Years ago I was asked by the Welsh Terrier Club of America to revise the breed description for the website. A common gripe is that breed descriptions for Welsh Terriers are inaccurate and/or misleading. I have received wonderful response to this article from Welsh Terrier enthusiasts of all levels from all over the world for the following description.
The Welsh Terrier
The first step towards responsible pet ownership when considering a breed type is to learn more. Becoming educated on breed history along with developing an understanding of natural characteristics will allow you to decide if a specific breed is right for you. It is my 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. It is important to know that while this breed is highly sought after; there is an extremely high rehoming rate.
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. They are drawn to movement.
Strong “Instinctual” Reactions: This breed has propensities towards: high prey drive (chasing), an assertive manner with other dogs (google “sparring”), resource guarding behavior, and strong startle reflexes when resting (for example, growling when suddenly being woken up). It is important to remember that propensities towards certain behaviors does not mean a dog will develop challenges; it means we must proceed with more planning and careful training to prevent challenges from arising.
Alert Barking: The breed has a propensity for alert barking. Alert barking is barking in response to environmental sounds, especially at home. A bored Welsh Terrier will be even more prone to alert barking. Setting up your home to avoid “window watching” can greatly reduce these challenges.
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. 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 and can lead to destructive behaviors and excessive barking. Destructive behaviors and excessive barking are NOT behavior problems but signs that a Welsh Terrier’s needs are not being met. Shock collars and overfeeding should not be used as replacements to meet the high mental and physical energy needs of this breed.
A Welsh Terrier is a lazy companion one moment, and a driven hunter the next.
New to Welsh Terriers? Welsh Terriers are one of, if not the most intense breeds in the terrier family. Even homes experienced with terriers frequently report being overwhelmed by their first Welsh Terrier, or their first “full strength” Welsh Terrier. If you are away from the home daily for long hours or have small children or grandchildren, a Welsh Terrier may not be the best fit for your family. The most common reasons for rehoming include challenges meeting needs and with children.
Have Experience with Welsh Terriers? Welsh Terriers like any of us are varied. Whether you end up with a “full strength” Welsh Terrier is really luck of the draw. Many people who’ve had multiple Welsh Terriers before and then end up with a “full strength” Welsh Terrier have absolutely begged me to include in this description that breed experience is not always enough to prepare one for the demands of a “full strength” 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 very regular basis for the quality of the coat and the safety and 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, and when grooming is done infrequently (once a month or less) is far more comfortable and humane for the dog. Once clipped a few times, the texture of the coat usually becomes softer and often can no longer be comfortably stripped.
Training: Welsh Terriers require a sizable amount of training compared to most other breeds of dogs. Early proper terrier-specific training is critical to avoid common behavioral problems in the breed, which can become significant issues. The best match for a Welsh Terrier is an owner who is open-minded and interested in spending extra time and effort training, learning about and building a bond with their dog. Positive reinforcement based methods are essential for this breed. Due to their resiliency and vermin-hunting working nature, the breed responds very poorly to punishment or correction-based training methods. Punishment/dominance/correction based methods can prove a safety risk for people when applied to this breed.
Proper, terrier-specific training is critical early on to raise a Welsh Terrier and avoid behavior challenges. Welsh Terriers require much more training than most terrier breeds.
Living with a Welsh Terrier
Not Reliable Off-Leash: No dog can EVER be 100% trusted off-leash, and Welsh Terriers are no exception to this rule, especially with their above-average prey drive passions.
Needs Regular Exercise: Welsh Terriers need daily, varied, safe forms of exercise in a variety of environments.
- Fences areas are great for interactive play. Welsh Terriers typically don’t exercise themselves; exercise needs to be interactive. Being left alone in a backyard (even when you are home) can lead to escape, digging and nuisance barking and is not recommended.
- Fetch as a primary means of exercise is not advised as it can create OCD-like behaviors and chronic repetitive injuries in this breed.
- Leashed walks especially on a 6-10-foot leash are highly recommended in safe areas. Two to five miles once a day 5 days a week is a minimum for this breed. Many owners are frustrated that their squirrel and dog-heavy neighborhoods are not ideal for such prey-driven dogs and unfortunately if you live in a busy area, you may have to regularly drive to less busy areas to meet this breed’s exercise and enrichment needs.
- Regular nature walks are ideal for this breed. A 10-15 foot leash is optimal for this pursuit. You will likely need to drive to meet this need and it is a factor to consider before bringing this breed into your life.
- Agility – it is worth nothing that while agility is a great source of exercise, it is unrealistic to view it as a primary source of exercise as agility requires a significant investment of training, and boxy-bodied dogs such as Welsh Terriers must already be in prime athletic shape to be able to do agility safely.
Welsh Terriers and Welsh Terrier Puppies are Not the Best Option for Busy 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. It is equally unkind to keep a highly active and intelligent breed alone in a confined space frequently for extended periods of time.
Not 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. We’ve bred this breed to stare at other dogs and to always hold their tail up high. Even the friendliest Welsh Terrier can have his natural approach mistaken for one of confrontation. 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 success. Such means of “socializing” can actually teach a Welsh Terrier to be in a state of extreme overstimulation at all times, which is rarely what people want from a companion dog.
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. Living with a cat or cats is absolutely possible but can take up to a year of gradual exposure.
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, even those who are positive reinforcement based. If trained using ill-suited methods, behavioral problems can easily and quickly arise and become exacerbated in a Welsh Terrier. Often when methods aren’t suitable for the dog, the dog will exhibit behaviors that are challenging and even dangerous, and then the dog will be seen as the problem, which is not acceptable. Prior to bringing a Welsh Terrier into your life, it is a good idea to establish a connection with a suitable and savvy trainer.
The Welsh Terrier is an affectionate, versatile, action-packed intelligent little dog. They require more work than most terrier breeds, but with the right methods are fast and enthusiastic learners. 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.
Originally Written for The Welsh Terrier Club of America
By Emma Kesler, CDBC, CPDT-KA