Australian Terrier Temperament: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em
Australian Terrier Temperament, Personality, Behavior, Traits, and Characteristics, by Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2018
The AKC Standard calls him "spirited, alert, courageous, and self-confident, with the natural aggressiveness of a ratter and hedge hunter."
One of the most sensible and least demanding of the terriers, the Australian is nonetheless as hardy and spunky as the rest.
He is so adaptable that he's easy to live with IF you can fit certain criteria. You should understand the dynamic terrier temperament (see below). You should have a fenced yard. And you should be able to provide enough hours of daily companionship (no working all day), daily walks, and daily play sessions with a ball or toy.
Though small, the Australian Terrier is an alert watchdog with keen senses. Most individuals are reserved/polite with strangers.
Though he can be scrappy with other dogs of the same sex, most Australian Terriers are willing to coexist peacefully with other pets. But they can be bossy and remember, they are terriers, which means they're bred to pursue anything that runs or looks like prey. Keeping a pet rat would be a big risk!
Quick to learn, an Aussie is mostly willing to please, though he definitely has his independent moments and must be taught who is in charge.
As befits their heritage, some Australian Terriers are born diggers. Some can be barky, though in general this breed is quieter than most other terriers.
If you want a dog who...
- Is small, yet tough and sturdy – not a delicate lapdog
- Has a natural appearance
- Is one of the healthiest breeds, with fewer genetic defects than most other terriers
- Needs only moderate exercise (but definitely a fenced yard)
- Makes a keen watchdog
- Doesn't shed too much (but is not "hypoallergenic")
- Co-exists with other pets more willingly than some other terriers
An Australian Terrier may be right for you.
If you don't want to deal with...
- The dynamic terrier temperament (see full description below)
- Providing enough exercise and activities to keep them busy
- Chasing smaller animals
- Digging holes
- Regular brushing and clipping of the wiry coat
- Waiting lists (hard to find)
An Australian Terrier may not be right for you.
Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament is less predictable than the inheritance of physical traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.
- You can avoid some negative traits by choosing an ADULT dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. With an adult dog, you can easily see what you're getting, and plenty of adult Aussies have already proven themselves not to have negative characteristics.
- If you want a puppy, you can avoid some negative traits by choosing the right breeder and the right puppy. Unfortunately, you usually can't tell whether a puppy has inherited temperament or health problems until he grows up.
- Finally, you can avoid some negative traits by training your Australian Terrier to respect you and by following the 11-step care program in my book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.
More traits and characteristics of the Australian Terrier
If I was considering an Australian Terrier, I would be most concerned about...
- The dynamic terrier temperament. Most terrier breeds are remarkably similar. The same words are used over and over – quick to bark, quick to chase, lively, bossy, feisty, scrappy, clever, independent, stubborn, persistent, impulsive, intense. But some terrier breeds are more so than others. Overall, as a breed, Australian Terriers tend to be in the lower-to-middle section of the terrier spectrum. But of course there are some individual Aussies who will be in the higher end!
- Providing enough exercise and mental stimulation. I recommend that you get your Australian Terrier involved in regular obedience classes at the intermediate or advanced level, or in ongoing agility classes (an obstacle course for dogs). Or join an earth dog club, where terriers are encouraged to dig and tunnel after small critters (which are secured in a sturdy cage so they can't be harmed).
- Potential animal aggression. Australian Terriers are less scrappy toward other animals than many other terrier breeds. They usually live peacefully with the other pets in their own family. But they are still a determined force to reckon with if they decide to initiate or accept a challenge to fight.
- Yard security. Terriers need a fenced yard in which to stretch their legs, but many terriers are clever escape artists who will go over or under fences in search of adventure. You may need higher fences than you might imagine for their small size. You may also need to sink wire into the ground along the fence line to thwart digging.
- Running away from you. Like all dogs, Australian Terriers must be taught to come when called. But I would only count on this breed obeying his training in an enclosed area. Terriers should not be trusted off-leash. The risk is too great that they will take off after anything that runs, oblivious to your frantic shouts.
- Barking. Terriers are often too quick to sound the alarm at every new sight and sound. You have to be equally quick to stop them.
- Mind of their own. Though more amenable to training than many other terriers, Australian Terriers must be taught at an early age that they are not the rulers of the world. The toughness that makes them suited to killing vermin can frustrate you when you try to teach them anything. Terriers can be stubborn and dominant (they want to be the boss) and will make you prove that you can make them do things.
- Potential defensive reactions. If you need to physically chastise a terrier, and you go beyond what THEY believe is a fair correction, terriers (as a group) are more likely than other breeds to growl or snap. As an obedience instructor, I'm always extra careful when putting my hands on a terrier for a correction.
I do not recommend terriers for small children. Many terriers will not tolerate any nonsense from little life forms whom they consider to be below themselves in importance. Many terriers are quick to react to teasing, and even to the normal clumsiness that comes with small children (accidental squeezing of their ears or pulling of whiskers or stepping on their paw). Many terriers are possessive of their food and toys and will defend these from all comers, including children.
- Grooming. Australian Terriers require clipping and trimming every few months. Breed purists may say that terrier coats should never be clipped because it makes the coat softer and more prone to matting. Instead they advocate hand-stripping (each dead hair pulled out so a new one can grow in its place). But in my opinion, stripping is too time-consuming and uncomfortable for the dog. Many groomers won't do it anymore. For pet dogs, I think clipping is just fine.
To help you train and care for your dog
Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.
The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.
To learn more about training your dog to be calm and well-behaved, my dog training book is Teach Your Dog 100 English Words. It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your dog to listen to you and do whatever you ask.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a good-tempered, healthy dog.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy, shows you how to help your dog live a longer life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.