Jack Russell Terrier running through a field

Jack Russell Terriers were used as ratters

The root of the term Terrier comes from the word Terra, meaning Earth in Latin, as Terriers would originally hunt their prey into the ground. While many were bred to dig out and hunt for vermin as ‘ratters’, others were used to hunt larger animals, such as rabbits, otters and foxes. For most, the ability to hunt low to the ground and to enter burrows and warrens has been historically important. Collectively, these small dogs are known to be high-energy and tenacious. When it comes to their appearance, they are an incredibly varied group, which include the diminutive and feisty Jack Russell and the tall and independent Airedale Terrier.

Terriers have been used competitively for centuries, with owners often pitting them against each other, betting on who could kill the most rats in the shortest amount of time. Nowadays, most are kept as pets with their spirited nature and pluck making them a favourite of many.


Airedale Terrier standing in a field

Airedale Terriers are also an example of the Terrier group

The terriers are a diverse range of canines, bred to be courageous and determined when pursuing their prey. In the past, they were grouped into ‘long-legged’ and ‘short-legged’ terriers, with the long-legged dogs working alongside hunters on horseback and the short-legged dogs used by huntsmen on foot. This is a classification which has since fallen out of favour.

The AKC label them as ‘feisty and energetic’ dogs and most would agree that this is an accurate description. For Terrier fanciers, they wouldn’t have it any other way!


Staffordshire Bull Terrier sitting in a field smiling

Staffordshire Bull Terriers were historically used for fighting, but now make loving pets

The traditional terrier was used as a ratter but through the years man put them to work in various other areas. While the majority were indeed used to hunt small prey, such as rats and rabbits, others were used in quite different fields. The larger Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Bull Terrier were used in competitive dog fighting – an unsavoury sport which has now been outlawed

Irish Terriers would be used as protectors, guarding both animal and man. The Airedale Terrier is a fine example of a multi-purpose Terrier, who has been used to hunt on land and water, follow trails and perform search and rescue work.

The vast majority of Terriers are kept as pet dogs today, with some also branching into the world of canine agility and showing. They are a versatile bunch and can adapt well to most situations, though do require appropriate training and socialisation.


Yorkshire Terrier outside

Yorkshire Terriers have always been lap dogs

There is no set classification of Terrier types and they are assigned to groups differently depending on which organization you consult and which country you are in.

The FCI classifies Terriers into four distinct groups. These are the Large and Medium Sized Terriers, Small Sized Terriers, Toy Terriers and Bull Type Terriers. Some disagree with the nomenclature used, as, for example, those dogs within the ‘Large and Medium-Sized’ group are not actually all that big.

Large & Medium Sized Terriers

Breeds such as the Airedale Terrier and Kerry Blue Terrier fall within this group. This is the broadest group of Terriers and is often subdivided into country of origin. For example, Great Britain is home to nine of these dogs, including the Welsh Terrier. These larger Terriers have traditionally been used to hunt quarry bigger than rats, such as rabbits and badgers.

Small Sized Terriers

The smaller Terriers would historically hunt vermin and are the quintessential ‘ratters’. Owners should not be fooled by their size, as though small, these are not your average lap dogs. Small terriers, such as the popular Jack Russell and the Czechoslovakian Cesky Terrier, can be family-oriented but require firm training and experienced owners.

Toy Terriers

The smallest of all the Terriers, the Toys include just three dogs: The Yorkshire Terrier, the Australian Silky Terrier and the English Toy Terrier. These tiny guys weigh no more than four or five kg when fully grown and are called ‘handbag dogs’ by some. With little athletic capability, these dogs are not really used to hunt at all and have been selectively bred as companion animals and lapdogs.

Bull Type Terriers

The Bull Type Terriers are probably the most distinctive of the four types and certainly have quite a different past to the others. Another small group, the four breeds that are included are: the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier and the Miniature Bull Terrier.

All of these dogs have what might be considered by some to be a ‘mean’ appearance and some have, of course, been used historically in dogfights. Despite this, however, they typically make poor guard dogs, as are generally far too gentle and affectionate!