Explaining the AKC Dog Breed Groups: Terrier Breed Group

Matt Matasci Matt Matasci · Updated April 23, 2024

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There are almost 200 distinct breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), which are broken down into seven groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Herding, Toy, Non-Sporting and the Terrier Group Dogs. What are the differences between these groups and why are they placed together? What are the groups’ defining characteristics?

While most breeders work with just a few different types of dog, having knowledge of many different breeds can be a boon for your business. Why? 

  • You can demonstrate your expertise and impress potential customers with a wide range of canine knowledge.
  • You can recommend other breeds if a buyer isn’t a good fit for your dogs. This won’t lead to a direct sale, but it can contribute to strong word-of-mouth marketing that could pay off down the road.

Are you a potential buyer? Learning more about the different types of breeds is the first step in the adoption process. Every breed has its own individual needs; in the wrong living situation even the most mild-tempered dogs will act out when unhappy or uncomfortable. 

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Breeders and buyers alike can benefit from our Dog Breed Group series. We take a closer look at each group, examining the defining characteristics and highlighting some of the most popular breeds. This post will take a look at terriers, a genetically-diverse group of dogs.

Terriers at a Glance

One word can be used to describe most terriers: feisty. Of course there’s so much more to the terrier dog group, but at the end of the day being raised to hunt and kill vermin impacts their temperament and attitude. 

  • While known for their tenacity and gameness, terriers make great family pets.
  • They’re also known for being stubborn and require patience on the part of the owner during training. 

The terrier dog group has breeds of all shapes and sizes; breeds like the Westies are perfect for apartments, while larger bull terriers are bulky and athletic, better suited for a large fenced in yard.

Popular Breeds in the Terrier Group

Miniature Schnauzer

There are three schnauzer breeds, with the miniature schnauzer being the most popular. These short and stout little terriers are defined by a bushy beard and outgoing personality. Miniature schnauzers were first recognized as a breed by the AKC in 1926. They were the 18th most popular breed in 2021.

  • They’re one of the most adaptable dogs; small enough to adapt to apartment life but tireless enough to command a large property.
  • Mini schnauzers are great with families and will become instant companions for children.
  • Miniature schnauzers have a lifespan between 12 and 15 years.
  • Mini schnauzers on average weigh between 11 and 20 pounds.

Responsible Breeders Test Miniature Schnauzers For:

  • Heart issues
  • Eye issues

Miniature schnauzers are a relatively healthy breed, so they don’t require many health exams. For more information read the Miniature Schnauzer Club health statement.

Miniature Schnauzer Grooming Tips

  • Miniature schnauzers come in three color patterns: solid black, black and silver, and salt and pepper.
  • This breed has a double coat; the topcoat is wiry, while the undercoat is soft.
  • Most owners that show their mini schnauzer have the coat cut with trimmers by professionals every five to eight weeks.
  • Bath your schnauzer about once a month.
  • Check ears for excess wax.
  • The miniature schnauzer sheds a moderate amount of its coat.

Miniature Schnauzer Exercise and Training Needs

  • The miniature schnauzer requires daily exercise for its mental and physical health.
  • With a moderate energy level, they’re able to adapt to urban, suburban and rural life.
  • Miniature schnauzers love playing in a fenced-in yard.
  • Because they have a strong prey drive, don’t allow your miniature schnauzer off leash unless fenced in.
  • This breed is highly intelligent, making them quick learners. However, you must keep their training stimulating and avoid repetition because your mini schnauzer will lose interest.
  • Socialize miniature schnauzers from a young age and consider puppy classes.
The Westie is one of the most iconic (and cute) of the terrier group dogs.

West Highland White Terrier

Famously referred to as the Westie, West Highland white terriers are one of the canine world’s most charming breeds. Despite their adorable appearance, these sturdy earthdogs are tough because they were bred to hunt rats and other vermin. Westies were first recognized as a breed by the AKC in 1908, though they’ve been around for hundreds of years. They were the 46th most popular breed in 2021.

  • This breed is very affectionate with family members and great with children.
  • West Highland white terriers get along well with other dogs.
  • The West Highland white terrier is a compact dog that does well in any environment.
  • Westies usually weigh between 15 and 20 pounds.
  • Their life expectancy is 13 to 15 years.

