There are few dog breeds as well-loved and well-known as the Terrier family. The term “terrier” derives from the old English and French words for earth, which isn’t surprising for these salt-of-the-earth canine companions. While the most common impressions of terriers bend towards the energetic and playful, the truth is that this surprisingly large family of dogs has a wide range of temperaments to suit a variety of owners.
With no less than 36 American Kennel Club-recognized iterations of the Terrier breed, there’s a lot to explore when it comes to this category. In order of the year they were added to the AKC-recognized listing, here’s a little background on the Terrier group:
1878 – 1888: A Terrier Fancier’s Dozen
The beginning years of the AKC were, understandably, very eventful when it came to adding new and established breeds. In their first decade alone, twelve terriers were added to their lists, comprising a full third of the terriers recognized in 2019.
- Bull Terrier: The Bull Terrier – not to be mistaken for a Pit Bull – has a distinctive triangular or cone shape to his face. He has the distinction of being the very first terrier to be officially recognized by the AKC in 1885. Today, the breed would be most commonly recognized as “Spuds McKenzie” in the Budweiser Beer commercials of the 1980s, where the iconic Bull Terrier often donned a Hawaiian shirt.
In 1991, the Miniature Bull Terrier made the recognized list to join its standard-sized counterpart. This smaller breed has recently broken into the cultural spotlight as Bullseye, Target’s eye ring-sporting canine mascot.
- Fox Terrier: Sharing the same elongated muzzle as their Bull Terrier counterparts, Fox Terriers were bred with this head shape specifically to flush out foxes while hunting, hence their name. The muzzle allowed them to go nose-first into burrows and track scent more accurately. The smooth and wire variants of the Fox Terrier refers to the quality of their respective coats.
In 2003, the Toy Fox Terrier was added to AKC’s recognized list of terriers, giving this handsome breed two spots on the exclusive list, even though they’re technically different sizes.
- Irish Terrier: Irish Terriers marry the boxy elongated muzzle of Fox Terriers with more prominently-folded ears. A favorite of farmers, he’s known both for his hearty disposition and versatility as a working dog. An Irish Terrier takes well to guarding, pest control, and companionship, depending on the needs of his owners.
- Scottish Terrier: Affectionately known as “Scotties,” Scottish Terriers display the elongated muzzle trait with a much shorter-legged, stockier body. Though they do have “wheaten” and brindle coat variants, the iconic Scottie dog is usually depicted with a black coat. The breed (unsurprisingly) originally hails from Scotland, and has been memorialized as a Monopoly playing token.
- Yorkshire Terrier: Similar to the Scottish Terrier, the Yorkshire Terrier is more commonly known by a nickname: the “Yorkie.” These small terriers are a favorite of apartment and city-dwellers, as they’re known for having both intelligence and clever, bossy attitudes. Their signature long coat may be well-groomed and worn long or trimmed short depending on an owner’s preferences.
This breed has also been used to create the Silky Terrier breed, recognized by the AKC in 1959. The Silky, while similar to the Yorkie, has a slightly longer muzzle and has a few more inches in average height.
- Bedlington Terrier: Named for the English mining town where the breed was first produced, Bedlington Terriers have a short, fleece-like coat and the exaggerated muzzle of a Fox Terrier. When professionally groomed, this breed often leaves the fur on the front of the muzzle “puffed,” de-emphasizing the nose and eyes for a unique, attractive silhouette. While originally bred to hunt vermin, these terriers now proudly take their place as domestic companions and show dogs.
The Lakeland Terrier is a close cousin to the Bedlington, sporting a brown and black coat to the Bedlington’s usual grey coloring.
- Dandie Dinmont Terrier: This interesting breed name owes its provenance to none other than Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott, who penned a character of the same name in homage to a breeder of these dogs. These very long-backed, short-legged terriers became known as the fictional “Dandie Dinmont’s” terriers, and the name has been used ever since. This terrier is highlighted by a distinctive “top knot” of fur on the top of his head, which is left in place during most professional grooming.
The Border Terrier shares lineage with the Dandie Dinmont, differentiating himself with a little more height and a lack of the distinctive “top knot” of fur.
- Manchester Terrier (Toy / Standard): At a hasty glance, a Manchester Terrier might be mistaken for a Doberman Pinscher, as both breeds sport a handsome black and brown coat. The Manchester, however, has slightly broader ears that curve out on the sides in profile. Both the smaller toy and larger standard variants of the breed made the AKC list around the same time – 1886 and 1887, respectively.
