Welsh Terrier

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Welsh Terrier

The ‘Welshie’ is every inch a terrier. Rugged, hardy, independent and sparky, this is not a breed for a timid or inexperienced owner. The breed needs a confident and assertive handler to deal with tendency to dominance behaviour. In the right hands, the Welsh Terrier can be a fun and rewarding dog to own, as it is full of energy and personality, and can be a great companion and protector of children. However, it is not reliable with cats or other small pets due to its origins as a hunting dog.

The breed is closely related to the Lakeland Terrier, being derived from the same stock and bred for the same purpose –namely the pursuit of foxes and other animals after they had ‘gone to ground’. Dogs used for this needed to be stoic, brave, and independent-minded, all of which are reflected in the breed today. However, the Welsh Terrier is nowadays more often kept as a show-dog, and its numbers are dwindling, being one of the breeds with the fewest new Kennel Club registrations each year.

Welsh Terriers have a thick coat, which does not shed much, but is prone to tangling without regular brushing. They are high-energy dogs, and require at least an hours’ exercise daily, ideally involving a fair amount of running or other vigorous activity. They are good guard dogs, but can bark excessively, particularly if not receiving sufficient exercise or attention from the owner.

Having been bred to hunt, with no tolerance given to ill-health or defect, the breed is remarkably hardy with few health problems of note. On average, the life expectancy of a Welsh Terrier is 13–15 years.

About & History

The details of the Welsh Terrier’s history are somewhat sketchy. Certainly, the breed was derived from the now-extinct Black and Tan Terrier, a ‘type’, rather than a pedigree, of dog used in the English Lake District for controlling vermin and hunting. Other modern breeds, including the Lakeland Terrier, the Border Terrier, and the Manchester Terrier, were also developed from the Black and Tan. As these breeds were refined and developed, it appears that it became common practice for breed histories to be embellished or altered, so as to promote the provenance of a particular breeder’s line – a practice which has led to difficulties in determining the early history of the Welshie.

What is not in doubt is the use to which the breed was put. Similar to the Lakeland Terrier, the Welsh Terrier was used to pursue foxes, badgers and otters into their dens after they had been driven to ground by the pack hounds. To follow these animals in narrow confines in darkness, and to have the tenacity to then fight to the death, required these small dogs to be brave, aggressive and oblivious to pain. In addition, the Welshmen who developed the breed wanted a dog that could be trusted with their families and livestock and this rigorous set of requirements resulted in the production of a breed with unique characteristics.

As early as the late nineteenth century, the Welsh Terrier became popular in show circles, partly due to its very attractive appearance when show-clipped. This popularity has persisted to the present day with the breed scoring consistently well at the major shows – a fact that has probably saved this dog from extinction, given that it is no longer used for its intended purpose. The Kennel Club considers the breed to be at risk of dying out due to the low numbers currently being registered.


Welsh Terrier Large Photo

The Welsh Terrier is a compact, sturdy dog, carrying himself proudly and conveying confidence and energy. The breed’s coat is thick and weatherproof, with a tough and wiry outer coat and a very dense undercoat. The only accepted colour combination is black and tan. The head is flat and quite narrow, a feature which may not be obvious due to the typical square clip practised by most groomers. The muzzle is very strong for such a small dog, and the teeth are relatively large, meeting in a perfect bite.

The breed has small, dark eyes, which are round rather than oval in shape, and small triangular ears which are carried pointed forward and falling to the side of the head. The neck and back are lean and muscular with the loin and thighs being proportionally well developed. The dog’s legs should be straight and have strong bone structure. The paws are small and the toes well-arched. The tail is carried upright with a slight forward inclination.

Males and females measure 32–39 cm (13–15.5 in) tall at the withers, and weigh between 9 and 9.5 kg (20 to 21 lb).

Character & Temperament

The Welsh Terrier makes some telling contributions to the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate, possessed of a strong will and personality from puppyhood. Without strong leadership, this is a dog that will dominate its owner and anyone else that it meets, as they work on the basis that they are in charge until proven otherwise. Prospective owners need to be prepared from this, as these strong-willed characters need consistent rules from puppyhood. Being intelligent, they will learn to bend to their owner’s wishes, and can be very biddable when they so wish, but will regularly and deliberately test the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.

Being a true terrier, the Welshie will be at his happiest when digging or chewing on a toy, and is not a dog that will curl up quietly for large parts of the day. Rather, he is likely to be found launching himself from the back of the sofa, chewing the mail as it comes through the letterbox, or rolling around on a bed upstairs. Assertive owners will enjoy the breed’s mischievous antics, but in inexperienced hands, this type of challenging behaviour can lead on to more serious misdemeanours. Well-socialised and well-adapted Welshies are excellent family pets, as their stoicism means they will usually tolerate a good deal of poking, prodding, and pulling by children, but again this is predicated upon controlling any tendency to dominate their owners.

