For hundreds of years, British Naval and merchant ships carried Terriers on board. These little dogs appeared on no manifest, since they were neither paid nor fed – their job was to kill the rats that infested all ships, and their food was their kill. These Terriers came from all over the British Isles and each was typical of the area it came from. Ancestors of the Skye (about a third of its modern size), the Scotch (not the modern Scottish and about half the modern size), the English Black and Tan (mostly only as big as the rats it hunted) and many more small Terriers all went to sea with the navy and the merchant vessels long before there were any named breeds of Terriers.
When the First Fleet came to Australia, it brought with it not only convicts, soldiers, smallpox and sailors, but also mice, rats and small Terriers. Early crops, better suited to an English rather than an Australian environment, failed and the colonists were on the verge of starvation. At this time, the little Terriers were highly prized as they preyed on the vermin that feasted on food supplies.
The later colonies repeated this practice, valuing small dogs which didn’t need to eat the precious stores and which would kill not only vermin but the dreaded Australian snakes. It isn’t surprising then, given the drastically different environment they were now hunting in for survival, that the mixed Terriers evolved into a breed unique to this country and ideally suited to the country’s challenges.
These Terriers were small, not needing to eat very much, and could kill their own food. They were rough-coated (the bush was not kind to smooth-coated skins) and had a large ruff and apron to protect them from snake bites. They also had smooth, small feet which could handle any terrain.
This breed bonded with children of families on large properties, where parents were often working far away for long periods, and acted as effective watchdogs to warn of the approach of strangers to isolated homes. Later on, this would prove even more valuable on the goldfields, when many a claim was saved by the vigilance of the ‘Aussie’.
The first standard for the Australian Terrier was written in 1887 in Victoria, and even then the colour was determined to be not black but ‘blue and tan’ (as it appears in the current Dogs Australia breed standard), or sandy or red. The Aussie was then recognised as a breed in its own right and began to be shown regularly among the ‘Rough Coated Terriers’. However, since bloodlines were fiercely protected, no one would release any of their information for the publication of records.
According to the Dogs Australia breed definition, the Aussie is: “A sturdy low-set dog, rather long in proportion to height with strong Terrier character, alertness, activity and soundness.”
Dogs Australia further mentions: “Its untrimmed, harsh coat with definite ruff around the neck extending to the breastbone and its long strong head assist in developing its hard-bitten, rugged appearance.”
A long silky topknot protects its eyes and pulling a comb through a few times a week keeps the coat free of loose hair. His coat, approximately 5cm long, is rough and weatherproof, with a dense undercoat in the winter.
Temperament & Suitability
Our Aussie is bright, alert, smart, quick-to-learn, outgoing, usually friendly to a fault and loving. It is slightly longer than it is tall – about 25cm high to the wither.
Unlike most Terriers, the Aussie is not one to start a fight but he will stand his ground if threatened.
As long as it can be with a person, the Aussie Terrier is happy. Its loyalty and even disposition make it a very suitable companion dog.
A very basic little dog, it is relatively free of hereditary faults as breeders since the 1970s have worked very hard to eliminate them. Aussie Terriers now live happily all over the world, whether on a farm or in a city apartment. They perform well in both the obedience and agility rings – in fact, they generally love to participate in any activity that gives them a chance to bond with a human.
Words: adapted from The Australian Terrier Club of NSW
Now you know a little about the Australian Terrier, you may think that this is the dog for you. Before you make a decision, please make contact with the breed club or your State controlling body for purebred dogs. They will be able to give you information about available puppies and also suggest dog shows where you can see the breed and speak to breeders. In this way you will gain a better perspective of the Australian Terrier and its needs, and whether this breed would suit your lifestyle.