My very first dog was a terrier, a Jack Russell called Skeeter who exhibited many terrier traits. Skeeter loved to dig and chase, and if he picked anything up in his mouth would give it a vigorous shake. Skeeter was also very, very smart. Terrier owners should never underestimate their dogs need for training and physical exercise, these mostly small dogs have big personalities and require a lot of stimulation.
Terriers were bred to hunt and kill vermin on farms, ships and in homes. Terriers would spend much of their time having to think on their own, this results in an independent, courageous dog who can work all day and who is able to problem solve with great success. For the owner of a terrier these traits have the potential to cause problems, unless you prepare for them.
Terriers have high energy levels and need to be walked every day, often off lead. Walking your terrier off lead at the park gives them the opportunity to stretch their legs, interact with other dogs and explore their environment. A tired terrier will be less likely to engage in destructive or unmanageable behaviour at home. Start teaching your terrier to recall to you from a young age. If you have an adult terrier who has no recall you will need to start practising in enclosed spaces or on a long line.
Terriers have a natural instinct to chase objects, people and other dogs. Teaching your terrier to sit and watch you will go a long way to stopping them engage in this behaviour and it developing in to an enjoyable habit for your dog. Start by setting up mock scenarios at home with your dog sitting and watching you while a family member walks past. Reinforce your dog with a treat when they sit quietly watching you rather than concerning themselves with the distraction. Over time you can use this skill with people on the street, cyclists, joggers and eventually other dogs.
Most terriers love to chase a ball, and for many the ball is often more rewarding than a piece of food. If your terrier loves to chase a ball you can use it as a training tool, simply give your dog an instruction (one they already know) and only throw the ball once they have complied with the instruction. Avoid mindless ball tossing, dogs who only chase the ball at the park do not have the opportunity to interact in a meaningful way with their environment. Another great activity for a ball loving terrier is fly ball, find your nearest fly ball club and take your terrier along for some training fun.
Terriers were bred to hunt and kill. Terriers love to destroy their toys, and can often have a hard bite. In order to save people or objects from injury it is imperative that your terrier learns to inhibit his bite. The best way to teach a dog bite inhibition is to allow them to play with other dogs, if your dog bites too hard the other dog will yelp and the play will stop. Always play with a toy in your hand when you are interacting with your terrier so they can use their jaws and teeth in a more appropriate way. Corrections can also work in teaching bite inhibition, to learn the best way to administer corrections click here.
Find a good dog trainer to work with so that you and your terrier learn valuable life skills. The best way to train a terrier is to make sessions fun and creative. Long drill sessions will only make your terrier bored and difficult to work with. Intersperse training with games such as tug, ball chasing and tricks. Your terrier will love to train if they do not know the difference between play and work.
Your terrier will also love shaping games. Think of a behaviour you would like your terrier to perform, such as shake hands. Offer your clenched hand with tasty treats inside and just wait to see what your terrier does. He may sniff, lick and bark at your hand but eventually he will paw at it, as soon as he does, mark the behaviour with a ‘yes’ and open up your hand giving him access to the food inside. Over time he will resort to the pawing behaviour more quickly, once the pawing is reliable you can put a cue to it such as ‘shake’. During initial shaping training you are not giving any instructions to your dog, he has to work out the puzzle himself. Terriers love to problem solve and will love this kind of training.
Terriers have spunk and pizazz, harness this energy for good and you will reap the most wonderful rewards.