12 Terrier Dog Breeds

West Highland White Terrier

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Terriers were originally bred to search for and destroy vermin. Most hunted rats, mice, and other rodents, but some were used to hunt foxes, rabbits, and other larger game. Many terriers would “go to ground,” which means they would dig down into the earth and crawl into underground dens and tunnels when chasing their prey. 

Typically energetic, playful, adaptable, and outgoing, terriers love to be in the middle of the action. They are generally well-suited to active homes that are looking for a dog with bags of personality. They might be small, but terriers generally need plenty of exercise and attention, or they might turn to destructive behavior like digging, barking, chewing, and escaping.

Due to their original purpose, terriers can have a high prey drive (the instinct to chase and kill furry and feathery creatures) and you may need to put in some extra work when it comes to recall. 

While every dog is an individual, and appropriate socialization and training are important for every breed, typical terrier traits are bravery, feistiness, and tenacity. Not all terrier breeds are known for being highly social with dogs they don't know and they might not be so tolerant of young children.

Read on to meet 12 characterful members of the American Kennel Club Terrier Group. 

  • 01 of 12

    Airedale Terrier

    Airedale Terrier headshot on blurred grass background

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    The largest of all the terriers, the Airedale is known as the “King of Terriers.” The breed hails from a region of England called the Aire Valley, where the dogs were used to hunt ducks and dispatch pesky vermin like rats. The strong, energetic, and sometimes stubborn Airedale Terrier needs lots of obedience training from early on in life, and plenty of vigorous daily exercise. 

    Breed Overview

    HEIGHT: 23 inches tall at the shoulder 

    WEIGHT: 50 to 70 pounds

    Physical characteristics: Strong and well-balanced. The hard, wiry, dense, straight, short coat is a mix of tan and black or dark grizzle, with tan head and ears.

  • 02 of 12

    Bedlington Terrier

    Bedlington Terrier, Adult standing on Grass

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    The Bedlington Terrier originated in England, in the 1800s, where they hunted rats and other vermin on farms and in coal mines. With a sleek, sighthound shape, they look and feel like little lambs.

    Although they are known for being sweet and gentle, they are mightily courageous and tenacious when they have a furry critter in their sights.

    The soft coat does not shed much (if at all) but requires professional grooming every few months. 

    Breed Overview

    HEIGHT: 15.5 to 17.5 inches tall at the shoulder 

    WEIGHT: 17 to 23 pounds

    Physical characteristics: Graceful, lithe and well-balanced. The crisp coat, which is a mixture of hard and soft hair, comes in blue, sandy, or liver, sometimes combined with tan.

  • 03 of 12

    Bull Terrier

    Bul Terrier

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    The Bull Terrier was originally bred in England to be a fierce competitor in dogfighting rings, but when that brutal sport was outlawed, the breed was tweaked into the distinguished and sweet companion that it is today.

    The Bully is brimming with personality and has one of the most unique faces of the dog kingdom, with a long face that resembles that of a horse. The Bull Terrier can be stubborn, so early, consistent training is a must.

    Breed Overview

    HEIGHT: 21 to 22 inches tall at the shoulder

    WEIGHT: 50 to 70 pounds

    Physical characteristics: Strongly built, muscular and symmetrical. The short coat comes in almost any color including white, red, fawn, black, blue, or brindle (or a combination of these).

  • 04 of 12

    Cairn Terrier

    Cairn Terrier on agility see saw
    Cairns are intelligent and active and can do well in competive dog sports, like agility

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    Made famous as Dorothy’s little dog Toto in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, the Cairn Terrier originated in the Scottish Highlands more than two centuries ago. The hardy, fierce little dogs rooted out foxes, rats, and other furry critters from piles of rocks called cairns, from which the breed derived its name.

    Friendly and outgoing, Cairn Terriers typically make wonderful family dogs. Care includes weekly brushing and moderate exercise. 

    Breed Overview

    HEIGHT: 9 to 10 inches tall at the shoulder

    WEIGHT: 12 to 15 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Active, hardy, short-legged working terrier; the wiry double coat may be a wide variety of colors, commonly black, cream and grey, often with a brindle mix.

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  • 05 of 12

    Irish Terrier

    Irish Terrier running in the grass

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    With its fiery red coat and intense expression, the medium-sized, sturdy Irish Terrier is unmistakable. As the breed name suggests, this dog comes from Ireland, where it was a jack of all trades—hunting down rats and mice, guarding the farmstead, and serving as a devoted family companion.

    Strong-willed and full of energy, the Irish Terrier needs a good amount of daily exercise and consistent training.

    Breed Overview

    HEIGHT: 15.5 to 17.5 inches tall at the shoulder 

    WEIGHT: 17 to 23 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Medium-sized with moderately long back and legs. The dense, wiry coat comes in bright red, golden red, red wheaten, or wheaten.

  • 06 of 12

    Jack Russell Terrier

    Jack Russell Terrier

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    The Jack Russell Terrier was developed in England in the 1800s by a vicar by the name of John “Jack” Russell. He created two varieties of hunting terriers, one with longer legs (the Parson Russell Terrier) and one that was slightly smaller with shorter legs (the Jack Russell Terrier). Both types of terriers were excellent fox and rabbit hunters, as well as vermin dispatchers.

