You've been a Border Terrier owner for many years. You love the breed and can't imagine sharing your life with any other. While you are completely enamored with 99.9 percent of your adorable dog's crazy habits, there is one that perplexes you. What is up with all of the singing? If your furry companion likes to "sing" to you, you are not alone. It is a characteristic that can be common amongst many different Terriers of the working variant, including Border Terriers. Still, you can't help but wonder what motivates Fido's nightly serenades.
By careful consideration of the origins of a breed, it is often possible to come to some logical conclusions behind behaviors that seem to make little sense to us. Of course, everything Fido does always make perfect sense to him. The lesson we can learn from this is that most canine behaviors are firmly rooted in logic. If your canine likes to sing, there is likely a good reason why. Does your dog just like to make a lot of racket? Is he seeking attention from you? Fido's lips are firmly sealed on the matter. He knows the answer, but he's not going to tell.
The Root of the Behavior
To truly understand the Border Terrier, it is important to understand his origins. History tells us that this spunky dog's name was derived from his penchant for running back and forth across the borderline of two neighboring countries, Scotland and England. As with many other working Terriers, this active pup was a valued family member not only for his affectionate, easygoing nature with his family but also for his tenacious rodent removal skills. This breed was originally bred to rid his home and farm areas of nuisance rodents, foxes, and rabbits. But just how did they accomplish this? Border Terriers are a Terrier breed that was bred and prized for their ability to "go to ground." They are natural diggers, and their instinct is to drive quarry that hides underground to the surface for snaring by the hunter. As such, it was not the Terrier's job to kill the prey. His job was merely to source it, then chase it out of its den to continue the hunt.
Communication would form a critical part of the relationship between the workmate and his owner, the hunter. Once this eager tracker had located the prey, it would be necessary for him to alert the hunter to inform him that he had the prey cornered and was about to drive it from its earthly tunnel to above the ground. The dog would accomplish this through his own unique sound that to some, is reminiscent of singing. Others would describe it as more of a howl or even a unique barking or baying sound. Some owners liken the "singing" to the baying of a Beagle out on a hunt. Beagles were also dogs used in the hunting of rabbits, and though they did not go to ground, they were responsible for alerting their owners to the presence of the desired prey and did so via baying. As with many breeds bred for a specific purpose, hunting is immensely satisfying for them. Today's Border Terriers, though largely placed in pet homes and no longer used for hunting, still possess the drive to do the work they were originally bred to do. Because of this, they are still hallmarked by a prey drive which can be evidenced by stalking and chasing behaviors toward small animals including rodents, rabbits, and even cats.
Encouraging the Behavior
Even though behaviors once encouraged and prized in our dogs no longer form the foundation of our relationship with them today, these actions remain deeply ingrained in them. They are instinctual, and many owners still see evidence of them in their dogs. In other Terrier breeds, this "singing" is sometimes referred to as a "Terrier kill cry." Many Border Terriers, like other hunting Terriers, make this sound when they detect the presence of an animal that to them would be considered prey. The behavior is automatic for them, and it is difficult to ascertain if it is indeed for our benefit as well. After all, Fido is well aware that we have not been hunting the neighbor's cat, no matter how much he might like us to do so. In our modern homes, the singing is often seen when our dog is idly staring out the window, and he catches sight of a passerby. It is common for many breeds to alert bark to inform their owners of the presence of perceived danger. But in Terriers, it is more pronounced. It is interesting to note that this singing is infectious. If you own more than one dog, you will find that the others soon joyously join in in Fido's raucous cries.
Though the piercing sound of this animated dog's singing would undoubtedly carry some distance over fields and forest, it would be difficult to determine how near the hunter was to the dog and his cornered prey. This is why hunters most often worked alongside packs of dogs instead of merely taking one. The other dogs would join in the "kill cry" to help the sound to penetrate to where the owner was and provide an aural trail of where to reach the dog and his quarry. It is important to understand that a Terrier who took it upon himself to kill the prey was considered a liability to the hunter. The Border Terrier's job was simply to inform the hunter of the location of the prey. Once the hunter arrived on the scene, the dog's function was to drive the prey above ground. Dogs who went in for the kill themselves were often culled by their owners. In the early days of the breed, dogs were rarely kept as companion animals. Food was harder to come by, and hunters could not afford to feed and keep an animal that did not properly do its job. Sadly, there was little sentimentality towards the life of animals as what we see today.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Since dogs that did not properly do their job were eliminated from breeding programs, it is easy to see how this trait was reinforced. Breeding dogs with a penchant for the desired action produced more with the same genetic compulsion. Removing dogs from the gene pool who lacked the correct drive greatly reduced the chances of a dog with less than desirable breed traits. Sometimes Border Terriers express their excitement through singing or howling. In these cases, the action is not necessarily a response to the presence of prey but is rather a spontaneous outburst of joy. These lively canines enjoy singing, and it has become a default means of emotional release in response to things that make them feel happy. If you express joy when your dog does this, he is even more likely to repeat the behavior since pleasing you is of paramount importance to him. Of course, some dogs also sing in response to different stimuli, and Border Terriers are no different.
Many dog owners cite their dogs howling along to their favorite Katy Perry song. Is it because they love it and want to join in? Do the tones of the particular song hurt their ears in some way? Maybe Fido just really dislikes Katy Perry; it's hard to say. But we do know for certain, that sometimes our dogs do erupt into spontaneous song, and we love it. It is highly entertaining and never fails to bring a smile to our faces. If your noisy pup's singing is an annoyance to you, the best thing that you can do to reduce it is to remove access to things which elicit the reaction. If Fido spends a good portion of his day staring out your living room window, alerting you to every tumbleweed that floats by, it is best to remove the portion of furniture he stands on that provides him the vantage point for his daily observations. You may not be able to completely eliminate this well-ingrained behavior, but you can reduce and discourage it, and your neighbors will likely thank you for it.
Why do Border Terriers sing? Whether you call it singing or howling or just plain annoying, they definitely love to do it. It is likely a behavior that finds its roots in this tracker's origins as a prized and much-loved hunting companion. The next time Fido strikes up a tune, smile and laugh, then throw back your head and join in with abandon. If you can't beat them, join them!
Written by a Parson Russel Terrier lover Jason Homan
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 04/05/2018, edited: 01/30/2020