To bark or not to bark—that's not a question for most terriers. Barking is just part of the terrier's nature, up there with hunting rodents and digging. That doesn't mean you, or your neighbors, have to put up with incessant yapping. Training takes time, but does the trick.
Terrier means "earth dog," and these canines, of various sizes and national origins, were bred to hunt small game. They had to dig underground to get at that rat or badger, and if the ground fell in on them, they had to bark a lot to let the farmer or terrier man at a hunt find them. Terriers are tough—even tiny ones such as the Yorkie will attempt to take on dogs many times their size. Their prey drive remains so strong that many terrier breeds aren't safe to let off leash, and sharing a household with felines remains an iffy proposition. Highly alert and active, terriers make good watchdogs. Problems start when they become too eager to let you know what's going on in your neck of the woods. A stranger at the door is one thing—a leaf blowing off a tree or a bird in the backyard is another.
Terriers were bred as working dogs. Very few of them do much in the way of work today, but that high energy level remains. All that energy needs an outlet—without it, destructive or obnoxious behavior like barking can ensue. The younger the terrier, the more energy he likely has, so the excessive noisemaking is worse. Since you have to work for a living, you can't spend all day with your dog, but take him for long walks and spend time with him when you are home. If doggie day care is a possibility, drop him off before you go to work and pick him up on the way home. If he's home alone, leave him toys to play with, especially those with edible treats in the middle that he must work to obtain.
All dogs benefit from basic obedience training, but it's really a necessity with terriers. For best results, start with puppy kindergarten. Besides basic training, your dog should learn what "Quiet" means. Don't shout it at your terrier, but use the same firm tone of voice you use for other commands. Teach him by giving him a treat when he stops barking—not if he immediately starts up again. Terriers are smart dogs who catch on quickly.
If your terrier's barking incessantly and won't stop for more than a few seconds, distraction can do the trick. Jack Russell Terrier Rescue advises making your own loud noise to distract him, then praising him when he goes into quiet mode. Start anticipating what will set his barking off, distract him and reward his good behavior. JRTR also recommends using an obedience exercise to distract your dog, such as the "Sit" or "Down" command.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.