What Makes Terriers Unique?
As a group of breeds of mainly British heritage, they nonetheless represent a variety of body types and structures. They also have numerous differences in coats, ranging from short and slick to soft and wavy, to harsh and double-coated, to hard and broken-coated.
However, the one thing they share is TERRIER TEMPERAMENT. I believe that one needs to live and work with Terriers to truly understand the meaning of that phrase. People who are not familiar with Terriers often characterize them in a negative light and refer to them as snappy, feisty, and aggressive. While that may be the case in some individual dogs, poor behavior on their part is usually caused by inadequate management and lack of discipline on the part of their owners.
Terriers in general are independent thinkers and are very smart. They are clever at determining who is in control—their masters or they themselves—and will act accordingly. I always caution buyers of our Cairn puppies to be firm and set rules from day one. What I tell new owners is, “It’s not ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.’ It’s more like they’ll take 100 miles!”
What makes most Terriers good show dogs is their self-assurance, alertness, and curious natures. Most Terriers are very outgoing and have a glint in their eyes that says, “I mean business!” They think they are physically larger than they actually are and they like to dominate other dogs.
Terriers are hunters by nature and by instinct. While this characteristic generally does not manifest itself in the Conformation ring, it shines forth in such activities as Earthdog, Barn Hunt, and Lure Coursing. And it can be an obstacle in obedience training. Just ask anyone who competes in Obedience with a Terrier.
Undoubtedly, temperament in Terriers has changed over the years through breeders wishing to make their breeds more friendly and outgoing towards people. The days of keeping packs of Terriers kenneled and used solely for hunting are long gone. A description from the early 1900s of my breed, Cairns, uses the word “reserved” and states, “His devotion to master or mistress is single-hearted, but he accepts strangers with caution until their merits are proven.” Although there is some truth to that statement, for the most part, present-day Cairns know no strangers!
Finally, let me state that most Terrier lovers reflect the temperament of their dogs. The owners are a rare group in themselves!