- Skye Terrier: The Skye Terrier offers several enviable and distinct features found in vastly different breeds: the bat-like ears with trailing fur that mimic a Papillon’s, the shaggy front-of-face wisps that echo a Sheepdog’s, and of course the lithe, low body type of a Scottish Terrier. In fact, this terrier is well-known for being twice as long as he is tall.
- Airedale Terrier: The largest of the recognized terrier breeds, the Airedale Terrier stands anywhere from 22 to 24 inches high on average. He makes an excellent companion for families of all types, but his natural bred-in hunting instincts make households with cats, rabbits, or other small non-canine animals a potential issue. His Fox Terrier-like silhouette gives him the iconic elongated muzzle and high-set, small-looking eyes.
The Kerry Blue Terrier is similar in size and stature to the Airedale, but wears a light or dark grey coat which gives him his distinctive breed name.
- Welsh Terrier: The Welsh Terrier very closely resembles the Irish Terrier, but on a smaller scale and wears a multicolored coat. Like his Irish counterpart, he has a long muzzle, folded ears, and a beard-like “pouf” of fur at his mouth. The breed is known for being well-balanced proportionately, with a body approximately as long as it is tall for a “squared” effect.
1889-Present: The Reign Of Terriers
As the AKC began to grow and establish itself as an authority, their recognized list grew by leaps and bounds. A handful of additional terrier breeds of dogs began to make their home in the hearts of their owners as well as on the now-iconic lists.
- Boston Terrier: While several coat color variations exist, the Boston Terrier is best known for his “suit and tie” tuxedo coloring of black and white. This breed is very recognizable, thanks to his perky ears, bright, clear expression, and stocky and proportional body. Considered highly intelligent and capable of considerable mischief, Bostons adapt well to city and apartment living thanks to their compact size.
- West Highland White Terrier: Without the benefit of coat color, the West Highland White Terrier, or “Westie” as he’s more commonly known, could easily be mistaken for a Scottish Terrier in terms of silhouette, size, and even temperament. The primary difference between the two, other than minor variances of breed origin, is in fact color: Scotties are never white-coated, and Westies are never black-coated.
- Sealyham Terrier: Named for the Sealy Ham estate in Wales where the breed was first developed, the Sealyham Terrier is a short, stocky-bodied pup with keen intelligence and a charming “fall” of tousled fur in the center of his forehead. He shares body shape similarities seen in the West Highland White Terrier and the Dandie Dinmont Terrier, as well as hunting genes that make him both strong and athletic. It’s not to say, however, that he doesn’t enjoy just spending time with his human family: he makes an excellent domestic canine companion.
- Cairn Terrier: As far as famous terriers go, the Cairn Terrier has what may be the biggest claim to fame: he rode in Dorothy’s basket in The Wizard of Oz as Toto. These scruffy-yet-sweet terriers are bold and fearless, and will cheerfully give squirrels, rabbits, mice, and other quarry a run for their money.
- American Staffordshire Terrier: No list of terrier breeds would be complete without including the “Amstaff”: he is an incredibly muscular dog, and is among the most misunderstood breeds. He’s often known by his colloquial name, the “Pit Bull,” though that name and breed aren’t officially recognized by the AKC. The American Staffordshire Terrier has a tall, proportional body, where his counterpart the Staffordshire Bull Terrier has a more squat form with a bulldog-like stance that’s lower to the ground. Both breeds were once known as “nanny dogs,” due to their legendary gentle and protective nature around children.
The Future Of Terriers
As breeds and crossbreeds continue to develop and make their way onto the AKC’s honorable rolls, there’s no doubt that new and wonderful terriers will keep emerging to delight the public. Other terriers added in the last few decades include the Norwich, Australian, Soft-Coated Wheaten, Tibetan, Norfolk, and Glen of Imaal (“Glen”) Terriers. The latest terrier addition to the AKC list, the American Hairless Terrier, was added as recently as 2016.
Bright, energetic, playful, and stubborn, terriers are among the most celebrated breeds in all of canine-kind, for good reason. These loyal companions and working dogs have established themselves for centuries as the pinnacle of breeding excellence, and show no signs of stopping as they trot – with characteristic sass, of course – into the future.
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2) Jobe, Mat. “The Ultimate Guide to Terrier Breeds.” Terribly Terrier.com, May 26, 2019,
https://terriblyterrier.com/terrier-breeds/. Accessed November 21, 2019.
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