rec.pets.dogs: Australian Terrier Breed-FAQ

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Susan Saulvester

May 21, 2006, 12:22:56 AM5/21/06
Archive-name: dogs-faq/breeds/aus-terriers
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Last-modified: 10 Nov 1997

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This article is Copyright 1997 by the Author(s) listed below.
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Australian Terriers


Susan Saulvester, Ruth Gladfelter and Sabine Baker.
Originally written April 1996.
Copyright 1996 by the authors, all rights reserved. You may download
and print a copy for your personal use; for further distribution you
must have the written permission of the authors.

Table of Contents

* History
* Description
* Care
* Training
* Health and Medical Problems
* Frequently Asked Questions
* Resources



The Australian Terrier has been recognized by the American Kennel Club
since 1960, and it ranks in popularity about halfway down the list of
AKC breeds. It is not, however, one of the better known breeds of
Terriers, and an Aussie owner walking his dog may expect to hear such
remarks as "What kind of dog is that?" or "Is that a Cairn?" ..."a
Norwich?" ...A big Yorkie?"

These remarks are not far from the truth, for the Aussie shares a
common ancestry with all of those breeds, and with most of the other
short-legged terriers of Great Britain. The Aussie harks back to that
progenitor of the short-legged terriers, the old Scotch Terrier, a
rough-coated black and tan dog not to be confused with today's

As the name indicates, the Australian Terrier was developed in the
land down under sometime during the 19th century, perhaps as early as
1830, the only terrier breed other than the Schnauzer not originating
in the British Isles. Small, rough-coated terriers were used to keep
rats and other vermin under control on ships, and the Aussie's
ancestors may have been smuggled ashore from ships taking settlers to
Australia. Tasmanian settlers also found these dogs invaluable, as
they warned of marauding aborigines and escaped prisoners, two real
dangers in the early settlements.

The terriers were extremely useful as vermin and snake exterminators
and were prized for their watchdog abilities - traits still apparent
in the present-day Aussie. These rough-coated little terriers were
later crossed with other terrier breeds from Great Britain: the Dandie
Dinmont, the Cairn, the Yorkshire, possibly the Manchester and the
Irish, although no one knows with absolute certainty.

Whatever its ancestry, the Aussie has emerged as a spunky little
terrier: game, high-spirited and courageous, yet possessing an
enormous amount of sensitivity. Because he was developed in close
association with man under often stressful conditions, he has a strong
sense of devotion to his household.

The Australian Terrier is a genuine charmer and, once hooked, few
Aussie owners ever switch breeds. What's more, many find they can't
own just one. However, not all Aussies are generous enough to be
willing to share their owners, and two males generally will not be
able to live together peacefully.

Most are good with children as well as senior citizens, so they make
excellent family pets. As with any small dog, supervision with
toddlers is essential, for the dog's protection as well as the
child's. Aussies are equally suited for town or country living as long
as provision is made for safe exercise. An Aussie should NEVER run
loose! The instinct to hunt is so strong that he will not stop to
check traffic if he sees a squirrel or strange cat.


The Standard describes the physical properties of the ideal Australian
Terrier. Because of copyright concerns over the collection of all
Standards at any single site storing all the faqs, AKC Standards are
not typically included in the breed faqs. The National Breed Club can
provide the reader with a copy of the Standard. The Australian Terrier
Club of America has a nice book available, complete with
illustrations, that is helpful in understanding the standard.

The Australian Terrier is a sturdy, low set little dog somewhat longer
in relation to height, alert and strong in terrier personality, and a
very active little dog. A mature Australian Terrier should measure 10
to 11 inches at the shoulder and weigh approximately 14 to 16 lbs.
However many of today's Aussies are considerably larger. His coat is
harsh to the touch, with a softer undercoat, and it comes in two
colors: blue/tan or sandy/red. The body coat is 2 to 2 1/2" inches in
length with longer hair on the chest, called the apron. There is a
ruff around the neck (said to offer protection against snakes and
rodents) and a longer, softer (and lighter in color) topknot. The
topknot is the gift of the Dandie Dinmont ancestry. The eyes are
small, dark and almond shaped: They reflect a world of love, loyalty
and devotion to their people.