Responsible Breeders Test West Highland White Terriers For:

  • Cardiac disease
  • Patellar luxation
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Eye issues

For more information read the West Highland White Terrier of America health statement.

West Highland White Terrier Grooming Tips

  • Westies have a wiry, all-white double coat.
  • Traditionally, West Highland white terrier owners stripped or plucked the old dead hair to maintain the coat’s appearance.
  • Stripping makes the coat harder and more wirier; clipping tends to make it softer.
  • Brush or comb at least a few times a week; daily brushing is recommended.
  • Some owners hire a professional groomer for their Westie — just be sure they have experience grooming Westies.
  • Experts recommend bathing three to four times a year.
  • However, some Westie owners use a professional groomer to bathe their dogs every four to six weeks.
  • Avoid overbathing your Westie; it may disrupt the skin’s natural balance.
  • Westies shed moderately.

West Highland White Terrier Exercise and Training Needs

  • Because Westies were bred to work independently, training can be challenging.
  • These dogs are highly intelligent and will take to patient, upbeat training.
Scotties and their long shaggy beards are one of the more recognizable terrier group dogs.

Scottish Terrier

Full of human-like personality and plenty of spunk, the Scottish terrier is one of the most recognizable breeds of the terrier group dogs. The breed is known for a wiry coat with shaggy furnishings at the beard, legs and lower body. Scottish terriers have been recognized by the AKC since 1885 and were the United States’ 58th most popular breed in 2021.

  • Despite their small size, Scotties are strong, resilient and make great guard dogs.
  • Scottish terriers quickly become attached to their owners and prefer the company of people over being alone.
  • Scotties are comfortable living indoors or outdoors.
  • Male Scottish terriers weigh between 19 and 22 pounds; females weigh between 18 and 21 pounds.
  • These dogs have an average lifespan of 12 years.

Responsible Breeders Test Scottish Terriers For:

  • Von Willebrand’s disease
  • Patellar luxation

For more information read the Scottish Terrier Club of America official health statement.

Scottish Terrier Grooming Tips

  • Like the Westie, Scottish terriers require consistent grooming.
  • The outer layer of their coat is harsh and wiry; the undercoat is soft.
  • Traditionally Scotties have their outer coat hand stripped once a month or more frequently.
  • You can clipper the coat.
  • Clipping the coat leads to the outer coat losing its harsh wiry texture.
  • Brush the coat weekly to keep it tangle-free.
  • Scotties shed moderately.

Scottish Terrier Exercise and Training Needs

  • Scotties love going for walks and playing — fetch is a favorite.
  • Tug-of-war is another great playtime activity for Scottish terriers.
  • Because of their small size and moderate activity levels, Scotties are comfortable with apartment living.
  • Keep training sessions short and sweet — she’ll respond best if they’re kept to a 15-minute maximum.
  • Avoid repetitive training exercises as Scotties lose interest quickly.
The egghead bull terrier has a ton of personality.

Bull Terrier

There are few breeds as charming as the bull terrier with their uniquely shaped heads, pointy ears and mischievous personalities. These are sturdy terriers with a powerful muscle mass but also excellent agility. The bull terrier breed was first recognized by the AKC in 1885. It was the 61st most popular breed in the United States in 2021.

  • Early socialization is important for bull terriers.
  • Be firm when training but remember to stay positive and loving.
  • While white and spotted might be the most famous bull terrier coat, they come in many colors.
  • Bull terriers weigh between 50 and 70 pounds.
  • The average life expectancy is 12 to 13 years.

Responsible Breeders Test Bull Terriers For:

  • Kidney and heart issues
  • Hearing problems with BAER testing
  • Patellar luxation

For more information read the Bull Terrier Club of America official health statement.

Bull Terrier Grooming Tips

  • The bull terrier’s short, flat, glossy coat is very low maintenance.
  • Brush once a week to remove dirt and debris from the coat.
  • Regularly inspect and clean the bull terrier’s ears.

Bull Terrier Exercise and Training Needs

  • You should give your bull terrier daily exercise.
  • Moderate exercise, like a long walk, is great for the dog’s physical and mental stimulation.
  • The more fun your training regime, the more a bull terrier will respond. This is one fun-loving breed with an independent spirit.
  • Make sure to use lots of positive reinforcement, like treats and toys.
The Airedale terrier is the largest of the terrier group dogs.

