor blood supply to the developing hipbone causes a weak femoral head, which crumbles and disintegrates. This leads to severe lameness and discomfort.

A surgical procedure called an excision arthroplasty is required. This removes the damaged bone so that the hip can move freely and without pain.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Australian Terrier may be small and love being with people, but he’s no lapdog. Think of how he earned his keep – ratting and getting rid of snakes – and you soon understand he’s an active, bold chap. Be sure to give him an outlet for this behaviour with plenty of off lead exercise and games, such as chase or fetch.

An Aussie owner needs to commitment to exercising their dog at least twice a day with one session being at least an hour long. Less than this, and he will dig up your garden and bark at the neighbours.

Grooming

The Australian Terrier has a low maintenance coat. It doesn’t need to be professionally groomed or clipped, although some owners opt to have their Aussie hand-striped. The latter aside, that course coat looks after itself, with a once weekly brush helping to spread natural conditioning oil over the hair to waterproof it.

However, it’s a good idea to check the Aussie’s coat after every walk, to pick out debris tangled in the fur and to check for external parasites, such as ticks. When the Australian Terrier gets enough exercise you shouldn’t need to clip his claws, but check them anyway, especially if he mainly runs on grass as they might then overgrow.

Famous Australian Terriers

Whilst no famous Australian Terriers in modern day culture, you can certainly learn more about this delightful breed by looking at owner pictures of the breed on Instagram, as well as on Facebook within the Australian Terrier Club of America.

Cross-Breeds

  • Terri-Poo – Cross between an Australian Terrier and a Poodle
  • Australian Shepterrier – Cross between an Australian Terrier and a Australian Sheepdog
  • Rustralian Terrier – Cross between an Australian Terrier and a Jack Russell Terrier

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