All You Need To Know Guide On Top 10 UK Terrier Breeds

Looking to find out more about the terrier dog breeds? Our essential guide to the top 10 UK terrier breeds (as voted by my social media followers), will help you decide which terrier breed may be suitable for you, whether it is a small terrier breed or a terrier breed that is good for families with children, or you just love terriers but don’t know which terrier dog breed to choose. 

The tips and information in this blog will help you gain a better understanding of terriers and give you a brief outline of each of the top 10 terriers in the UK.

Why Terriers?

Most people, when thinking about getting a dog, know what breed/type they want. Usually, this goes back to a dog they had in their life as a child or one they saw frequently; their first heart dog.

My Dad had an alsatian type dog (I think it was a mix) when he was a young boy and he adored that dog, you could just tell by the way he spoke about him. So, after our family dog died (chosen by my Mum), a westie, my Dad rescued Dusty Dog, the softest, gentlest, furriest alsatian you could ever wish to meet. For me, Minty, our westie started my love of terriers. She was a beautiful dog, all white, feisty and funny, such a character. 

I think my husband wasn’t really that bothered about getting a dog, it was always me saying that when we stop working I would love a dog in our lives. I did lots of research but I always knew that our dog had to be a scruffy little terrier.

Border Terrier standing on grass

When people meet Barney, they just fall in love with him. He’s so easy going, a very calm dog, whilst being a typical terrier. He’s cute, persistent (wilful? haha), full of character, vocal, funny and sometimes just bloody annoying (hahaha). He is, in my eyes, the most perfect scruffy little terrier.

Sandy is our pretty rescue girl, who is so nervous but everyone that meets her wants her to love them.

Sandy terrier mix dog lying in dirt

Terriers are not lap-dogs, they aren’t dogs you carry around in a bag (unless they want to be carried), they are working dogs and full of character. Every day they will make you laugh, will surprise you with their ingenuity, will mock you with their ability to ignore you but once you’ve had a terrier you won’t want any other breed of dog. There’s so many to choose from to suit all types of homes, families and energy levels. Let’s find out some more.

A Brief History of The Terrier Breed

Terriers originated in the British Isles and are a result of man’s needs working out in the countryside, as they were bred to hunt and go to ground for prey, such as foxes, rats, moles, mice and rabbits. This is why originally, terrier breeds were short-legged, they were bred to be tough, hardy, tenacious and fearless dogs, spending all day out working alongside horses. The terrier breed is a working breed recognised by the Kennel Club and are still found today working on farmland alongside their owner.

Dog is looking out of a barn. Cute Jack Russell Terrier 12 years old

The dictionary definition of a terrier is;

“A small dog of a breed originally used for turning out foxes and other burrowing animals from their burrows.”

The word terrier comes from the Latin word terrarius meaning ‘belonging to the earth’, or Old French chien terrier meaning ‘earth dog’. So, if you have any terrier knowledge you will know how apt this is!

Westie dog digging a hole in the mud

The first terrier breeds were being recognised by the UK Kennel Club in the 1800s with the Smooth Fox Terrier being the first of a variety of fox terriers to have Kennel Club status. The Irish Terrier was the first of the native Irish terriers to be recognised in 1879. This year, 2020,  sees the Border Terrier celebrating 100 years of Kennel Club recognition and we know that the first Parson Russell Terrier was bought in 1819 by The Reverend John Russell. 

As you can see there is a lot of history behind the terrier breed group.

The Terrier Dog Breed Today

Terriers are still used as working dogs today mainly alongside farmers keeping the small rodents at bay but mostly you will find them at home enjoying all the creature comforts within the family home.

Different Types of Terrier Breeds

The British Kennel Club recognises 27 terrier breeds, which are;

  • Airedale Terrier
  • Australian Terrier
  • Bedlington Terrier
  • Border Terrier
  • Bull Terrier
  • Bull Terrier (miniature)
  • Cairn Terrier
  • Cesky Terrier
  • Dandie Dinmont Terrier
  • Fox Terrier (smooth)
  • Fox Terrier (wire)
  • Glen of Imaal Terrier
  • Irish Terrier
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Kerry Blue Terrier
  • Lakeland Terrier
  • Manchester Terrier
  • Norfolk Terrier
  • Norwich Terrier
  • Parson Russell Terrier
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Sealyham Terrier
  • Skye Terrier
  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Welsh Terrier
  • West Highland White Terrier

Terriers today come in all shapes and sizes, from the largest terrier breed, the Airedale, also known as the ‘King of Terriers’ to the smallest toy terrier breeds, like the Yorkshire Terrier or the Toy Fox Terrier. 

