The development of the Australian Terrier closely paralleled that of its close cousin the Australian Silky Terrier to the point that both breeds were developed from shared stock (terriers imported from the British Isles) in 19th century Australia; however, the Australian Terrier was developed as a working terrier, while the Silky Terrier as a companion animal. Closely related and hard for the untrained eye to differentiate they were not fully separated into two distinct breeds until midway through the 20th Century. The temperaments and working abilities of the Australian Terrier is generally regarded as being in between that of companion terriers such as a Yorkshire Terrier and that of pure working terrier such as the Jack Russell Terrier (Parson Russell Terrier). The Australian Terrier is sometimes known as the Aussie Terrier or simply the Aussie.
The Australian Terrier is one of the oldest native Australian breeds. Much of the development of the Australian Terrier was not recorded and has been lost to history. However, a great deal can be inferred and surmised. What is known for absolute sure is that the Australian Terrier developed over a period of decades, and perhaps centuries, from a number of different working terrier breeds native to the British Isles. This dog became adapted to the unique working conditions of the Australian landscape and was well-established as a working terrier and family companion by the time the breed was formally recognized in the 1800’s.
The terriers are one of the oldest known groups of dogs, and their origins have been lost to time. It is almost certain that these breeds were developed in the British Isles, and are many hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. The word terrier comes from either the French word terre or the Latin word terrarius, both of which mean earth or ground. Terriers acquired this name because of their traditional use: pursuing small mammals into their burrows. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest surviving use of the word terrier comes from 1440, meaning these dogs have been around since at least that time. However, these breeds are almost certainly many centuries older, and the word terrier most likely entered the English language in 1066 with the Norman Invasion. Roman records detail small ferocious hunting dogs indigenous to the British Isles, which are most likely terriers. Archaeological digs from Britain’s Roman period seem to confirm that the origin of terriers was well before 1 A.D., as they have revealed short-legged, long-bodied dogs similar to modern day Skye Terriers or Dachshunds. Terriers were almost certainly developed from dogs owned by the Celts or perhaps even earlier inhabitants of the British Isles. It has been suggested that the Canis Segusius, a wire-haired hound owned by the Gauls of Pre-Roman France, may have been the ancestor of terriers, but that is little more than pure speculation.
However and whenever terriers were first developed in the British Isles, they became valued helpers to farmers across England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. These dogs were tasked primarily with vermin eradication, a task at which these tenacious dogs excel. At one point or another, terriers have been used to hunt essentially every mammal native to the Britain that is smaller than the wolf, including rats, mice, otters, badgers, and foxes. These dogs became famous for their ferocity, their great hunting talents, and for their loyalty to their masters. At one point, almost all terriers were wire-coated and mostly brown, although that began to change in the 17th and 18th Centuries. For many centuries, terriers were bred almost exclusively for working ability, with little to no attention paid to their appearance. The result was that until the 1800’s, there were only a few distinct breeds of terrier, although a number of types did exist. Perhaps the oldest unique breed of terrier is the Skye Terrier, which was bred in isolation on islands off the coast of Scotland and has existed since at least the 1400’s. It is widely believed that the Skye Terrier is the result of crossing indigenous terriers with the Maltese and either the Swedish Valhund or one of the two Corgi breeds. Other old varieties of terrier include the Scotch Terrier (a working type, not to be confused with the Scottish Terrier), the Black and Tan Terrier, and the Fell Terrier.
Although first discovered by Dutch explorers in 1606, the first European settlements on the Australian mainland were not made until the 1780’s and 1790’s. The continent was widely considered to be too harsh, too distant, and not economically valuable enough to be worth European settlement. That changed when several prominent British thinkers decided to use Australia and the nearby island of Tasmania as prison colonies. Convicts would be sent from Britain to “improve” the Australian landscape, earning their freedom and making the land better for other settlers at the same time. As was the case across the world, British setters in Australia brought their beloved dogs with them to their new home. It is unclear exactly when the first terrier arrived on Australian or Tasmanian soil, but it was likely at a relatively early point, either the late 1700’s or the early 1800’s. It was not particularly uncommon for British ships of this to have a terrier or two on board to eliminate rats, and terriers may have come to Australia in this manner.
