The Welsh Terrier

Britain's oldest breed


Is it an Airedale puppy?

Is it a Wire Fox Terrier?

No, it's a Welsh Terrier, the Welsh version of a feisty, go-to-ground kennel dog bred to eradicate vermin from British farms. Closely resembling the Lakeland Terrier, which developed in Britain's northern Lake District for similar purpose, Welsh Terriers were housed with the hounds, ran with the pack, and climaxed the chase by going underground after otter, fox, or badger.

The Welsh have had purebred strains of dogs for more than 1000 years. In its native Wales, the terrier was referred to as daeargi, which means "dog." An old Welsh poem written about 1450 describes the hardy little terrier with some accuracy as " . . . a good bitch, a black red-bellied terrier bitch, to throttle the brown pole-cat," a dog that undoubtedly was the progenitor of the present day Welsh Terrier.

Some historians think that all terriers are modifications and improvements of a single breed recorded as the "Old English Black and Tan." Early pictures show the Black and Tan as a medium-to-small dog, usually wire-coated, with small ears and a sharp, alert expression. The Black and Tan no longer exists, probably because breeders and fanciers found variations of it were more suitable or desirable than the original.

Entire families of closely related terrier breeds gradually evolved through carefully repeated breeding of a few dogs that proved superior in hunting particular game and possessed the ability to transmit their traits to their offspring. Breeders used only the soundest, most promising dogs from each litter for future matings. Dogs that did not measure up seldom were allowed to survive: it was a harsh life for dog and man, and there was no place in it for the weak or the useless. The huntsman practiced line breeding and inbreeding well in advance of published theories of genetics.

The hunter's idea of a perfect terrier is evident in his final choice. He wanted a small dog, for what use is one that gets caught in the hole or eats as much food as it catches? It had to be a dog of good bone and muscle, with strong jaws and teeth.

The Welshman also wanted his dog to have strength and stamina with a calm disposition so he could trust it as a companion and guardian of the children or kennel it safely with other dogs. For its own protection, it had to have a rugged constitution and a weather-resistant coat. How the dog looked was less important than how useful and sturdy it was. From the beginning, the Welsh was a balanced, compact dog with no exaggeration of size or features.

Show dogs

The breed was recognized by the English Kennel Club in 1885, but pressure by breeders of the Black and Tan resulted in its classification as "Welsh Terrier or Old English Wire- haired Black and Tan Terrier." The Welsh's supporters formed a club in 1886 and in the following year, they prevailed on the English Kennel Club to drop "Black and Tan" from classification.

Feldstead Kennel in Neath, South Wales, was important in producing the modern Welsh Terrier. Begun in 1927 by H. Snow, Feldstead quickly became synonymous with good color, excellent coats, correct cobbiness, and the "Feldstead look" that is their trademark: the pleasing head and frontpiece that correctly presents the workman-like terrier as an attractive show dog. In many pedigrees the Feldstead Kennel name appears quite often.

The first Welsh Terriers were imported to the United States by Prescott Lawrence in 1888. Their names were T'Other and Which, and they were shown at the Old Madison Square Garden Show in the Miscellaneous group. In 1900 the Welsh Terrier Club of America was formed, and in 1901 the Welsh was given a separate classification for exhibition. The Welsh Terrier has done well at Westminster where an import, Ch. Flornell Rare-Bit of Twin Ponds, won Best in Show in 1944. On many other occasions Welshes have captured the always hot Terrier Group. Two Welsh Terriers have made the Supreme Champion of the world-renown Cruft's Show in England in 1951 and 1959.

General appearance

The Welsh Terrier is a sturdy, compact, rugged dog, about 15 inches at the withers and 20 pounds in working-condition weight with a thick, coarse, wiry coat. The legs, underbody and head are tan (ranging from light tan to dark reddish brown); the jacket is black or occasionally grizzle. The docked tail completes the image of a square dog, about as high as he is long. The movement is a typical trot of the long-legged terrier -- effortless, with good reach and drive.

The breed is friendly, outgoing to people and other dogs, showing spirit and courage. Intelligence and desire to please are evident in attitude. An ancient Welsh triad sets forth three things most distasteful to a true Cymro (Welshman): "to look with one eye; to listen with one ear; to defend with one hand." Surely the Welshie meets the test, for he is an intense dog who looks with both eyes, listens with both ears, and defends with great vigor.

The Welsh is generally gay and even in disposition and afraid of nothing; he truly fulfills a traditional Welsh motto: Gwell Angau Na Cywilydd: "Better death than shame." His coat is double, with a wiry top layer and a woolly undercoat that must be hand-stripped, or plucked, for the show ring.


Stripping brings out the best texture and color of the coat. Many pet owners are not equipped or have the time, talent, or inclination to pluck the dead hairs, so they use electric clippers. However, clipping makes the coat softer on the back, and, in many dogs with gray undercoats, leads to the appearance of gray hairs in the black jacket. In black undercoats the color changes from season to season when the coat is clipped. About four or five clippings a year will keep a pet looking trim. The adult coat doesn't shed, so a good brushing and combing once a week is necessary to keep the dead hairs removed.