    Intense little dogs with endless energy, Jack Russell Terriers need a lot of exercise, play, mental stimulation, and training. 

    Breed Overview

    HEIGHT: 10 to 15 inches tall at the shoulder

    WEIGHT: 13 to 17 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Small, muscular and slightly longer than tall. The short coat can be smooth or rough, and is white with black, tan or brown markings.

  • 07 of 12

    Kerry Blue Terrier

    Kerry blue terrier in woods

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    A working terrier that originated in the mountains of County Kerry, Ireland, more than a century ago, the Kerry Blue Terrier had varied talents, including hunting, retrieving, and even herding livestock.

    All Kerry Blue Terrier puppies are born black. The coat gradually fades to the distinctive blue-gray color as the dog matures. The final color of adult Kerry Blue Terriers can vary from a deep slate blue to light blue-gray. Kerries do not shed much, but they require professional grooming every few months. 

    Breed Overview

    HEIGHT: 17 to 19 inches tall at the shoulder

    WEIGHT: 30 to 40 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Upstanding and in good balance, with a well-developed and muscular body. The short soft, wavy coat is blue-gray in color. 

  • 08 of 12

    Miniature Schnauzer

    Miniature Schnauzer standing on a lawn

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    The Miniature Schnauzer is a bred-down version of the larger Standard Schnauzer. Both Schnauzer breeds, as well as their cousin, the Giant Schnauzer, originated in Germany, where they were indispensable working farm dogs and rat catchers.

    Miniature Schnauzers are spirited and playful and need moderate daily activity. The wiry coat, which forms the breed’s trademark beard, mustache, and eyebrows, requires professional grooming every few months. 

    Breed Overview

    HEIGHT: 12 to 14 inches tall at the shoulder

    WEIGHT: 11 to 19 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Sturdily built, nearly square in proportion, with plenty of bone. The wiry double coat may be salt and pepper, black and silver, or solid black. 

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Norwich Terrier

    Norwich Terrier

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    Named after its city of origin in England, the Norwich Terrier hunted foxes, working in large packs and running alongside the hunters. The Norwich Terrier is one of the smallest of all the terrier breeds, but brave as they come and big on love.

    It’s closely related to the Norfolk Terrier, which they resemble closely (the main difference being the Norfolk Terrier’s folded ears versus the Norwich Terrier’s upright ears). 

    Breed Overview

    HEIGHT: 10 inches tall at the shoulder

    WEIGHT: 12 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Stocky, hardy, and with good bone and substance. The hard, wiry, straight coat comes in red, wheaten, black and tan, or grizzle.

  • 10 of 12

    Rat Terrier

    Rat Terrier

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    Though most terriers originated in Great Britain, the Rat Terrier was developed in the United States in the early 1900s, where it was used to hunt and kill rats and other rodents on farms.

    Rat Terriers come in two sizes: miniature and standard. They are high-spirited, energetic, and determined little dogs that need a good amount of daily exercise and play to stay content. 

    Breed Overview

    HEIGHT: 10 to 13 inches tall at the shoulder (miniature); 13 to 18 inches (standard)

    WEIGHT: 10 to 25 pounds

    Physical characteristics: Sturdy, compact and small to medium sized. The smooth, shiny, short coat comes in pied patterns (one or more colors with large patches of white).

  • 11 of 12

    Scottish Terrier

    Scottish Terrier

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    Scottish Terriers were prized fox and badger hunters for centuries in the Scottish Highlands, where they also earned their keep killing rats and other vermin on farms.

    Scotties have short legs, but their bodies are long and substantial. Although the black Scottish Terrier is very well known, the breed also comes in wheaten (lighter tan) and brindle (darker tan with tiger stripes).

    Today’s Scottie will gladly dispatch any rats or mice in and around your home. Like many other terriers, Scotties are scrappy and bold, and may not get along with other strange dogs.

    Breed Overview

    HEIGHT: 10 inches tall at the shoulder 

    WEIGHT: 18 to 22 pounds 

    Physical Characteristics: Thick-bodied and heavy-boned. The hard, wiry comes in black, wheaten or brindle. 

  • 12 of 12

    West Highland White Terrier

    West Highland Terrier head shot with paw on fence and blurred green outdoor background

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    Several small, short-legged terriers claim Scotland as their birthplace, including the Cairn Terrier, Dandie Dinmont Terrier, Scottish Terrier, and Skye Terrier, but of all the Scottish terrier breeds, the West Highland White Terrier is the only one that comes in just pure white.

    So the story goes, a Scottish colonel developed an all-white terrier after losing his red terrier in a hunting accident (the dog was shot because it resembled the foxes they were pursuing). Active and full of personality, without enough exercise and attention Westies might turn to destructive behavior. 

    Breed Overview

    HEIGHT: 10 to 11 inches tall at the shoulder

    WEIGHT: 13 to 20 pounds

    COAT AND COLOR: Small, well-balanced, and hardy. The medium-length double coat is always pure white.