It is also equally possible that the first terriers were deliberately brought to Australia as companion animals or working dogs of other settlers. Because almost no terriers of that time were purebred, the earliest Australian terriers were probably generic terrier-type dogs than a specific breed. It was immensely costly to import anything to Australia, and very few terriers arrived. Additionally, the long sea voyage was very had on dogs, and many did not survive the journey. Because these dogs were not numerous, they were all interbred to maintain populations. Terriers were probably rare in the earliest years of Australian settlement as there was less need for them. None of the vermin species common to Europe (rats, mice, rabbits, foxes, badgers, weasels, otters, and hares) were native to Australia. Any of these animals present in Australia were all introduced to that continent by Europeans, although several arrived as stowaways. However, there were a number of other undesirable species present in Australia, especially deadly snakes and predatory lizards. Terriers quickly earned a reputation for themselves as snake killers.
The population and appearance of terriers in Australia changed dramatically as the 19th Century wore on. By the mid-1800’s, massive populations of several pest species, such as rats and mice, were found in Australia. There was therefore a greater need for the vermin eradication services of terriers and more were imported. Additionally, greater numbers of free settlers were moving to Australia to make their fortunes, settlers who were both more likely to bring their dogs with them or be able to afford to imports ones later. Finally, the development of English Foxhound stud books and registries in the 1700’s began to influence British dog breeding. Starting in the first decades of the 1800’s, British terrier fanciers began to develop a number of distinct terrier breeds, which differed dramatically from each other. At some point in the first half of the 19th Century, these purebred terriers began to arrive in Australia. However, importation remained expensive, and the journey remained difficult for dogs to survive. This meant that only small populations of these purebred terriers arrived on the Southern Continent which would probably not have been viable on their own.
Almost all terriers imported to Australia were interbred with each other, and to those terriers which were already present. From a very early point, Australian breeders began deliberate terrier breeding program to develop a dog that was ideally suited to working in the Australian environment. This program began in Tasmania around 1820, and quickly spread to the Australian mainland, especially Victoria. Originally, these dogs were known as Rough-Coated Terriers. Most of Australia remained very hostile throughout the 1800’s. Breeders focused primarily on working ability in their terriers, and the harsh Australian Outback provided natural selection. Interestingly, Australian breeders also likely selected substantially for friendliness towards humans and other dogs. This may be because most terriers in Australia served as the family pet as well as dispatching rodents, which was not necessarily the case in the United Kingdom. By at least the 1860’s, Australian breeders and the forces of nature had developed a terrier which was substantially different from any breed found in Britain. The resulting breed was significantly smaller than most working British terriers, possessed a distinctive topknot and ruff, and was long-bodied, short-legged, and black and tan in color.
There is substantial debate as to which terrier breeds contributed to the development of the Australian Terrier. It is most likely that the breed is primarily descended from old terrier types, rather than specific breeds. The old Black and Tan Terrier (the Manchester Terrier prior to the introduction of Whippet blood) probably featured prominently in the development of this breed. The Scotch Terrier and the Fell Terrier also almost surely were used as well. It is generally accepted that the Dandie Dinmont Terrier was one of the most important breeds used, and is mostly responsible for the long body and short legs of the modern Australian Terrier. The other breeds upon which almost all experts upon were the Skye Terrier and the Short-Haired Skye Terrier, which is now divided into the Cairn Terrier and the West Highland White Terrier. Beyond that, essentially every terrier breed which definitely existed in the first half of the 1800’s has been suggested as a possible ancestor to the Australian Terrier, and even some that did not. It is very likely that a number of other terrier breeds were used to the develop the Australian Terrier, especially the Irish Terrier, the Lakeland Terrier, and the now-extinct Paisley Terrier, a smaller version of the Skye Terrier and the primary progenitor of the Yorkshire Terrier.
As the years passed, parts of Australia became more prosperous and more settled. This was most evident in the major city of Sydney. More and more residents of Sydney were able to afford to keep companion dogs. As companion dogs were extremely rare in Australia before this time, they needed to be imported from elsewhere. Perhaps the most commonly imported companion dog of this time was the Yorkshire Terrier. The Yorkshire Terrier was developed by mill workers in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Many of these millworkers came from Scotland, and they brought a number of different varieties terrier with them, especially the Skye Terrier and the Paisley Terrier. The resulting terriers were small, silky-coated, and light in color. The Yorkshire Terrier quickly became one of the most popular companion dogs in England, especially with members of the working classes. As had been a common practice for decades, those Yorkshire Terriers which arrived in Australia were mixed with the Australian Terrier. Many of the offspring of these crosses possessed the silky hair of the Yorkshire Terrier and became known as Sydney Silkies. For many decades, there was no definite distinction between the Yorkshire Terrier, the Australian Terrier, and they Sydney Silky, and littermates would often be registered as different breeds. It is very likely that the temperament of the Australian Terrier was significantly softened by years of interbreeding with Yorkshire Terriers and Sydney Silkies.