The all-weather coat repels water and insulates against heat and cold. The dog should not be bathed too frequently as water destroys the coat's wiry texture and natural oils. Many Welshes go a lifetime with only two or three baths without doggy odor.


Many owners have come to realize that his small size and practical doesn't-show-dirt color make the stocky Welsh Terrier a perfect dog for the city, while his ruggedness and stamina make him a favorite of those who love the outdoors. His alert personality has won him many friends. He is hardy and easy to train and is a responsible watch dog. Because of his versatility and intense devotion, he has wagged himself into the hearts of all dog lovers. When raised without pampering, he takes life without much due stress. This laid- back attitude allows the adult Welsh to adapt well to life as a "latch key pet" for the busy family whose members are away at work and school.

Few congenital abnormalities have been observed in the breed. The one exception is luxated lens, a dislocation of the lens in the eye that can lead to secondary glaucoma and cause blindness. The average life span of the breed is 10 years, although many live longer. Typical geriatric diseases appear in old age.

Training and behavior

The Welsh Terrier is a perfect candidate for crate training. He needs to be walked on a leash and to be protected by a fenced yard or a rectangular run. Some Welshes are escape artists and have been known to climb or jump six foot fences; like most terriers, they like to dig holes. Many Welshes like to swim or wade in water and may put their faces under water to drink; some of them dig in their water bowls. They also like to retrieve balls, toys, and articles of clothing and carry them wherever they go, so owners may find missing socks in the back yard. The Welsh is not a good companion for someone who wants a baby or pet to pamper and may too late realize the Welsh has taken over the household.

Behavior problems in the Welsh Terrier breed may include dominance challenges, especially in the guarding of objects, places, and family members from other family members; touch shyness; picky eating; and excessive barking.

The Welsh is a moderately territorial breed, as are most terriers.

Some individuals are likely to try to assert dominance over dogs and people that show signs of fear or submission. They are likely to test their owner's dominance periodically by willful disobedience and demanding behavior. Direct dominance challenges are likely only with the feisty individual dog who perceives his owner's timidity. One should train with a firm command, based upon a secure feeling of dominance and mastery, but not with prolonged or intense physical force or punishment; pain will cause the dog to counterattack, and if you lose the dogfight, your dominance will be more difficult to win back.

What Kind of owner?

The right owner is the person who wants a rugged, healthy dog: a bright but quiet companion that's easy to house train, a little more difficult to obedience train, and full of terrier spunk should a stranger knock on the door. The Welsh is good with considerate children, although an older Welsh may feel out of sorts with the arrival of the first baby after years of "Welsh government" in the household. Toddlers do not make good owners of any breed of dog and Welshes are no exception to the rule, although the adult dog can more patient than some other terrier breeds.

Bitches are generally more alert, quicker to learn and have more of the "I can do it myself" approach to life. They are sometimes dominant in their love of people and may be more scrappy towards other dogs. They are definitely more vocal than males, although the Welsh is not a yapper.

The bitches are the hunters. In the American Working Terrier Trials (in which the earth-hunting abilities of terriers are measured), two out of three achieving their titles are bitches. The purpose of the trials is to perpetuate the terriers' original purpose in the dog world, which is to "go-to-ground" after vermin. The word terrier is from the Latin word "terra" meaning "earth." The simulated "earths" (dens or vermin tunnels) test the terriers' skills without injury to prey. The prey, usually rats, are protected in a special cage, so the dogs never come in actual contact with them. Each run is timed from the release of the dog near the tunnel entrance to the dog's arrival at the prey, and for the length of time the dog indicates the prey's presence by barking or digging. To qualify for a Certificate of Gameness or the CG title, the dog must complete the 30-foot tunnel run.

Males tend to be easy-going, devoted, friendly companions, and are more challenging than aggressive. They are steadier, quieter, and quicker to enjoy the fun in life than the bitch. The Welsh Terrier is not an aggressive dog and should not be allowed -- or worse, encouraged -- to be one.

The Welsh has typical terrier quickness -- he's quick to make friends with man or beast, quick to react to your moods, and quick to switch from couch-potato to super watch dog. All this quickness can be to the dog's detriment if he is not taught right from wrong. Beginning at eight weeks of age and reinforced daily thereafter, the Welsh (as with all dogs) should be taught "Come," the first life-saving lesson. The second command they need is "Stay."

The Welsh Terrier is a basic terrier with basic needs: training and controlled "hunting" for mental stimulation, walks on a leash and play for physical exercise, normal veterinary care, a good diet to keep him at a healthy weight, and grooming to keep him handsome. Provide these needs and you'll have a loyal friend for life.

Barbara Cincush

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