The first step towards responsible pet ownership is to learn about the breed you are interested in. Becoming educated on breed history, along with an understanding of natural characteristics will allow you to decide if a specific breed is right for you. It is our hope that in reading the following, you will develop a good understanding of the Welsh Terrier: what the breed has to offer, their background and tendencies, and most of all, their needs when it comes to pet and family life.
Breed History and Characteristics
The Welsh Terrier is a very old working breed. Welsh Terriers have been bred for centuries to locate, chase, flush out and kill prey, without any prompting or hesitation. This ingrained personality is such that the breed has the drive, tenacity and stamina to chase prey relentlessly through harsh terrain, without noticing the pain of bramble cuts or bites. These working requirements have created a unique set of traits of which most Welsh Terriers share. Understanding their working history and function is important, as those who select a Welsh Terrier assume the responsibility of respecting and working with the hard-wired traits of the breed.
Prey Drive: This breed possesses the highest level of prey-drive. Prey drive means that Welsh Terriers have a powerful natural impulse to chase moving objects; which in everyday life can be cars, cats, squirrels, or running children. Unlike many other breeds, even the best-trained Welsh Terrier can never be completely trusted off-leash.
Strong Instinctual Reactions: Welsh Terriers are prone to strong instinct-driven behaviors. The breed has propensities towards: high prey drive (chasing), an assertive manner with other dogs, resource guarding, and automatic defensive reflexes (for example, growling when suddenly being woken up). Welsh Terriers are not recommended for inexperienced homes (and are not automatically recommended to homes with prior terrier experience), especially those with children. Training is critical to help teach Welsh Terriers how to be pets. Unlike many breeds of dogs, Welsh Terriers are not born knowing how to be a pet. For success with a Welsh Terrier it is critical to understand that they are a highly-driven working breed, that are different than other dogs.
Barking: Unlike many other terrier breeds, Welsh Terriers are not known for excessive barking. The breed does however have a propensity for alert barking. Alert barking is barking in response to environmental stimuli, especially at home. A bored Welsh Terrier will be even more prone to barking. If you live in the city with a Welsh Terrier, be prepared to take on some diligent training and/or management if you wish to lessen alert barking over routine daily sounds.
Energy Level: Welsh terriers relish their downtime, but even the most calm and well-trained Welsh Terrier can go into overdrive in seconds at the sight of prey or other fast-moving objects.
A Welsh Terrier is a lazy pet one moment, and a driven hunter the next.
Welsh Terriers require upper-level mental and physical exercise to fulfill the daily needs of their active minds and athletic bodies. Being just physically or mentally tired is not enough: both needs must be met to prevent a restless, frustrated Welsh Terrier. Boredom is not a friend of the Welsh Terrier.
Grooming: The traditional method of grooming a Welsh Terrier is called hand-stripping. All conformation/show Welsh Terriers are groomed using this method. Proper hand-stripping requires skill, is labor-intensive, and must be done on a regular basis for the quality of the coat and the comfort of the dog. The benefit of regular hand-stripping is a traditional-looking richly colored black and tan coat with a hard wiry texture. Many pet owners opt to have their Welsh Terriers clipped, which requires less labor and skill. Once clipped a few times, the texture of the coat usually becomes softer and often can no longer be reasonably or comfortably stripped.
Training: Welsh Terriers require a sizable amount of training compared to most other breeds of dogs. The best match for a Welsh Terrier is an owner who is open-minded and interested in spending extra time and effort training and building a bond with their dog, using positive reinforcement based methods. Early proper terrier-specific training is critical to avoid common behavioral problems in the breed, which can become significant issues.
Proper, terrier-specific training is critical early on to raise a Welsh Terrier. Welsh Terriers require more training than most terrier breeds.
Due to their resiliency and vermin-hunting working nature, the breed responds very poorly to punishment or correction-based training methods.
Living with a Welsh Terrier
Not Reliable Off-Leash: Welsh Terriers can never be 100% trusted off-leash, no matter how well-trained.
Need Regular Safe Exercise: Welsh Terriers require regular exercise. They need access to a secure fenced area in which to play, and/or guaranteed regular on-leash exercise. This does not refer to unsupervised time in a home backyard, but rather time spent together in a fenced area whether it is your own backyard, or a public area. It is advised that fences be 6″ below ground to deter tunnelling. A variety of exercise options should be provided to Welsh Terriers. Welsh Terriers typically don’t exercise themselves; exercise needs to be interactive. Being left alone in a backyard can lead to digging, nuisance barking, and escape.
Welsh Terrier Puppies are Not the Best Option for 9-5 Households: Welsh Terrier puppies need a significant amount of supervision and training, and are very social and busy dogs, therefore they are not the best candidates for a household looking to raise a puppy that will be alone for prolonged periods.
Not Always Good Candidates for Daycare, Group Dog Walking Services, or Dog Parks: Welsh Terriers have a bold and assertive manner that can get them into trouble with other dogs. If challenged, a Welsh Terrier will often rise to the occasion. Even the friendliest Welsh Terrier can have his natural approach mistaken for one of confrontation, which can lead to a fight. Therefore, not all Welsh Terriers are good candidates for dog daycare, dog walking services, or dog parks. While younger Welsh Terriers can be more congenial and playful than their adult counterparts, primarily exercising and/or “socializing” younger Welsh Terriers by means of daycare and/or dog parks is not recommended for long-term safety and behavioral well-being. Such means of “socializing” can actually teach a Welsh Terrier to be in a state of overstimulation at all times, which is very counter-productive.
Proceed with Other Pets with Caution: Due to their high prey drive, Welsh Terriers can be very excited by cats, and cannot be trusted with smaller pets. Careful training and safety protocols are needed to acclimatize a Welsh Terrier to living with cats and other pets.
Training Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All: Welsh Terriers have a strongly ingrained natural set of behaviors that are often misunderstood by general dog trainers. Prior to bringing a Welsh Terrier into your life, it is a good idea to establish a connection with a suitable and savvy trainer. If trained using ill-suited methods, behavioral problems can easily and quicky arise and become exacerbated in a Welsh Terrier.
The Welsh Terrier is an affectionate, versatile, and sturdy little dog. They require more training than most terrier breeds, but with the right methods are fast and enthusiastic learners.
Welsh Terriers have endless personality, spontaneity, and companionship to offer.
The breed is extremely charming in both appearance and personality. It is important to recognize that in addition to their outward appeal, Welsh Terriers are a true working breed with a strongly ingrained set of traits and history. They are truly a big dog in a teddy bear’s body.
- By Welsh Terrier behavior and training expert Emma Kesler, CDBC, CPDT-KA for The Welsh Terrier Club of America