In this, the second installment of the series, Desmond Fellows is looking at the terrier for K9 Magazine. One of the most popular types of working and pet dogs in the world. Terriers are a diverse group of dogs that descended from a small selection of early ancestors. Now relatively redundant in terms of work, the terrier is a hugely popular pet all over the world.
Terriers originated on the British Isles and were a product of man's evolving needs. Compared to hounds, terriers are a relatively new type of dog. The original purpose of almost all of the early terriers was to control pests such as vermin and foxes. Specimens with high prey drives and tenacity were favoured by those that used them for work. The term 'terrier' is derived from the Latin 'terra' which means ground - this is a reference to the work of the terrier, which would 'go to ground' chasing its quarry.
Throughout the history of the terrier, their size and body shape has developed to cope with new challenges. With industrialisation and the need for pest control in urban settings, smaller dogs were favoured, so smaller types and breeds were developed.
Some of the most popular terriers around the world today include the Border Terrier, West Highland White Terrier and the Parson Russell Terrier. Nowadays, there are many breeds that are considered to be terriers, but that are not part of the original terrier group. For example, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, which has a common ancestry with many terriers, is descended from terriers and bull breeds. Bull Terriers were created when fighting dogs and terriers were crossed in order to give the larger bull breeds more courage and gameness. Since then, the breeds have developed into popular pets as well.
Terriers as we know them today are descended from European hunting breeds. The terrier type became established during the early 1800s, around which time there were two types of terrier. One with long legs and one with short legs.
Terriers are typified by their formidable courage and gameness. They are born with latent desires to chase prey and to tackle it. In the domestic environment, this instinct translates into playfulness, cheekiness and on occasion raises the need for a firm and dedicated trainer.
Many fans of terrier breeds believe the true 'terrier spirit' has been bred out of the dogs due to generations of show and conformation breeding. Whilst the need to work will certainly have diminished the gameness of many terrier bloodlines, it is likely that the continuation of show breeding will perpetuate the dilution of the famous terrier spark and instinct that they were originally bred for.