Originally published in the AKC GAZETTE - August 2020
The Welsh WAG – November 2020
The Welsh Terrier was originally bred as a dog who could go to ground to root out vermin and kill them. He was also expected to dispatch vermin above ground, killing as many as possible to help farmers keep their croplands vermin free. The animals that Welsh Terriers were bred to hunt were those that destroyed crops, spread disease, and chewed their way into buildings wherever they could. Welsh are very capable rat killers. Remember that rats spread bubonic plague, and also are responsible for major damage to food crops needed for livestock and human use. The original Welsh Terrier had to be strong, supple, and small enough to go to ground, and sturdy enough to work for extended periods of time. Their coats had to be wiry, with a short, dense undercoat not only to protect the dog in bad weather, but also to limit the chance of the dog being bitten by the rat or other destructive vermin.
With that in mind, take a look at today’s Welsh Terrier as he parades around in the show ring. Is the 17-inch dog with long, fine-boned legs and refined head really the best choice to tackle a large rat or rabbit, let alone a woodchuck, possum, or weasel? How many of today’s show Welsh have good, tight feet with thick pads and strong, tough nails for digging?
The Welsh Terrier’s structure is, obviously, not the same as that of the Irish Terrier or the West Highland White Terrier, and worlds different from that of the Manchester or Dandie Dinmont, but Welsh are also different from Lakeland and Fox Terriers, even though the differences from these are more subtle. Fox Terriers often ran with the men on horseback, which required a higher-on-leg dog and slightly less spring of rib. Generally, Fox Terriers (of both coats) cornered the fox for the hunter to kill, but the Welsh and Lakeland went to ground and dispatched the prey on their own. Welsh usually were used for slightly larger prey, which is why bone and muscle mass is emphasized on the Welsh. The Welsh was not originally designed as a pretty dog, but rather a substantial and sturdy working animal.
Knowing these difference between terrier breeds that appear very similar on the surface should help you understand why breeders have selected different breeds with structural differences to do different jobs. It is important that both breeders and judges keep these differences in mind while evaluating, whether for breeding stock or for show-ring winners.
The Welsh Terrier is a good hunter and a great show dog, but he also makes a charming and enjoyable pet and companion. There are a few extra challenges involved in obedience training them, however. Like other terriers, a Welsh has a strong prey drive and will chase almost anything that moves. Teaching a Welsh to focus on you when there is something to chase can be difficult, but not impossible. Start early in puppyhood to always come when called, willingly and fast. A “really reliable recall” is necessary. Also teach him an absolute “stay,” which means “don’t get up, don’t slide forward, and don’t start in sit-stay and decide to down-stay in the middle of the exercise.” Realize that he is a terrier, and staying is not something he does willingly when something more interesting is going on. Praise and reward for doing it right, and correct when he does it wrong. He will learn if you make it worth his while. These two commands should be part of a terrier’s life from puppyhood on.
Please don’t listen to those who tell you terriers are untrainable just because they don’t know enough to properly train a smart dog. Over the years I have had a number of champions and grand champions who also had obedience and rally titles. It just takes being more stubborn than the dog.
Welsh Terrier Club of America
AKC Gazette – August 2020
Welsh Terrier Column
Reprinted with permission from the AKC Gazette