The Terrier dog breeds group is made up mainly of dogs who were historically bred to accomplish pest control tasks for their people.
They learned how to burrow into holes and tunnels and either flush out or kill small animals that have beem problematic to people over the centuries; animals such as rats, otters and foxes.
A few members of the Terrier Group descended from breeds who had a darker history, though…dogs who were bred to bait bulls and to fight each other, many times for betting purposes.
Unfortunately, this history puts a cloud over some of the wonderful dogs in the terrier dog breeds group, especially when considering them for your family.
We will try to shed some light on some of the confusion over a few breeds that have been shown to be less stable in the Terrier dog breeds and therefore not always the safest to have around children, and compare them to ones proven stable with children.
The clearest example deals with the differences between a breed we recommend from this group- theStaffordshire Bull Terrier (originally from England) – and breeds we do not generally recommend for families with younger children, primarily the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier.
We will provide what we believe, through our research to be the facts, and let you decide how you wish to go forward with your family dog search, but please remember that our goal at Dog Paw Print is to to provide you with balanced information, backed up with research. We are not interested in perpetuating misinformation about certain breeds who have been unfairly maligned by the press, however safety is a main concern and it is important to be cautious about breeds with vascillating personalities from any of the dog groups.
We aim to help families find good breeds to investigate as family dog choices, and many families have small children to think about. Therefore, we follow our general guidelines and have consulted many sources regarding temperament and testing. You can read more about our sources on our books about dogs page
Also, if you haven’t read our Choosing a Dog page, we suggest that you do so now, to learn more about the reasons that we recommend certain dogs over others on this site. Reading the information there, as well as taking our Selection Quiz for Choosing a Dog will help you learn more about your own needs and what our site goals are to see if they align well together with the breeds you are considering. If you are looking for a great family dog, we think you have come to the right place for good information on how to find the best dog of the terrier dog breeds for you!
AKC Terrier Dog Breeds List
The current twenty-seven members of the AKC Terrier group is as follows:
- American Staffordshire
- Dandie Dinmont
- Glen of Imaal
- Kerry Blue
- Miniature Bull
- Parson Russell
- Smooth Fox
- Soft Coated Wheaten
- Staffordshire Bull
- West Highland White
- Wire Fox Terrier
- Miniature Schnauzer
Recommended Terrier Dog Breeds for Families
Of the twenty-seven terrier dog breeds that make up the Terrier Group, we have selected ten breeds that we feel make good family dog types. Here they are, listed from small to large in size:
- Norfolk Terrier
- Norwich Terrier
- Cairn Terrier
- West Highland Terrier
- Australian Terrier
- Border Terrier
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier (*NOT* to be confused with the American Staffordshire Terrier (or “Amstaff”)
- Soft Coated Wheaton Terrier
- Airedale Terrier
Norfolk and Norwich Terriers are the smallest of the Terrier breeds that we are recommending for families with children. Usually under ten pounds, they are small but rugged little dogs, and they seem to really enjoy gentle and respectful children. They share the same lineage and have few differences, but Norwich Terriers have ears that stick up and Norfolks have ears that fold down. (Remember it like this: Norwich ears are like witches’ hats- they are pointy and stand straight and tall – Norwich/witch hat!). These little guys can be wonderful with kids, other pets in the household and even cats, if they are socialized well with them from an early age. They are active and playful, and need a good romp every day to keep them happy and out of trouble. They are also alert and make good little watchdogs. If you direct their energy and stick with obedience classes, they truly have very few faults as family dog choice winners!
To continue on with our Terrier Group favorites, next on the list is the Cairn Terrier. The most well-known and well-loved Cairn by far is “Toto,” Dorothy’s lovable companion from the movie The Wizard of Oz. Like the little dog in the movie, Cairn Terriers are devoted, loyal and mischievous (remember how Toto pulled back the curtain to reveal the real “wizard?”) In real life, they are bold and clever, and are sometimes aggressive with other dogs, but are sweet with calmer children when socialized together. These high-energy dogs should be raised with other cats and dogs from an early age to ensure harmony in the household. If you can meet these criteria, Cairn Terriers might just send you “over the rainbow” and you’ll end up with a great family dog as your pot of gold.
Next on our list of recommended family dogs from the Terrier Group is the Australian Terrier. This tough, scrappy dog also tends to be a good city-dweller, and is a minimal shedder. These small dogs are affectionate and funny, and have a need to keep busy, so give them lots of toys to amuse themselves with. Australian Terriers do really well with obedience classes, and if socialized early, get along famously with gentle children and even cats! Not always good with other dogs, it is especially important not to put two male dogs together in your household. With that aside, these fun-loving, affectionate dogs can be a happy addition to your family.
