Very few performance dog owners look at a terrier and think… “That’s my next performance dog!” Those of us who are lucky enough to own Australian Terriers know that these little dogs represent one of the best-kept secrets in the dog world. We are a plucky, tenacious bunch that revels in the joy that comes with sharing our lives with a dog that views every single day as a day to work towards a common goal with its owners.
My personal start in Australian Terriers came about when I needed to downsize to a smaller dog. After decades of competing with Doberman Pinchers, I needed a small dog with a larger-than-life personality. I wanted a dog that would be competitive in performance work as well as in the show ring. When my Obedience and Agility friends heard that I was thinking of an Australian Terrier, they were aghast, going so far as to schedule and hold an intervention disguised as a dinner party. They recommended a Bichon, Whippet or Papillion. I resisted their efforts. I did my homework and located a terrific breeder 10 states away. I was not disappointed when little “Martha” showed up at my doorstep as, eventually, she became everything I had hoped for in an Aussie.
To understand why Australian Terriers are excellent performance dogs, we need to go back in history to the development of the breed. Farmers needed a dog to match the difficult conditions of the Australian outback. Hot weather and dry, barren conditions required a small, hardscrabble dog with versatility—one able to do many jobs that included the need to clear a farm of vermin, warn of intruders, bring the sheep in at night, and most importantly, dispatch the all-too-common venomous snakes.
From the farmers’ perspective, the more tasks the dog could do, the more valuable the dog. A small dog required less maintenance. Clearing the farm of rodents and removing other animals that competed for resources was a necessary requirement, and one at which the Aussie excelled. Warning the farmers of intruders and larger predators was a part of every day and they were expected to bring the sheep in at night. While all these jobs were important, none was more crucial than clearing the farm of venomous snakes. To achieve this, the dog needed to be intelligent, courageous, agile, and self-confident as well as possess the ability to work within a pack to achieve a common goal. Without cooperation and teamwork, the result could be fatal.
The Aussie’s expertise in snake killing was so great that the farm children were taught to send the dogs into the bushes to retrieve toys instead of reaching into the shade where the snakes were likely to be. Close, daily teamwork with children, coupled with this breed’s small size, led to these dogs being welcomed into houses to sleep on the hearth at night. Through these interactions, the Aussie became a dog that bonded very closely with his humans—particularly children.
Today, we find a self-confident, agile, and intelligent dog with a strong desire to work with humans to achieve a common goal. As the AKC continues to expand the performance titles available, we find the Australian Terrier involved in many different activities. Most common are Obedience and Rally, Agility, and Barn Hunt. In addition, we often find them excelling in Tracking, Scent Work, and Earthdog. Today, we celebrate and find “Finn,” a master detective Scent Work dog, “Reggie,” an endurance Earthdog (six times!), and “Penny,” a double platinum Crazy 8 Barn Hunt dog. Additionally, we have MACH Aussies, OTCH Aussies, OM and RACH and FAST CAT Aussies along with several Air Retrieve and Dock Diving Master Advanced dogs. The AKC Trick Dog winner in 2022 was Australian Terrier “Maddy.”
As owners of this best-kept secret, we are tasked with showing the dog world what we can achieve with our little Terriers. Taking my first Aussie (Martha) to Camp Gone to the Dogs in Vermont years ago showed me that she could and would do anything I asked of her. As a result, I returned home with increased enthusiasm for the breed and attempted to join a Tracking group that trained weekly.
All was good to go until I advised the group of which breed I was tracking with, resulting in my being disinvited. Not to be discouraged, I bought a book, trained alone by myself, and made numerous training mistakes. But Martha forgave me for my errors, and at our first Tracking test she and I passed with flying colors—much to the amazement of the judges and exhibitors. (I was still not invited to join the group in Connecticut, but I was “terrier tenacious” and bullied my way into the group over time anyway).
Training and competing in Obedience and Rally have seriously piqued interest in this little-known breed. Judges regularly express surprise and pleasure when an Aussie is in the placements. Increasingly, fellow competitors ask about the breed. Each interaction represents a chance to highlight our breed. Even in Earthdog, where Aussies are not well known, each qualifying ribbon and title piques interest from fellow terrier owners. Australian Terriers competing in Dock Diving and Air Retrieve are making waves (pun intended), and these little dogs often shine in Nosework and Barn Hunt activities.
The ATCA is so proud of our outstanding performance dogs that each month we feature an Australian Terrier that has excelled in its chosen field. Be sure to check our website every month to see videos, slide shows, and interviews featuring the owners and their performance dogs.