The breed is confident and usually good-natured towards other dogs. However, should sparks fly between the dogs for any reason, the Welsh Terrier will not back down, and is capable of inflicting serious injury, unless it is badly injured itself. Arguments are rarely settled amicably. This is not a breed to be introduced to a home with cats or other small animals, as they have quite a strong prey drive, and cannot be trusted without supervision.


Photo of Welsh Terrier puppy

Training a Welsh Terrier can be somewhat difficult; they are independent by nature, and do not immediately take to listening to commands from others. However, they are also very intelligent, and patient, persistent training efforts will eventually pay dividends. It is important to break up training into short periods, as the breed is easily distracted by sights and sounds, and is likely to lose interest in repetitive training exercises. As with many breeds, training is often more rewarding if carried out after an exercise session, when the dog is less likely to be restless and hyperactive.

As a small dog, the breed takes well to crate training in puppyhood. Providing a secure space, such as a cage, facilitates house-training, and by offering food and toys within the cage, becomes a ‘den’ in which the pup feels safe and secure. Once the pup has learned to accept the crate, it becomes a very useful place to put him should the owner need to leave him unattended for a period of time, meaning that they are not returning to a soiled carpet or chewed handbag.

Welsh Terrier puppies should be socialised with easy-going older dogs that are tolerant of being chewed and barked at. Positive experiences with other dogs at a young age make it less likely that dog-to-dog aggression will be a problem later in life. Likewise, puppies should be given opportunities to meet lots of people in different settings to allow them grow into confident and outgoing adults.


Serious health problems are remarkably uncommon in the Welsh Terrier breed. It is said that the early breeders’ intolerance of physical defects, and ruthless selection process, led to the ‘weeding out’ of many of the problems commonly seen in other breeds.

Atopic Dermatitis

Skin allergies are common in many dog breeds, particularly in the terrier group. Most are caused by inhaled allergens, such as moulds and pollens, and often manifest as irritated or infected ears or paws. Atopy can be a frustrating condition to manage, being incurable, and likely to recur at certain times of year, most commonly during the spring and summer.


Welsh Terriers are predisposed to developing increased intraocular pressure, or glaucoma. This may occur secondary to eye infections or injuries, including lens luxation (see below). Glaucoma results in pain, and often loss of vision, and dogs that are severely affected may need to have the eye removed to improve their quality of life.

Lens Luxation

The lens of the eye is the structure located in the pupil that allows the eye to focus on objects at varying distances. It is held in place by an encircling muscle, to which it is attached by fibrous tissue. Should these fibres weaken, as happens in some middle-aged dogs of the breed, the lens can slip from its normal position. This results in visual impairment and potentially glaucoma.

Lupoid Onychodystrophy

This is a condition in which the immune system inappropriately targets the tissues of the nail beds, resulting in the growth of weak and brittle nails. These nails are likely to break easily and will often develop secondary bacterial or fungal infections. Treatment may involve a combination of mineral and oil supplements, as well as corticosteroids and antibiotic or antifungal medication.

von Willebrand’s Disease

Welsh Terriers are occasionally born with this inherited clotting disorder. Poorly functioning platelets, which are the white blood cells responsible for initiating the clotting cascade in response to blood vessel injury are the root cause of the problem.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Welsh Terriers are highly energetic, and require at least an hour of activity on a daily basis. In addition to lead walking, the breed benefits from vigorous activity, and is perfectly suited as a running companion or to trotting alongside a bicycle. Access to a garden is important to allow Welshies to express their natural drive to dig and explore.


Much like the Airedale Terrier, the Welsh Terrier’s very dense coat is prone to matting unless it is regularly combed. Once a week should be considered the minimum for an intense brushing session. The classic appearance of the breed, with the square head shape, is the result of careful clipping, and although it can be executed by a practised owner, it may be preferable to have the dog professionally groomed several times per year. The breed sheds very little hair, which may be an appealing characteristic for those wanting to keep an indoor dog.

Unless Welsh Terriers are walked on hard surfaces or given the opportunity to dig regularly, the nails may grow overly long and need clipping every couple of months. This needs to be done carefully, as the breed’s nails are often black, meaning that the vascular ‘quick’ is not visible and may easily be cut inadvertently.

Famous Welsh Terriers

US President, John F. Kennedy, famously owned a Welsh Terrier called Charlie, while Prime Minister Clement Attlee was also a devotee of the breed. Yet another head of state, King Edward VIII, also owned a Welsh Terrier by the name of Gwen.


Welsh Terriers make a great choice for crossing with other breeds – both for their sparky temperament and their good health. However, their scarcity means that they are often not available for cross-breeding. The following are some of the more common crosses seen for sale:

  • Hava-Welsh – Cross between a Welsh Terrier and a Havanese
  • Welshund – Cross between a Welsh Terrier and a Dachshund
  • Wirelsh Terrier – Cross between a Welsh Terrier and a Fox Terrier
  • Woodle – Cross between a Welsh Terrier and a Poodle

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