Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The fun side of Terriers

I have to take a blog at this point to speak in favor of terriers -- or as some people have referred to them -- terrors. They certainly are not for everyone but for those who know and love one or more varieties of this Group, they can be a whole lot of fun.

Bedlington Terrier

As I mentioned in the Dog Behavior III post - terriers tend to notice everything and consider most of it worth barking about. Gracie for example considers herself not just my personal watch dog, but feels it is her duty to keep an eye on the houses on both sides of us, across from us and behind us. This includes informing me of when anyone comes or goes from these houses, puts a dog out or brings it in from these houses, or sometimes - if someone is just walking by any of these houses.

In order to keep her vigil, Gracie sometimes has to bound across the room, leap onto the couch with enough force to bang it back into the wall, then slam her blunt head into the picture window behind the couch and stare out for a few minutes. If all is well she just as quickly returns to playing. If anything is out of place, then she will erupt with a bout of barking. If she can't see anything but is suspicious that something is about to be out of place, she will emit a deep, low growl. The growl usually means I have to look out the window and say, "there's nothing" before she will return to play. I strongly suspect the growl needing my look is really just a test of the emergency broadcast system to make sure I'm ready if anything should ever be wrong.

Miniature Schnauzer (salt and pepper coloring)

The breed of terrier I have personally spent the most time with - about 24 years - is the Miniature Schnauzer. I love, love, love this breed. They are feisty with attitude, stubborn, playful, loving and completely devoted, silly, smart, and very tuned into their people. My first schnauzer, Wee Bonnie Lass, was a salt and pepper with enough attitude to fill two bigger dogs.

I have a lot of Bonnie stories, but I'll share one that is an example of just how big her spirit was. We were living in Burnaby, Canada (outside Vancouver) in a three story walk-up. Across the street from our building was a more upscale building of condos in which lived a professional dog trainer. This trainer and I would often walk past each other on the way in and out of the large park nearby. One day the trainer came out with a new Rottweiler puppy, which I stopped to admire. While the trainer explained to me that this was his new personal dog, which he planned to train for personal protection, Bonnie was talking to the puppy, who was already slightly larger than she.

Bonnie stood on her back legs with one paw resting on the big male pup's shoulder and explained with a low growl in his ear, that she was the boss of this block. The next thing we people knew, the puppy had flopped down on his back in total submission to Bonnie. The owner was a little embarrassed and directed his puppy to get up, while I pulled Bonnie away. Bonnie at that moment made an impression on that Rotty puppy that she was the dominate dog.
We did not see the Rott and his owner often but whenever we did, Bonnie would determinedly march down the center of the sidewalk oozing authority, and the poor big rotty would leap off the sidewalk in deference, waiting for Bonnie to pass. This continued to embarrass his owner, and it wasn't long before their walk times changed so that we seldom saw each other.

Over a year later Bonnie and I were out for a walk that wasn't at our usual time, and we again encountered the trainer and his now huge, muscled, well trained Rott. They were marching down the sidewalk like they owned it -- then the Rott saw Bonnie. He stopped in his tracks, hesitated. His handler urged him on but he remained frozen as Bonnie marched towards him. His handler was now audible to me, and he was using the commands that usually got immediate response; the handler's face turned red as his Rott leaped off the sidewalk and cleared a path for Bonnie, who was now not much bigger than his head.  As I stopped to smile and say hello. (I'm probably not always as nice as I could be) I 'didn't notice' as Bonnie gave the Rott a look -- with no sound I could hear -- and he tried to disappear behind his handler.  Satisfied, Bonnie and I then sauntered on leaving the two big guys miserable at the edge of the sidewalk. I'd like to think we had absolutely nothing to do with the handler's decision to move out of the neighborhood.

Scottish Terrier

Another of my personal favorites from the Terrier Group is the Scotty. I had a brief but very meaningful relationship with my own adopted, senior Scotty, Duncan (very similar looking to the free stock photo above.) Duncan was just a laid back guy. Unlike Schnauzers, Scotties don't need to be in your shadow every breathing moment. Duncan would climb up on the seat across from me and just look over from time to time just to say, "Hey." I'd say "hey" back and then we'd both return to what we had been doing - me working on my computer and Duncan sleeping.

Duncan was built like a heavy footstool -- wide, low and comfortable -- and had reached the calm point in his life. I'm not sure what he was like before his hearing and vision started to fade but by the time I knew him Duncan didn't find much worth barking about. I would occasionally get one deep bark if he needed my attention but that was pretty much it. He was a solid, reliable little guy who didn't need to be right next to me but who generally was nearby enough that I could see him. The exception was at night. He made it clear the first night that he was too old to worry about following me upstairs or being carried; he comfortably settled down on his end of the couch and slept there soundly every night. Never a cry, bark, or whine. A real steady, dependable dog. I still miss Duncan as much as dogs who I spent over a decade with - he just had that much impact on me. I felt more peaceful when Duncan was in the room and I could just look over and have a calm gaze back from him. I think that calmness is often the gift that adopted senior dogs can bring into our lives.

There are many types of terriers with a range in size, color, and even temperament.Not all terriers are equally active -- Scotties and Dandie Dinmonts are on the quieter end of the scale while being aloof with strangers.
English Bull Terriers are very active and fun loving while being on the stubborn side. There are reasons they have been compared to a five year old child in a clown suit. They have a unique sense of humor and appropriateness and tend to look for potential friends everywhere they go.
On the particularly lively side we have breeds like the Wire Haired Fox Terriers and Bedlingtons. I have heard from more than one person, including trainers that the Smooth Haired Fox Terrier is actually quieter than the Wire Haired.

Smooth Fox Terrier

And I have of course only touched on a handful of the many types of terriers out there, and only a few of the terriers that I particularly like.
I'd like to hear from others about the terriers they've known and loved, and what you've found intriguing about this feisty group of dogs. Please share your stories! If you have questions about any member of this Group please share those also.


  1. I love my Westie, Jess! She's definitely high energy - 5 years old and wants to play like a puppy - ALL the time. She is very sweet and affectionate, but not a lap dog, as she is too busy guarding me and our home from vermin(her bred-in instincts - she LOVES chasing rabbits. She's a tom-boy too - pretends to be tough, rolls in anything that stinks, and wants to be outside all the time. The coolest thing is that she's a swimmer, which I don't believe is common in her breed. Since she always wants to be with me, she followed me into the water one day and swam to me and hasn't stopped since - even goes in by herself now. The mailman and the UPS guy are her buddies, as they've given her treats since she was little, and now she'll chase their truck down in the neighborhood and jump right in for a Milk Bone - the same treat she turns her nose up at from me.

  2. I learned a lot about terriers from your blog. It makes me realize how my exposure to dogs, including those I've owned, has almost all been to a variety of hunting breeds - spaniels, hounds, retrievers. I know some terriers hunt, but I've never had one or known a purebred terrier particularly well. Kathy

  3. Kathy, we have to introduce you to one of the clan soon.

    And for jules - had to add a Westie pic!