The Aussie is an easy keeper. Compared with many of the sculptured,
barbered breeds of the terrier group, a pet Aussie is relatively easy
to groom: Use your fingers to pluck the long hairs growing in front of
and between the eyes. If left, these can irritate the eyes. Also pluck
any long hairs protruding beyond the edges of the ears. Trim around
the feet and tail with scissors. An occasional bath and regular
brushing will keep insect pests down and shedding to a minimum. Many
of the herbal extracts and perfumes used in shampoos can irritate
sensitive skin. Some Aussies do better with a mild, hypoallergenic
shampoo. Nail trimming is needed regularly and should be started early
and with gentle restraint. The pet Aussie can be maintained adequately
with regular combing and brushing and an occasional bath and nail
clipping. Flea control is vital, since some Aussies are prone to
flea-bite dermatitis. Show dogs require considerably more hand
plucking and shaping to give them the elegant profile needed in the
show ring. A detailed grooming chart is available from the ATCA.

Most Australian Terriers have hearty appetites; they are not fussy
eaters. They are adaptable dogs and travel well. A healthy breed with
few genetic problems, Aussies are noted for longevity, with many
living into their teens.


The Australian Terrier is an intelligent, inquisitive little dog with
an innovative outlook on life that carries over into its learning
experiences. The Aussie is a quick learner, and quite a crowd pleaser,
but easily bored by repetition, and does not respond positively to
harsh training methods or severe corrections.

Since all the Terriers tend to be very dominant and somewhat
dog-aggressive, proper socialization of the puppy is a must. A puppy
training class is recommended and these are often offered by a local
dog club or recreation department. An introductory obedience class
serves to socialize the puppy by getting it out around other people
and dogs, teaches it car manners, and how to behave on a leash. It
also gives you, the owner, a support group for help with problems such
as chewing and housebreaking.

Motivation is an important key in training the Australian Terrier. The
task at hand must be made challenging and fun, and the trainer should
find some kind of incentive, in the form of treats, toys, or verbal
praise that the dog best responds to. Australian Terriers do not work
for nothing!

Crate training is recommended, starting with puppyhood. This aids in
housebreaking and provides a "den" or refuge for the dog later in
life, as well as a means of safe travel in the car. Australian
Terriers are considered "house dogs" and should not be kenneled or
confined outside of the household.

Australian Terriers are easily bored with routine, so short training
sessions with lots of rewards are most successful. An Aussie may do an
exercise enthusiastically but not always correctly about twice, then
announce it is time to go play with the tennis ball! To keep the dog
focused on you, the trainer, YOU must become the most interesting
object in the training session.

Terriers in general can be willful and stubborn, and terrier
adolescence can be a very trying experience for the novice owner. A
firm, consistent approach to what is and what is not acceptable
behavior will prevent the Aussie from becoming a household tyrant. A
well-trained and well-socialized dog is a pleasure to be around.

Australian Terriers have been trained successfully in all levels of
obedience, agility, earthdog, and tracking, and have competed in
national obedience events. They should not, however, be compared to
other breeds of dogs such as Golden Retrievers or Border Collies, or
even the family pet you owned as a child. Expect the unexpected as you
train or exhibit, and maintain your sense of humor. (Your dog will
certainly always have his!)

Health and Medical Problems

Australian Terriers are fortunate in that they do not yet have many of
the genetic health problems that affect other breeds. This breed does
seem to have a predisposition for diabetes and thyroid disorders.
These conditions can easily be managed by a committed owner and
veterinarian. On rare occasions, epilepsy has been reported. Like
other members of the terrier group, Australian Terriers seem prone to
itchy skin and allergies, particularly in warmer climates. These skin
conditions may occasionally be caused by an easily corrected imbalance
in the thyroid function but are often environmental. Flea and parasite
control are essential.. A change to a premium lamb and rice food often
helps, as does supplementation with fatty acids. Sometimes itchy skin
conditions can be caused by perfumes and harsh chemicals used in
shampoos and flea sprays.

As with other small, active breeds, the Aussie can be affected by a
condition called luxating patellas, where the knee cap of the rear
legs slips in and out of its groove. This can cause pain and lameness
and may require surgical intervention. Although the Aussie does not
have hip displasia, it can be affected by a similar condition called
Legg-Calve Perthes disease (aseptic necrosis). This disease causes the
bone of the femoral head to die and to be gradually resorbed,
resulting in collapse of the bone and deformation of the hip joint.
The condition leads to degenerative changes in the hip and development
of arthritis. Age of onset 5-9 months. The cause is not known. It is
diagnosed via x-ray and can be surgically corrected. The prognosis is
generally good.

