Terriers in the Mix

Can Two or More Terriers of the Same Sex Live Together? 

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(The following article, written by Lisa Frankland, was first published on the USKBTC elist.)

This was a very hotly debated thread that was on a terrier list several years ago. A woman had “rescued” two terrier bitches of different breeds, both with a known history of dog-aggression, and was now having problems with fighting and marking behaviors in her home, (she was actually more concerned about the latter). The debate on the list concerned whether two terriers of the same sex could get along. Some of the more notable points that came up:

    1. The listmembers most likely to say that this could be done were inexperienced and often first-time terrier owners, many whom would cite their own experience with dogs they had in some cases only owned for a few months. Others would heartily endorse it, even while saying, “except for that one time…” or “as long as I don’t…” about their own dogs.
    2. Listmembers most likely to say, “It’s not worth the risk,” were long-time breeders and rescue volunteers. The more experience they had, the more emphatic their answers were. While they knew of many terriers who got along together with few or no problems, but they also knew from personal experience what could happen when they didn’t.
    3. A number of people said that while they would never consider keeping two males together, two bitches would most likely be okay. A number of other listmembers then replied with hair-raising stories of bitches that couldn’t get along, bringing to mind the saying about while two dogs are more likely to fight, two bitches are more likely to seriously injure or kill one another should they get into it.
    4. The breeders, rescue volunteers, and other experienced terrier people on the list, who did keep multiple dogs successfully, used crates, baby gates, separate rooms, etc., to keep dogs apart, especially during feeding time and when they couldn’t be supervised. They had a good understanding of dog psychology and knew what trouble signs to look for as well as what kind of situations to avoid. Even then, they admitted that some fights would still occur. The more typical pet owners and the ones that experienced the worst problems tended to be of the opinion that all the dogs should be one big happy family, (i.e. love will conquer all), that obedience training is unnatural, and that crates and gates are not only ugly, but cruel!
    5. The more experienced people on the list also noted that the chances of fights occurring tended to increase exponentially with the number of dogs in the household.

Incidentally, the woman with the two terriers, who originally started this discussion, did eventually lose one of those “girrrls” in a fight with the other! As another listmember had warned her, to rescue a dog and put it in harm’s way is not a rescue. :-( Of course, at that moment, my instructor brought over her intact male irish setter and my kerry, Jessie, started licking his face! They said, “Well, your dog isn’t aggressive.” I told them that this particular dog was his best friend and that despite all my training he could be VERY aggressive.

Lav used to have some male terrier buddies we hung out with at the shows too. We shared hotel rooms with Diane Lee and Wheeler (who was intact) several times with no problems, and I still remember people remarking about Lav and a male “IT” curled up together behind our folding chairs, snoring, while his owner and I watched the terrier group at GWTA. (I have the picture to prove it.) I also fostered several male Kerries with no problems–though they would often play so rough with Lav that I had concerned neighbors call more than once thinking there was a fight! But were they ever left together unsupervised? Were they ever fed together? Were they ever allowed to be or continue in a situation that might lead to a fight? No, no, and NO! My own experience with terrier bitches, however, has been less positive, (Is it just me, or are the girls that much harder to read?), leading me to support the conclusion of point #3, that neither situation is desirable.

They then asked about off-leash and were totally stunned when I said I NEVER trusted my kerry off leash. They didn’t seem to believe me that with all the training (they’d just seen me compete in utility, mind you) that I couldn’t have him off leash.

Lav has a UDX and still isn’t trustworthy off-lead. He’s 14 now and a little hard of hearing, but never so deaf as when he doesn’t want to hear me! Katie, who doesn’t even have her CD yet, is actually much more reliable, but I still wouldn’t take the chance of having her off-lead except in a controlled environment (such as an obedience or agility ring). The one phrase I hear all the time from people whose dogs have been lost or killed while loose (that includes loose in an unfenced yard or on a walk without a leash) is, “He never did that before!” Sad what some people are willing to bet their dogs’ lives on.

Even though I think they would be a great family for a kerry, I told them I didn’t think their situation was right at the time, with all their other dogs. You gave the exact same answer I would have, and have, in similar situations with rescue and breeder referral.

In one case I had a woman call during Westminister week, (the worst time of the year when I was still doing referrals), who was interested in the breed. I actually liked her a lot–she asked good questions and came off as a very responsible and experienced dog person. Problem was, she already had three other dogs, including a terrier mix and a Rottie! I told her that I thought a Kerry would be great with her, but not until she got her numbers down.

I always urge potential owners who already have another dog to get a Kerry of the opposite sex. Yes, two dogs of the same sex could get along just fine, but imagine the heartbreak if they do start fighting and you have to get rid of a dog you’ve already fallen in love with (or worse, the Kerry gets rid of the other dog). This scenario is so easy to avoid and yet I’ve seen it over and over in rescue.

Lisa Frankland
Albuquerque, NM

Last Updated: 03/30/2004, 9:54 am