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An Introduction to Terriers

An Introduction to Terriers

While impossible to document, it is believed that domesticated dogs (Canis familiaris) may date back more than 20,000 years. The earliest specimens are thought to have stemmed from ancestors of the wolf family. Both early humans and the forerunners of today’s domesticated dog lived a simple existence dominated by the need to hunt to survive. ln a mutually satisfactory bond, man supplied all the dog’s basic needs and in return the dog aided man in the hunt, in controlling his flocks, and in protecting his home. Over time, man learned how to refine the dog through selective breeding to enhance desired traits. Thus, from these first strains of domestic dog more than 400 distinct breeds have emerged.

Several of the hound breeds have been traced back more than 8,000 years to the time of the pharaohs. Terriers are not nearly as ancient a group, but most can trace their heritage to the British lsles in the 14th century. Similar breeds were also being developed in Germany around this same time. The word “terrier” is derived from terra, the Latin word for “earth.” Terriers (literally “earth dogs”) were originally used to “go to the ground” and hunt out and destroy small vermin. A terrier trails an animal wherever it may go, often digging down into holes and submerged nests. Controlling vermin required an energetic and courageous animal with a well-developed sense of smell-a dog that could hold its ground against such opponents as foxes, weasels, ferrets, and rats. From the earliest days until modern time, terriers have exhibited courage that belies their moderate size. Pound for pound, there are few breeds that can match the energy, bravery, and stamina of a terrier. There are more than twenty breeds that formally comprise the Terrier Group, as defined by the American Kennel Club (AKC). There are a number of other breeds that have been assigned to the Toy, Working, and Nonsporting Groups that stem from these early strains of “earthe dogges,” as terriers were formerly known.

Most terriers were originally kept by peasants and members of the working class, not as pets but as working dogs to control the pest population. Terriers of all varieties proved to be tireless “ratters” with an innate desire to please and serve their masters. Such loyalty and enthusiasm in time earned such dogs a place in the home as companions as well.

The British lsles are generally regarded as the homeland of most of today’s terrier breeds. Because of Britain’s varied terrain, terrier breeders were forced to breed their dogs selectively to adapt to the local conditions. Two main groups eventually were established: long-legged and short-legged terriers.

The longlegg varieties are generally regarded as the “English” type, with smooth coats, rectangular heads, and erect tails.

The short-legged varieties, or the “Scottish” type, typically have a rough coat, a larger head, and a low-slung posture.

Over the years other terrier breeds that did not fit these two classifications also emerged. Some larger, powerfully built terriers were developed to function primarily as fighting breeds in a “sport” long since banned in Britain and the United States. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier (often referred to as the American Pit Bull Terrier) stem from these lines.

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