Australian Terrier

Australian Terrier Stamp 1980Australian Terrier Stamp 1980

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.


Rough Coated Terrier c 1890Rough Coated Terrier c 1890

The 'Aussie' as he is now affectionately known was originally the vermin killer that the early Australian settlers needed to cope with introduced pests as well as indigenous Australian vermin, particularly snakes. 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 queried because he was considered to be no better than the vermin he was bred to kill. So bad was the attitude to this first recognized Australian developed breed that even by 1897 the following was written about him[2] :

Australian Terrier c 1912Australian Terrier c 1912

".. 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".

The First Annual Show for Australian Rough Coated Terriers was held in Victoria in the Fitzroy Town Hall in 1890 when an Australian Terrier Club was in existence[3]. Typical of that time, the newspaper the 'Australasian' reported that 64 "little mongrels" were shown to judge T H Young[1].

Australian TerrierAustralian Terrier

So it was not until April 17th 1909 that it appeared in the 'Weekly Times' newspaper that the Australian Terrier Club had received confirmation from the  Kennel Club of that time, the VP&DS that the name 'Australian Terrier' would be allowed[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 the 'long thick ruff' of hair around his neck.

Australian Terrier 1972Australian Terrier 1972

The Australian Terrier was first taken back to England in 1896 and recognized by The Kennel Club (UK) in 1933.  This came about because  the English socialite the Countess of Stradbroke, wife of the Governor of Victoria the Earl of Stradbroke  fell in love with them.  When she took several show specimens back to UK from 1926 until the outbreak of World War 2, 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. In 1980, Australia Post also brought out a stamp featuring a drawing of Ch Riverslea Dinkum Aussie from Queensland (at the top of this page).

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

The Australian Terrier Today

Australian Terrier (Blue & Tan) untrimmedAustralian Terrier (Blue & Tan) untrimmed

Although his main work was above ground, he still had to enter tunnels to kill a variety of vermin. So he should have a hard bitten rugged appearance with an untrimmed coat. Although the process of Spanning a Terrier is not a requirement when judging an Australian Terrier, like the Jack Russell he should be built on top of his legs so he is never impeded by a chest that extends below his elbows.

The Australian Terrier is a sturdy low-set dog, rather long in proportion to height compared to his height at shoulder. So he should not have a square or compact body. Instead,he is longer than square as this picture clearly shows. The Australian Terrier should stand around 10" high and weigh around 14 pounds.

Australian TerrierAustralian Terrier

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:

  1. The skull is covered with a topknot of soft hair, derived from his Dandie Dinmont ancestry
  2. Also derived from its Dandie Dinmont ancestry, the 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 I have seen mature dogs with the leather extending up the bridge of the nose halfway to the dog's stop.

Australian Terrier (Sandy)Australian Terrier (Sandy)

The coat on the neck of the Australian Terrier is also unique in that it has a ruff of hair around it extending to the breastbone,  which was originally developed to protect the dog should it encounter a snake.

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.

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