Smart, really smart. That’s a good description of just about any terrier. That fact would suggest they should be easy to train. Unfortunately, they’re also stubborn, really stubborn. Bred to be independent, fearless and intrepid, the terrier is a natural high-energy dog. But they can be and should be trained.
It will take considerable patience. That’s true of any training program for any breed, but it goes double or triple where terriers are concerned. A contest of wills with a terrier will rarely result in satisfaction to dog or human. They like to do what they like to do, not necessarily what you want them to do. The trick is to make those two things the same.
Terriers love to play. They love attention. They have endless energy for chasing, running, jumping and more. Those attributes are your keys to training your terrier without strangling him or yourself out of frustration.
Whether Scottie, Westie, Jack Russell or any of the other dozens of terrier breeds, find something your individual dog wants. Then, make sure he understands that to get it he has to cooperate. That ‘thing he wants’ can be attention, a ball, the freedom to play or a wide variety of other things, including all of the above. But every terrier wants something.
Sit, stay and other basic routine dog training moves will come with difficulty when working with most terriers. As independent, high-energy dogs, sit and stay are not behaviors they enjoy. But they will ‘trade’ a successful move for something they want.
Take care not to depend on treats to get the desired behavior, though. Most terriers can easily become overweight and have an imbalanced diet when treats become too numerous and frequent. Instead, use a clicker or a finger snap or other attention getting method, then reward with high praise and lots of love. Most terriers are friendly and enjoy attention and good cheer. You’ll get much farther with positive than negative reinforcement with terriers.
An expandable obstacle course makes for an excellent training aid with terriers. Because they love to burrow, jump and have fun, setting up different stations and working with them gradually increases the odds of success. Introducing your Jack Russell or Wire-Haired Fox Terrier first to a low barrier, then a tunnel, then a short maze can satisfy them.
They enjoy jumping the barrier, wiggling through the tunnel and working through the maze to satisfy their curiosity. That engages their need for activity, works with their historically bred-in nature and exercises their native intelligence.
Having realistic expectations will help curb your frustration. Unlike German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers or some other breeds, terriers don’t automatically want to do what you ask. But, like strong-willed children, they can be led to when they perceive the task as connected to something they want to gain.