Airedale Terrier

While many of the most popular terrier breeds are on the small size, the Airedale terrier, AKA the “King of the Terriers” is quite large. The largest breed of the terrier group dogs, Airedale terriers tower over their smaller brethren despite sporting a very similar appearance. Airedale terriers were first recognized by the AKC in 1888. They were the 62nd most popular breed in the United States in 2021.

  • While Airedale terriers have an aggressive side when provoked, they’re very gentle with children.
  • However, you need to monitor them closely when playing with toddlers and small children. They’re strong but boisterous, making them prone to accidents.
  • Airedale terriers have minimal shedding.
  • This breed weighs between 50 and 70 pounds.
  • Airedale terriers have a life expectancy of 11 to 14 years.

Responsible Breeders Test Airedale Terriers For:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Renal disease using a DNA test
  • Eye issues
  • Heart issues

The Airedale terrier is a relatively healthy breed. For more information read the Airedale Terrier Club of America’s official health statement.

Airedale Terrier Grooming Tips

  • In terms of grooming, the Airedale terrier needs minimal maintenance on its short, wiry coat.
  • Brush weekly to remove dead hair and prevent shedding.
  • Break up matted hair with fingers and use a comb to tease them apart.
  • Check ears for a buildup of wax.
  • The AKC recommends giving your Airedale terrier a full grooming session three or four times a year.
  • Full grooming for an Airedale terrier includes bathing, brushing, and stripping or clipping.

Airedale Terrier Exercise and Training Needs

  • As a relatively large dog breed with a high energy level, the Airedale terrier requires a lot of exercise as an outlet.
  • Moderate play on a daily basis with the family will keep this dog happy.
  • Pair playtime with several walks each day.

Under the Radar Terrier Breeds

Is a Terrier Right for Your Family?

In the mockumentary Best In Show, Gerrie and Cookie Fleck (played by Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, respectively) sing “God loves a terrier / that’s because / small, sturdy, bright and true / they give their love to you.” Truer words were never spoken… or sung. Terriers are highly intelligent, full of positive energy and, most importantly, are fiercely loyal and loving to their family. These are just a few of the positive attributes terriers are known for. Terriers aren’t always small, but many breeds are on the diminutive side. In fact, the most popular terrier — the Yorkie — isn’t even a terrier group dog, instead classified in the toy group. Despite their small size, terriers have a lot of energy. Exercise is a must or you’ll start to run into destructive behavior.


  • Because terriers are such intelligent dogs, mixing up their play and exercise regimen is important.
  • Repetitive behaviors bore these dogs and, if you give them too much of the same thing, they’ll start to push back.
  • If you don’t have time to meet your terrier’s exercise needs, consider hiring a dog walker through Wag!


  • As far as training goes, you may need to seek out a trainer with specific experience training these breeds. They often lose interest and are more interested in the dogs around them.
  • Word of warning: terriers bark a lot. If sharp, repetitive barking makes you cringe, you might want to think twice about adopting a terrier.
  • You should focus training on commands like “speak” and “shush” to keep barking under control.
  • Terriers were bred to work alone; sometimes they’re not receptive to the presence of other dogs. This can vary widely by breed and even on a dog-by-dog basis.

“Dangerous” Breeds

While we are discussing terrier group dogs, it’s worth mentioning the elephant in the room: the controversial pit bull terrier. The AKC doesn’t actually recognize the pit bull as an official breed, but some international canine governing bodies like the United Kennel Club do. Typically, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, and the American bully are the breeds considered to be pit bulls. Some jurisdictions have banned pit bull breeds, a practice known as breed-specific legislation. It’s a controversial topic, with groups like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) speaking out against the stigma caused by legislating against certain breeds.

  • When it comes down to it, no specific breed is purely dangerous; instead, it comes down to the responsibility of the owners.
  • Responsible owners of pit bulls begin rigorous socialization and training courses as early as possible — when these dogs are well-socialized and trained, they’re as safe as just about any other breed.
  • It’s when the owner is careless with training and restraining dogs that disastrous mauling incidents occur.
  • No matter what breed of dog you own, you should carefully monitor any interactions with children and never leave a dog alone with toddlers or small children — even seemingly harmless breeds like Westies.

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