Training terriers presents a special kind of challenge for dog owners. Because of the nature of terriers as independent earth-working dogs, you need to take a very specific approach to training if you want to get the best results.
First I'll explain a little about what makes terriers different from other types of dogs, and then we'll delve into some specific techniques that will come in handy for terrier training.
What is it about terriers that makes them unique and sometimes difficult to train? Anyone who has experience with different dog breeds knows that terriers are one of the toughest types to persuade to do your bidding.
The original purpose of terriers was hunting small game, and in particular pest control. In the case of Jack Russells their initial purpose was fox-hunting, but before the 1900s the term "fox terrier" applied to what are now seen as a number of distinct breeds. A terrier was essentially any small, fearless dog used to kill small mammals.
The word terrier itself comes from the Latin word "terra," which means earth.
Why is this important? Well, because of what terriers were used for historically, they weren't bred to be at the beck and call of their master - the way a herding dog is, for example. A herding dog works by paying close attention to the verbal commands, hand signals and whistles of its owner. A terrier is much more inclined to do whatever instinct tells it to do - and that happens to be killing small mammals.
This is why training terriers can be difficult at times: It's not in their nature to do whatever you say. So, how do you deal with these strong-willed dogs?
Tips for Training Terriers
Take a firm lead. If you don't let your terrier know you're the boss, he will often assume he's the boss. Let him know who's in charge. Always eat before him - this is a sign that dogs understand, and it means you are higher up the pack hierarchy. Don't go over the top with this - be firm but fair.
Never give anything for free. That means, your dog should never get a treat just for looking cute. Make him understand that in order to get what he wants, he has to deliver the behavior you want. Every time you give him something he desires, make it a part of training - right down to using the "Come" command before you give him his dinner bowl.
Nip aggressive tendencies in the bud as early as possible. If your dog is still a puppy, you're in luck. Terrier puppy training is easier than training an adult dog. You can prevent a lot of the annoying behaviors that terriers often develop from ever getting out of hand. Desensitize your puppy to feelings of frustration by doing things like taking away a favourite toy or his dinner while he's eating. Take it away for a few moments, then reward him with a treat and give it back. This will help avoid aggression over these objects later in life.
Focus on the positive. This is true of training any dog, but it's especially true with a terrier. You have to focus on rewarding good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior. Why? Because the more you yell at little Terry to get his muddy paws down off the sofa, the more muddy paw prints you're going to be seeing in the near future. It's just the way terriers work - they will repeat whatever behaviors get you worked up the most. So stay calm, interrupt bad behaviors, change to something positive, and then reward to reinforce it.
Don't mollycoddle your dog. This is very important. Remember that your dog is not a human baby. As I mentioned before, its original purpose, its instincts that are written in its DNA, are tied up to hunting other animals. It may not be pretty or idealistic, but it's something you need to understand when dealing with a terrier. Spoil them, and they will run wild. Be firm with them, but not overbearing. Think of them like a rebellious teenager. If you try to keep them under lock and key, they rebel harder. If you leave them to their business - they rebel harder. You have to let them know where the boundaries are, while still respecting their inflated sense of what they can do. Terriers in general have a very high opinion of themselves - there's no harm in humoring them a little.
The Ultimate Jack Russell Training Guide
This serves as an introduction to some of the principles involved in training terriers successfully. If you'd like to get a better grip on training your Jack Russell, or you have specific behavior problems,my ebook is the answer. It covers troubleshooting techniques for all the major obedience commands, and solutions for every common behavior problem associated with training terriers.