The Border Terrier, like the one pictured here, has a lot of “pluses” and very few “minuses” as a family dog choice. More laid-back and easy-going than some of the other members of the Terrier Group, Border Terriers are friendly, affectionate and easy to train. They tend to be really good with children and generally get along with other dogs, which is sometimes a challenge for some of the other terrier breeds. They have an innate desire to chase smaller animals, so try and socialize them very early with cats and smaller household pets, or you may have very unhappy cats! One of the downsides of this breed is that they love to dig and sometimes bark a lot, but because they are highly trainable, you can usually be successful in working through these challenges and end up with an upstanding, well-behaved family member.
Miniature Schnauzers can be really sweet additions to the family, but careful individual selection is a must. Always be sure to go to a reputable breeder if you are considering a Miniature Schnauzer, because they have been a heavily bred puppy-mill favorite, and you can end up with a dog that will not make you or your family happy. That being said, if you find a well-bred one, you will end up with a playful and affectionate dog that usually likes children very much, especially when socialized well with them. Devoted to their families, Miniature Schnauzers can be a bit on the needy side, but they also tend to be less dominant than some of the other members of the Terrier Group, which is one of their advantages. As with other Terrier Group dogs, socialize early if you want to include other animals in your family. Miniature Schnauzers make cute vocalizations, which are often very funny. In other words they like to “talk” to their people!
The Next Recommendation from the Terrier Dog Breeds Group Needs a Little Explanation
As mentioned earlier, a few of the Terrier dog breeds descend from fighting stock, and two of these often get mistaken for one another. I will explain more about this in a future section, but for now, I can try and help you understand the basics of the confusion and the concerns that they provoke.
Although a descendant of dogs bred for fighting, the English breed of Staffordshire Bull Terrier is recommended here with some caveats. Because of its ancestry, Staffords many times do not get along well with other dogs, but since the 1800’s, they have been bred to be friendly toward people, even when they were still participating in dogfighting. England made dogfighting illegal in about 1835, and ever since then, Staffords have been bred to possess more desirable qualities for companion dogs.
In 1935, The English Kennel Club added the breed to their roster, and later, in 1974, the American Kennel Club also decided that they would be included as a recognized breed. Staffordshire Bull Terriers are smaller than their American counterparts, and should not be confused with the breed called the American Staffordshire Terrier, or AmStaff. The English version is only fourteen to sixteen inches tall, and weighs between twenty-four to thirty-eight pounds, whereas the AmStaff is between seventeen and nineteen inches tall and between fifty-seven to sixty-seven pounds in weight. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a high energy and playful breed, but they can quickly destroy toys due to their strong chewing tendencies. They are affectionate and gentle, and are especially drawn to children, which earns them the nickname of “nanny dog” in England. Please do your research on the history of these dogs and obtain from a reputable breeder who breeds for exceptional temperament, and you should be on your way to finding a wonderful family companion in the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers Can Be Winning Family Members
The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier has a lot going for it in in the family dog search! They love children and are calmer than some of the more high-strung members of the Terrier Group. They are low-shedding but have a very high maintenance coat, so be prepared to spend time brushing it three to four times a week to prevent matting. Like other terriers, obedience classes are an absolute necessity with Soft Coated Wheatens, but you will love their happy, playful outlook on life, and their ability to get along well with other animals.
We will finish up our recommendations from the Terrier Group with the Airedale Terrier. We recommend this breed, only if you have had other dogs in the past, because to have a harmonious family match with an Airedale, some experience with dogs is needed. They require a lot of work because they are a high energy breed, so be prepared to be able to provide ample opportunities to exercise with you. They are also a bit headstrong, and will need obedience training. Airedales really like to be with their people, and are patient, affectionate and playful with children. They are alert and make good watchdogs, too. Airedale Terriers have a somewhat wiry coat that needs tending. It should be brushed at least two times a week, but does not shed much.
Watch a Clip From the movie “Best in Show” -the cute & funny “God Loves a Terrier” song!
- Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy, as Cookie and Gerry Fleck, sing one of their terrier songs at a bon voyage party, just before they take Winky (their Norwich Terrier) to compete in the Mayflower Dog Show. This clip is from the hilarious Christopher Guest movie, Best in Show (2000).