Australian Terrier

Australian TerrierAustralian Terrier

The 'Aussie' as he is affectionately known, was originally a vermin killer. When he first came to Australia, he tackled introduced vermin such as rates and mice. Later, he hunted indigenous species particularly snakes. Today he is one of Australia's most iconic breeds. He loves people and company, adapts well into family life and is fairly easily trained.

History of the Australian Terrier

Australian Terrier (Blue & Tan)Australian Terrier (Blue & Tan)

The evolution of the Australian Terrier follows the history of white man's emigration to Australia in the early 1800's. With wool being Australia's first industry, early emigrants came from the sheep counties of the Scottish and Border regions of Great Britain. Usually considered to be a mixture of  'the best of the British terriers' two remnants of the Australian Terrier's Scottish ancestry remain in today's breed standard. Firstly his body proportions are those of the old Rough Coated Scotch Terrier which preceded the Scottish and Skye Terriers, and secondly his distinctive topknot comes from the Dandie Dinmont Terrier.

The Australian Terrier becomes a Pure Breed

Rough Coated Terrier c 1890Rough Coated Terrier c 1890

In the catalogue of the first Show held in Melbourne in 1864, 25 Rough coated Terriers (15 dogs and 10 bitches) over seven pounds were entered as well as another seven under seven pounds. In 1887 the first pedigree of a Rough Coated Terrier was recorded. But the breed was despised and was regarded as no better than the vermin he was bred to kill!

Rough Coated Terrier 1897Rough Coated Terrier 1897

Despite this, in 1890, the Australian Terrier Club held its First Annual Show for Australian Rough Coated Terriers at the Fitzroy Town Hall in Victoria[3]. Typical of that time, the newspaper the 'Australasian' reported that 64 "little mongrels" were shown to judge T H Young[1]. So bad was the attitude that in 1897 the following was written[2] :

Australian Terrier (Red)Australian Terrier (Red)

".. the rough (coated) terrier is an unmitigated mongrel and only fit to use where snakes were too numerous to risk a dog of any value.... we must be thankful that the Victorian Poultry and Dog Society (VP&DS) has not allowed the name Australian to be prostituted to such vile uses and hung around the neck of a wretched mongrel".

But in April 17th 1909, the 'Weekly Times' newspaper reported that the Australian Terrier Club had received confirmation from the Victorian Poultry and Dog that the name 'Australian Terrier' would be permitted[1]. This was long overdue as his rugged appearance as a true hard bitten Aussie was now defined by his rough coat which was as essential for protection against snakes as was the 'long thick ruff' of hair around his neck.

Australian Terrier c 1912Australian Terrier c 1912

The Earl and Countess of Stradbroke fell in love  with these rough coated terriers when the Earl was Governor of Victoria from 1921 - 1926 and took several back to England with them. Considered to be show specimens, in 1933, the Australian Terrier was recognized as a pure breed by The Kennel Club (UK). As Australia did not have a Stud Book at this time, the dog bodies in control of registrations in the various Australian States, we obliged to follow The Kennel Club (UK).

Australian Terrier 1972 Swap CardAustralian Terrier 1972 Swap Card

So, the Australian Terrier's  'colonial stigma' was lost and his fame as a delightful family companion spread across Australia. By the 1970's the Australian Terrier was so well accepted that he often won high awards against other breeds. The Victorian dog, Ch Tinee Town Tailwagger featured on the swap card pictured was one of many who paved the way for this iconic Australian breed.

The Australian Terrier Today

Australian Terrier (Blue & Tan)Australian Terrier (Blue & Tan)

The Australian Terrier is a sturdy low-set dog, rather long in proportion to height compared to his height at shoulder. He should have a hard-bitten rugged appearance with an untrimmed coat. He should stand around 25 cms (approx 10 ins) high and weigh around approx. 6.5 kg (approx 14 pounds) bitches slightly less.


Australian Terrier headAustralian Terrier head

The head should be long with a strong muzzle. The stop should be equidistant between the nose and the occiput. The ears should be sufficiently small to balance the head, set on moderately wide and be free from long hair. The muzzle must be strong and house a normal scissors bite.

The head has two unique features, derived from his Dandie Dinmont ancestry:

  1. The skull should be covered with a topknot of soft hair,
  2. The nose leather extends beyond the junction of the nose and the muzzle to the bridge of the nose itself. On young dogs the leather may not be so obvious. But on mature dogs, the leather may extend up the bridge of the nose halfway to the dog's stop!


Australian Terrier (Red)Australian Terrier (Red)

The neck should be of good length and has a definite ruff of hair which frames the head. It then extends down to the breastbone. The purpose of the ruff was to protect the dog from snake bites the are so prevalent in the Australian countryside.

Australian Terrier (Blue & Tan)Australian Terrier (Blue & Tan)

Because his main work was above ground, he still had to enter tunnels to kill a variety of vermin. So, he should be built on top of his straight legs which can work free from the obstruction of a chest extending below the elbows. The body is sturdy, rather long in proportion to height with a level topline, strong loins and a high-set tail. The hindquarters are powerful, so he moves with springy and forceful gait.

Australian Terrier (Blue & Tan)Australian Terrier (Blue & Tan)

His untrimmed double coat comes in two colours, either blue and tan, or sandy or red but never an admixture of the two. In other words if the dog is blue and tan, the tan should never run up the shoulders nor should red hairs run through the blue body coat[3]. But in both cases, the topknot should be of a similar colour or lighter.

To maintain a healthy coat, it needs stripping out every six months to remove the dead hair. Also, the feet, ears and tail need a regular trim to keep them neat and tidy.

Australian Terrier (10 weeks)Australian Terrier (10 weeks)

Pictured is a puppy around 10 weeks old. Note the ears will become erect and the black will clear off the face as the pup grows older.

References and Further Reading

[1] 'Tyzack's Annual' Compiled by T. W.Tyzack and C.S.Turner. Published 1912 by the Victorian Poultry and Kennel Club Bellamine Bros. Printers, 66-70 Flinders Lane Melbourne Pages 49 - 53 (Blue and Tan) and Pages 53-54 (Sandy)

[2] W. Beilby 'The Dog in Australasia' published George Robertson & Company in 1897 Chapter on Rough or Broken Coated Terriers Page 398

[3] W.A (Fred) Wheatland 'The Australian Kennel Review' 1961

Our DVD 'Terriers Then & Now' contains more about the Australian Terrier