During the 1800’s, dog shows and the keeping of stud books became extremely fashionable in England. This fashion rapidly spread to the Australian colonies. In the closing decades of the 1800’s, there was a growing desire to standardize Australian breeds. The first known appearance of an Australian Terrier was in 1968, when a Rough-Coated Terrier was exhibited in Melbourne. In 1887, the first Australian Terrier breed club was founded in Australia, becoming the first organized breed club for any of that country’s native dogs. That same year, the first Australian Terriers were exported to the United Kingdom and were granted official recognition by the Kennel Club in 1892, making the Australian Terrier the first breed of dog developed in Australia to be granted official recognition by a major canine organization. In 1903, the first recorded exhibition of an Australian Terrier under that breed name was made in Melbourne. Around that time the breed also began appearing in dog shows in the United Kingdom. Beginning around 1930, there was a desire to formally separate the Australian Terrier and the Sydney Silky. (Apparently confusion between these breeds and the Yorkshire Terrier had ended some years before.) Interbreeding was formally discouraged in 1933, and the two breeds were formally separated by the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) in 1958.
The Australian Terrier was almost exclusively found in Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand until World War II. During that conflict and subsequent years, a large number of American servicemen were stationed in Australia. While serving there, many American soldiers came into contact with Australian Terriers, and some acquired them as pets. After their tours were up, these newfound breed fanciers wanted to bring their new pets home with them. The first Australian Terriers began to arrive in the United States in the mid to late 1940’s. These dogs spawned greater interest and new fanciers imported these dogs from Australia and began to breed them. Among the most influential of these early breeders were Mr. and Mrs. Milton Fox of Pleasantpastures Kennels. Mrs. Fox was a native of New Zealand who had first become an admirer of this breed in her home country. By 1957, there was sufficient interest in the Australian Terrier that the Australian Terrier Club of America (ATCA) was founded. The following year, 9 Australian Terriers were entered in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. By 1960, 58 breed members appeared at the same show, and the American Kennel Club (AKC) made the breed the 114th dog to be entered into its registries. The Australian Terrier was placed in the Terrier Group. The United Kennel Club (UKC) followed the AKC’s example in 1969, granting the Australian Terrier full recognition in that year. The ATCA became an official AKC member club in 1977.
The Australian Terrier has never become particularly popular in the United States. Although numbers initially grew fairly rapidly, they quickly stabilized. It is fair to say that the Australian Terrier is a rare breed in the United States. However, this breed has a number of dedicated followers in this country as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom and is probably relatively secure. Most Australian Terrier fanciers are likely very content with their breed not being especially popular as this breed has been spared most of the poor breeding practices experienced by more fashionable breeds. In 2010, the Australian Terrier ranked 123rd out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations. The Australian Terrier was almost exclusively a working terrier until the closing decades of the 1800’s. As a result this breed likely remains very capable of vermin eradication, although very few (if any) of these dogs serve this purpose in the United States. As is the case with most breeds, the vast majority of Australian Terriers in the United States are either companion animals or show dogs.
The Australian Terrier looks like a cross between several different breeds of terriers, which is exactly what it is. The Australian Terrier is one of the smallest of all working terriers, and is actually smaller than some toy breeds. This breed typically stands between 10 and 11 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs between 10 and 14 pounds. As is the case with almost all terriers, the Australian Terrier is very sturdy and muscular, without being thick or bulky. The Australian Terrier has short legs and a long body. Some Australian Terriers are quite long in relation to height, having almost the proportions of a Dandie Dinmont Terrier or Dachshund, but most are significantly less exaggerated. In America, the tail of the Australian Terrier is traditionally docked to less than half of its natural length. However, this practice is falling out of favor and is actually banned in several countries. The natural tail of an Australian Terrier is fairly short and tapers substantially towards the end.
The head and face of the Australian Terrier are similar to those of other working terriers. This breed’s head and face should exhibit the power that they have. The head is slightly large for the dog’s body size, and ends in a long, wide muzzle. This muzzle only tapers slightly and ends in a black nose. The eyes of an Australian Terrier are small, set wide apart, and very dark in color. The ears of an Australian Terrier are actually somewhat small, but they don’t necessarily appear so because they are carried erect. These ears are quite expressive and are frequently in motion. The overall expression of an Australian Terrier suggests intensity, friendliness, and eagerness.
The coat of the Australian Terrier is what most distinguishes the breed from other terriers, especially the closely related Silky Terrier. Like most terriers, the Australian Terrier is a double-coated breed. The undercoat is short and soft while the outer coat is harsh and straight. The coat of an Australian Terrier should be roughly 2½ inches long over the entire body with the exception of the neck, top of the head, ears, tail, pastern, and feet. The hair on the ears, feet, and pastern are considerably shorter than the rest of the body, while the hair on top of the head forms a distinctive topknot and the hair on the neck forms a ruff.