Terriers fur can be either wiry, double-coated to smooth, silky fur. Double-coated, wiry fur generally will need to be hand-stripped as the outer wiry coat protects against the elements and the thick undercoat keeps the terrier warm. Terriers with wiry fur often shed less and are believed to be suitable for owners with allergies.

Owning a Terrier

Mostly, you will find terriers have become family pets who enjoy the all the creatures comforts of a typical beloved dog.

People often ask whether terriers make good family dogs?

Well, of course, I would say yes. However, there are many people that would say no. 

That’s because terrier breeds were originally bred for hunting (and killing) vermin and then in the 19th century crossed with bulldogs which were intended for, now illegal, sports of bull-baiting and dog-fighting.

However, terriers are clever, friendly, loving and make wonderful companions. They are happy to be out with you all day or snooze and chill on the sofa too. Many terrier breeds are trained as therapy dogs because they are good with children, are gentle and love to be included in what’s going on, actually, they will always make themselves included (haha).

Happy family of father grandfather and son with Jack russel terrier dog having fun, laughing, running, walking together in park.

Terriers do need to be trained and socialised, well in fairness all dogs need this. However, terriers are known to have an independent streak in them, and I did read in a book about border terriers (before Barney came to us) that they should never be let off-lead because their recall cannot be guaranteed, especially if they are very prey driven. To be fair, when Barney was a puppy his recall was awful, you would often see us chasing him across the park as he went running off to say hello to a dog he’d spotted in the distance! (It’s much better now, thank goodness!).

So I’d say yes, they terriers do make good family pets, as with anything in life, you get back what you put in.

What do owners say about their terriers?

People who have terriers in their lives will tell you that terriers are real characters! I haven’t come across any owners that have ever sugar-coated what it is like to own a terrier. They can be great fun but they can also be hard work. Here are some words that you will often come across when people talk about their terriers, many of them starting with “little git” but they wouldn’t be without them!

  • Stubborn, independent – only does things on their terms
  • Prey driven, chases anything that moves – especially squirrels, birds and cats
  • Selective hearing – can’t hear you calling them but can hear a crisp packet open from the top of the house!
  • Hard to train – can’t be bothered, only does it when he wants to do it
  • Stoic – often very poorly before you realise something is wrong with them
  • Much loved – by everyone!
  • Full of character – funny, lively, clever, cute
  • Loyal
  • Hardy – loves rough and tumble play, being out on hikes, sniffing and enjoying the fresh air
  • Part of the family – always has to be where you are
  • Active, energetic – although they do like a good snooze and some refuse point blank to go out in the rain

Kennel Club Top 10 Breeds in 2019

Back in 2019, I noticed a social media post by the Kennel Club, announcing the Top 10 Breeds in the UK and I couldn’t believe it, there were NO terriers included on the list! How can that be, I thought?

So, I decided to do a poll on my Facebook page, asking my followers to create the Top 10 Terrier breeds.

The poll results were:

  1. Border Terrier
  2. Terrier Mix
  3. Jack Russell Terrier
  4. Lakeland Terrier
  5. Yorkshire Terrier
  6. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  7. Cairn Terrier
  8. West Highland White Terrier
  9. Patterdale Terrier
  10. Parson Russell Terrier

Our Guide To The Top UK Terrier Breeds (as voted by my followers)

No 1. Border Terrier

Typical Border Terrier in the spring garden

The Border Terrier is a small, very cute looking (OK, I’m slightly biased here!) rough-coated terrier. They were originally bred in The Borders (between Scotland & England) for hunting alongside the horses for foxes.

Border Terriers do vary in size, if you see a group of them together, you will really notice that there all so different. However, they are usually 25-28 cm tall, ranging between 6-10 kg. Their coats can be rough or smooth and there are 4 recognised Kennel Club colours, Red, Grizzle & Tan, Blue & Tan and Wheaten, however, there are accepted variations to their colour which takes them up to 10 colours.

Border Terriers make great companions, they love to play and interact with their owners/family, but they are equally happy snuggling on the sofa with you. However, this could also lead them to suffer from separation anxiety, as they do not like to be left alone for too long.

They are high energy, fun dogs that need a minimum of one hour exercise (I’d say 2, to be honest), they are keen learners but can be stubborn too! To get the best from your Border Terrier, training is key, they love a routine and will not let you forget that it is walk time, dinner time or treat time!

Generally speaking, they are hardy, healthy dogs that love to dig. Border Terriers are a breed that is loved by vets and their many devoted owners.

No. 2 Terrier Mix

Terrier mix dog sitting in the dirt

Whilst a Terrier Mix is not a recognised breed by the Kennel Club, you all love them. There are so many variations of terrier mixes out there, it would be impossible to discuss them all. Some of the most well known, and loved, Kennel Club recognised terrier breeds started life as a terrier mix. 

However, terrier mix breeds can be a mix of two types of terriers, or a terrier and another type of breed. Which means that terrier mixes will come in all shapes, sizes, coat type and temperament. 

Terrier mix dogs are nothing new, however, what is relatively recent is mixing two types of parent terrier breeds to create a ‘designer’ dog. This could be done for looks, but also health and temperament as the breeder tries to take the ‘good’ qualities from each breed, although this can never be guaranteed.

Popular terrier mixes are Parson Russell x Patterdale Terriers, Jack Russell x Patterdale Terrier. The term terrier mix is often used by rehoming centres when they aren’t sure the type of dog. Sandy, for example, is a ‘terrier mix’, we don’t know what mix she is, however, we do believe her mother was a miniature poodle but since she was found in a pound (in Cyprus – you can read Sandy’s story here) it’s impossible to know the what she’s mixed with, but we don’t mind what she is, she’s just Sandy.

No. 3 Jack Russell Terrier

Jack Russell Terrier hound in the forest. Hunting dog is looking out of a burrow

The Jack Rusell Terrier is another popular small and lively terrier breed. Originally bred in England, 200 years ago, for fox hunting.

JRT’s have shorter legs than their more squarely shaped cousin, the Parson Russell Terrier and are around 25-30 cm tall and 6 kg – 8 kg in weight. They are predominately white bodied with patches of colour, their coat can be either smooth or coarse.

These small, smart and fun terriers can be feisty, determined and like to make themselves heard! They need lots of exercise and regular training, an active family would suit a JRT, not just physical exercise but mental stimulation too. Like most terriers, they have a strong prey drive and stopping them from chasing squirrels (well anything that moves!) out on walks may be hard.

Jack Russell’s are loving and affectionate and would suit families with older children because their boisterous playing might overwhelm younger children. JRT’s love to jump too (very high for such a small dog!), so you will need to ensure you have a secure garden with fencing over 5ft!

No. 4 Lakeland Terrier

Lakeland Terrier Dog walking on the field

The Lakeland Terrier was originally bred in the Lake District in England, to hunt the foxes that preyed on the sheep and lambs. A slightly larger breed of hunting terrier at approximately 37 cm tall, still small but with longer legs in order to jump following foxes over rugged terrain.

Fondly known as Lakies, they have a double-coat, like the Border Terrier, which is a thick, wiry topcoat and a soft undercoat. They come in many colour variations including, blue, red, black, wheaten and liver.

Lakies are energetic (are you sensing a terrier theme here?), intelligent, bold, friendly and curious about everything. They also love their family and children. Excitable and full of energy, they will need at least two walks a day with a regular training programme, to ensure they know the boundaries of the household.

No 5 Yorkshire Terrier

dog breed Yorkshire Terrier in the park on a green lawn

Affectionately known as a ‘Yorkie’ the Yorkshire Terrier was originally bred to catch rats and mice in mine shafts and woollen mills in the North of England. One of the smallest terriers breeds at only 23 cm tall and weighing up to 3 kg, don’t be fooled by their cuteness. Yorkshire Terriers are feisty and have the braveness, energy and confidence expected of larger dogs.

A Yorkie’s coat is long, silky and completely straight if showing their coat would reach the floor, so grooming can be time-consuming. They have a single coat with very little shedding, so would be ideal for allergy sufferers. Yorkshire Terrier puppies are born black and their coat gradually changes colour to a blue and tan colour, as they age their coat lightens.

Yorkshire Terriers do better in families with older children, they like a lot of attention and time with their family. They do well with daily exercise and playtime however they don’t tolerate the cold and damp very well. Training is important with Yorkshire Terriers and loves to learn tricks, agility or obedience.

They also love squeaky toys and squirrels! So make sure you have good recall out on walks, or keep them on a lead!

No 6 Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Staffordshire Bull Terrier in woodland

The much-maligned and much loved Staffie was originally bred in England in the Midlands in the 19th Century as a cross between Bulldogs and terriers for dog-fighting. The outcome was a small, agile, strong dog with powerful jaws called Bull and Terrier. They were bred to show courage and aggression when fighting but to stay calm when being handled by people. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier was officially recognised by the Kennel Club in 1935, modified version of the dog-fighting Staffie more suitable for life with a family.

Staffies are around 40 cm in height and weigh about 11-17kg. Their coats are short and smooth, lying close to the skin. They come in different colours including black, white, blue, red, fawn, brindle with white and white.

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed is typically friendly and sweet-tempered around people with an affinity to children. Sadly, in recent years the breed has gained bad reputation as a ‘dangerous’ dog and if you look at any UK rehoming website you will see lots of Staffies looking for a new home.

Like any terrier, Staffies require effective and consistent training as they are highly intelligent dogs. They are energetic requiring daily exercise and mental stimulation, they love to have a ‘job’ to do, and partaking in activities such as flyball, agility or joining in a kick about with a football.