Both luxating patellas and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease are thought to
be inherited conditions. Both conditions are aggravated by excessive
weight. Some breeders of Australian Terriers are currently having
their breeding stock x-rayed and rated by Orthopedic Foundation of
America (OFA) and their eyes tested by a veterinary ophthalmologist

In general the Aussie is a very sturdy, healthy breed, prone to a long
life with few and relatively minor health problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

_What is it like to live with an Australian Terrier? _

Sometimes exasperating, frequently lively, never dull and nearly
always fun. Although the Aussie will sympathize with your sad
moods, its temperament is basically upbeat. Many sport a puckish
sense of humor, and they tend to be clowns. They are clever and
crafty. As with any breed, this one is not for everyone. Although
Aussies are not snappy or aggressive, neither are they docile
gladhanders. And while not yappy, they are watchdogs at heart,
quick to sound the alarm if something or someone strange enters
their territory. Their voices are loud and sharp. Born to be
hunters, they will chase squirrels, rabbits, and lizards. And yes,
they will chase cats - with enthusiasm! But many Aussie owners are
also cat owners, so the dogs can be discriminating.

If landscape gardening is your hobby, you will be wise to choose
another breed. These dogs are diggers, and just a hint of mole or
shrew will set those front paws into motion and earth flying. In
addition, they are - like other terriers - impulsive. Don't even
consider owning one if your yard is unfenced, because these eager
little hunters won't stop to watch for cars. But if you would like
a handy, small-sized dog with a lion's heart, a dog that is
lovable, loyal, hardy and entertaining, then an Australian Terrier
may be in your future.

_Where can I find an Australian Terrier? _

The Australian Terrier Club of America maintains a breeder
referral, coordinated by Sabine Baker, P.O. Box 30, Cobbs Creek, VA
23035; phone (804)725-9439. Referral by the breed club does not
mean the club endorses the breeder. You must personally screen the
breeder. Please read Cindy Tittle Moore's FAQ "Getting A Dog".
Before you put down any deposit, make sure the breeder gives you a
written sales agreement to review. It should contain the names,
addresses and telephone numbers of the buyer and seller, as well as
the names and registration numbers of the sire and dam, a brief
description of the puppy and some form of health guarantee. The
health guarantee should allow you a minimum of 48 hours to have the
puppy checked by your veterinarian and to return it, should he find
a health problem. If an advance deposit is required, be sure to get
the terms, such as refund policy or other conditions, in writing.

Australian Terrier Rescue, listed below, can often provide those
who do not wish to cope with a puppy with a nice adult dog.




* "The Complete Book of Natural Health for Dogs and Cats" by Dr.
* "Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence" by Carol Lea Benjamin

The following items are available from the "Aussie Store".
* New Owner's Booklet
* Illustrated Clarification of the Standard
* Grooming Chart

On-line Resources

The Terrier-L mailing list. Send e-mail to with a blank subject line and SUBSCRIBE
TERRIER-L firstname lastname in the body of the message. This mailing
list is for all people interested in any of the terrier breeds and a
good source for advice in dealing with some of the behavior patterns
unique to terriers.

The Earthdog/Squirrel Dog Hunting Home Page.

Australian Terrier Homepage:

The American Kennel Club Web Site


_Australian Terrier Club of America_
Corresponding Secretary: Marilyn Harban, 1515 Davon Lane,
Nassau Bay, TX 77058
The corresponding secretary can provide information on the
following regional clubs:

+ Australian Terrier Club of Greater Chicago
+ Australian Terrier Club of Colorado
+ Copperstate Australian Terrier Club
+ Raritan Valley Australian Terrier club


Australian Terrier Rescue, Inc. is always available to assist in the
foster care and placement of any Australian Terrier in need. It has
worked with shelters and animal control units around the country. It
receives abandoned pets as well as pets from people who are no longer
able to take care of them. Perhaps an older dog or a special needs dog
would suit your situation. All rescue dogs are vet checked, spayed or
neutered and placed in a foster home while awaiting placement. The
rescue coordinator is Barbara Curtis,1005 Mt. Simon Dr., Livermore, CO
80536, 970-482-9163

Australian Terrier FAQ
Susan Saulvester, Ruth Gladfelter and Sabine Baker:

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