The Australian Terrier only comes in two color schemes: blue and tan and sandy or red. Both colors are equally acceptable in the show ring but Blue and Tan is far more commonly seen. The blue on blue and tan dogs may be dark blue, steel blue, dark gray blue, or silver blue. The blue and tan markings should be clearly defined from each other. The tan markings should be as rich as possible and be present on the face, ears, underbody, lower legs, feet, and around the vent. Sandy or red dogs should be solid-colored, and the clearer the color the better. The topknot on the top of the head should be lighter in color than the rest of the body.
The Temperament of the Australian Terrier is remarkably similar to that of other terriers, but this breed is definitely one of the least extreme and most adaptable of all family members. Unlike most other working terriers, the Australian Terrier has long been bred for companionship as well as working ability. As a result this breed tends to form close bonds with its owners, to whom it is often extremely devoted. This breed is less independent than most terriers, but still considerably more independent than most companion dogs. While most terriers tend to be one person dogs, this is less true of most Australian Terriers who will willingly form close bonds with all members of a family. While the average Australian Terrier is not exactly warm or friendly with strangers, this breed tends to be considerably more polite and accepting of their presence than most other terriers. While Australian Terriers usually take their time to warm up to new people such as a new spouse or roommate, most will eventually come around.
All Australian Terriers are likely to bark repeatedly at the approach of a stranger, or even someone they known relatively well. Because of this, this breed makes an excellent watchdog. Australian Terriers generally have fewer issues around children than most similar breeds, and are probably a somewhat better choice to have around them. However, this breed is still a terrier and does not like the rough play, jerky movements, or loud noises most young children produce. While the Australian Terrier does not have extreme personal space issues, most breed members do not enjoy children who will not leave them in peace. Because of this, Australian Terriers are probably most well-suited to a home with slightly older children (8 or above). If you are an admirer of terriers, but would like a dog that is more adaptable to a number of different social situations, the Australian Terrier may be an excellent choice. If you are looking for a mild mannered Golden Retriever or Cocker Spaniel, the Australian Terrier is definitely not that.
Australian Terriers have fewer issues around other dogs than is common to the terrier group. This is not a breed that will necessarily loudly posture and challenge every dog that it sees, and most Australian Terriers will live quite happily with a dog of the opposite sex that they know well. Many Australian Terriers have dominance issues, but not extreme ones. When properly socialized, most Australian Terriers will be relatively polite with other dogs. However, this breed is far from the best around other dogs and is probably happiest as either a single dog or one of two. While few Australian Terriers will actively and aggressively seek trouble with other dogs, if they find it, they will certainly take it. It is definitely fair to say that while most Australian Terriers will not necessarily start a confrontation, they most certainly will not back down from one once it starts. This can be extremely problematic as the Australian Terrier is both powerful and tenacious enough to seriously injure or even kill a dog of similar or smaller size, but small enough so that is easily injured or killed by larger dogs. The vast majority of Australian Terriers will have significant issues if housed with a dog of the same sex, and if the two are both unneutered males expect regular severe fighting.
The Australian Terrier was developed to hunt rodents, a task at which it is still quite capable. These dogs were famed across Australia for their ability to kill rodents, rabbits, and even such dangerous quarry as snakes. This breed has a very high prey drive and will attack and kill small animals. The life expectancy of a hamster or gerbil left alone with an Australian Terrier is probably around a minute or less. If you leave an Australian Terrier in a yard or on a porch for any length of time expect to find lizards, cockroaches, and even the occasional squirrel left for you as “presents.” When on a walk, this breed will dart after almost any non-canine that it sees. As is the case with all dogs, Australian Terriers can be socialized to get along with cats. However, even the best trained Australian Terriers usually will harass even the cats that they know best. If you have a home with cats or other small animals, it would probably be advisable to find a different breed.