Whilst the Staffordshire Bull Terrier can look intimidating with their intense stare, and strong muscular body, they make a sensitive and loving companion, who enjoys playing and living life to the fullest.

No 7 Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terrier dog outdoor portrait standing in natural field with trees

The Cairn Terrier is a small, super cute, high energy terrier that was originally bred for hunting vermin and used by farmers to keep their properties clear in the Western Isles of Scotland. Farmers needed a dog that was courageous, full of tenacity and clever. 

They are small, sturdy at around 30 cm tall and weighing around 7 kg. We love a scruffy little terrier and that’s exactly what the Cairn Terrier is, with a double-coat which comes in red, sand, brindle, black and grey.

These happy, friendly terriers love to meet people whilst being independent, alert and tough (they think they are bigger than they are!). Given half a chance, they will chase any small animal, they love to dig and bark. Cairn Terriers make great family dogs and they love children, which means they do not like being left alone for long periods of time.

There is little a Cairn Terrier can’t learn, they are curious and quick to learn, after all the most famous Cairn Terrier is Toto from the film The Wizard of Oz!

No 8 West Highland White Terrier

Portrait of One West Highland White Terrier in the Park

Ah, the Westie, as mentioned I have a soft spot for the gorgeous, cheeky, cheerful terriers. They were bred in the 19th century in Scotland, from the Cairn Terrier. Their job was to hunt fox, otter, badger and vermin, so they had to be strong and agile.

The West Highland White Terrier is around 27 cm in height and weighs around 8 kg. Their beautiful white coat (the only colour for a Westie) is a short undercoat and a top coat that is kept close and short, they are easy to groom but not easy to keep white!

The Westie is a sociable dog and is suited to family life as they are fun-loving and enjoy the simple pleasures in life, a squeaky toy, a tummy rub and a couple of walks a day. If you love your garden, then a Westie might not be the dog for you, I can distinctly remember our Westie coming in from the garden covered in mud with a flower or two hanging out of its mouth! But they are so cute with their head tilt that you can’t help but laugh!

No 9 Patterdale Terrier

Portrait of young Patterdale Terrier in a garden

The Patterdale Terrier is a small and cute looking high energy terrier breed that was bred in the Lake District of England for hunting. Initially, it was bred for hunting Foxes and Badgers but now is more commonly used for ratting and protecting game birds since the English Fox Hunting ban. 

Patterdales are around 30cm in height and weigh about 5-7kg. Their coats can be coarse or smooth and they are usually brown and black in colour. You can get certain colours of coat such as Liver or Chocolate.

These energetic terriers are loyal and loving towards their owners. They need a great deal of exercise and training and so they are suited to households with work from home parents or a high number of family members who have time to spend with him or her. 

One of their little quirks is the ‘Pat Splat’ where they splay their back legs out – it’s quite funny to see them do this!
If you’d like to find out more about Patterdale Terriers then check out this website all about Patterdale Terriers, it’s full of useful information.

No 10 Parson Russell Terrier

Parson Jack Russell Terrier

The energetic Parson Russell Terrier was created in the West of England as a fox-hunting terrier by Reverend John Russell, originally as one of two strains of Jack Russell Terrier. The Parson Russell Terrier is the longer-legged version of the two.

With longer legs, the Parson Russell Terrier stands at around 35 cm and weighs around 7 kg. They have either smooth or rough weatherproof coat which is usually white with either tan, brown or black markings.

The Parson Russell is good with people, they are playful, loving but can be boisterous so maybe more suited to families with older children. They are also intelligent and would benefit from plenty of exercise and vigorous activity such as agility and flyball will help keep them becoming destructive in the home.

It Takes A Special Person To Love A Terrier

Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? That terriers are extra special dogs. They need time, energy, patience, training (consistently), boundaries, attention and love. 

You might think that sharing your life and home with a terrier is easy. Most people you speak to will say that their terrier is the best thing that has ever happened to them, that they can’t imagine life without their terrier, they consider their terrier as part of the family and they dread the day that they have to say goodbye to their terrier.

You may have noticed the same words used a lot to describe each of the terrier breeds above loyal, intelligent, feisty, fun-loving, energetic and this is why before you even consider bringing a terrier into your home, you need to learn and meet the breed, to make sure it will be suitable for your lifestyle.

In return, you will be rewarded with a special dog indeed, as all terrier lovers know, terriers are the best dogs EVER!

Terrier mix dog and border terrier dog with woman in jeans on the beach

We hope you find this guide to the top 10 UK terrier breeds helpful. Do you have a funny terrier story to share with us, we’d love to hear it!

Sign off from Michelle, Barney & Sandy

*as voted by my social media followers

Scruffy muddy terrier between a mans legs


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