Australian Terriers are quite intelligent, and capable of learning a great deal. Experts regularly place this breed in the top 20% in terms of intelligence, and breed members have been successful competitors in obedience and especially agility events. However, the Australian Terrier is quite hard-tempered and will give you a number of training difficulties. If you are accustomed to working with breeds such as Labrador Retrievers or Collies, training an Australian Terrier will likely prove very frustrating for you. This breed is often deliberately stubborn, and will often choose to disobey or ignore a command. Australian Terriers have a very strong, “What’s in it for me?” attitude towards training and often decide that they simply will not do something. Additionally, if you are not the boss of an Australian Terrier, forget about trying to train one. This is a breed which will only obey those it respects. Don’t expect even a well-trained Australian Terrier to obey anyone it doesn’t know either. That being said, Australian Terriers are considerably more tractable than is common among terriers, and if you have a great deal of experience with these breeds you may be pleasantly surprised when working with this breed. One area where Australian Terrier owners will have to spend some extra time is socialization and manners. While Australian Terriers are generally willing and able to develop good manner this does take some time and effort.
The Australian Terrier is a very active and energetic breed. If you are looking for a dog which will lie next to you and watch television for hours, look elsewhere. This breed needs a great deal of regular daily exercise. Australian Terriers need a long, rigorous walk at the very least, and definitely prefer time to run around in a secure area. For a dog of this size, the Australian Terrier makes an excellent jogging companion. Most breed members would absolutely love to accompany owners on nature hikes, or any other adventure. Because of its small size and high energy level indoors, the Australian Terrier is more than capable of adapting to city life. However, this breed would prefer a home with a yard, and the bigger the better. It is absolutely imperative that owners of Australian Terriers meet the exercise needs of their dogs. If this breed’s needs are not met, they are quite likely to develop a number of behavioral issues, especially destructiveness, over-excitability, and excessive barking. This intelligent and athletic breed very much enjoys having a job and is more than willing to run through an agility course. However, most breed members are quite happy with less organized play.
Potential owners must be aware of one aspect of the Australian Terrier’s temperament. This breed barks, and it barks a great deal. Most breed members will bark repeatedly in quick succession. While the bark of an Australian Terrier is not quite a yap, it is quite shrill and high pitched. Proper training and socialization can dramatically decrease how much an Australian Terrier barks, but even the best behaved Australian Terrier will still bark more than most breeds. That being said, the Australian Terrier is considerably less noisy than the average terrier, and if a ranking was made of terrier breeds based on “barkiness” the breed would certainly rank very close to the bottom.
Australian Terriers are susceptible to a behavioral problem known as Small Dog Syndrome, although they are less susceptible than many other breeds. Small Dog Syndrome occurs when owners fail to discipline their small dogs in the same way that they would a larger dog. Dogs suffering from Small Dog Syndrome tend to be aggressive, dominant, excessive barkers, and generally out-of-control. Luckily, Small Dog Syndrome is easily preventable if owners always remember that their small dog is still a dog and treat it accordingly.
The Australian Terrier has one of the lowest grooming requirements of any terrier. This breed does not require professional grooming, and pet dogs do not need their coats stripped. This breed should be brushed daily or every other day, with owners treating the undercoat gently. Brushing brings out the breeds natural oils. Owners should bathe Australian Terriers very infrequently. This breed is not only naturally clean but excessive bathing removes the natural oils and leads to flaky, itchy skin. Owners must pay special attention to ensuring that Australian Terriers are kept free of fleas, which most breed members have allergies to. Other than that, the Australian Terrier requires no grooming other than that which all dogs need: nail clipping, teeth brushing, and ear cleaning. Australian Terriers do shed, but only lightly.
Australian Terriers are regarded as being a healthy breed, and as being healthier than many other working terriers. This breed was bred almost entirely for working ability for over a century, and unhealthy dogs would not have been bred. Additionally, this breed has been spared the poor commercial breeding practices found in many modern day breeds. This does not mean that Australian Terriers are immune to genetically inherited disorders, it just means that they suffer from them at average or low rates and that the conditions to which they do suffer are generally not life threatening.
There have been three completed health surveys of Australian Terriers, two of American and Australian dogs, and one of breed members in the United Kingdom. The results indicated that the life expectancy of Australian Terriers is probably between 11 and 12 years. This is average for purebred dogs in general, but lower than is common for similarly-sized breeds. By far the leading cause of death for Australian Terriers was cancer, which was responsible for 67% of Australian Terrier deaths. Cancer was followed distantly by old age (17%) and diabetes (13%).
Perhaps the most common condition suffered by Australian Terriers is skin allergies and allergic dermatitis (skin inflammation caused by skin allergies). This breed has somewhat sensitive skin and many develop allergies to everything from household chemicals to insect bites. In particular, these dogs are vulnerable to flea allergies. Some Australian Terrier suffer from such severe flea allergies that they may begin to tremble. Owners with an allergy suffering dog must do everything possible to prevent the dog from coming into contact with the allergen, and severe reactions may require expensive veterinary treatment.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
Although generally healthy, the following conditions have been found in Australian Terriers: