Irish Terrier

Breed At A Glance


Active, extremely courageous, good with people but not other dogs

Life Expectancy
12-15 years

Average Height
Approximately 18 inches

Average Weight
25-27 lbs

Coat Color
Red, golden or wheaten

Coat Length/Texture
Dense and wiry outer coat, with softer undercoat

Shedding Propensity
Very little

Also known as Irish Red Terrier

General Temperament

Filled with spirit and courage, the small Irish Terrier packs a big punch. They are a “people’s dog” and enjoy the company of humans over that of other dogs. Their energy and enthusiasm make them excellent companions for children. Intelligent and inquisitive, this breed enjoys a challenge and often excels at agility, hunting, and police or military work.

The Irish Terrier loves it’s human family but can be very wary of strangers. Socialize this breed early with plenty of visitors to minimize any territorial issues that may arise later in life. They are not a yappy breed, but will certainly bark with vigor if given a reason. They tend to be aggressive towards other dogs, especially those of the same sex, and should not be trusted with other household animals as they still retain strong hunting instincts.

A novice or apathetic owner is not likely to be happy with an Irish Terrier as a companion pet. Like many terriers, this breed is very intelligent yet can be quite willful. They are capable of learning new tasks quickly, but this does not always translate into a willingness to repeat that task on command. This breed needs a firm and consistent owner who can maintain their role as the “alpha dog” throughout the Irish Terrier’s life. Motivational techniques and rewards work best when training this breed.

The highly adaptable Irish Terrier can enjoy apartment life as long as plenty of exercise and activity are provided on a regular basis. They tend to be calm indoors, but can be encouraged to a high level of activity easily and quickly. This breed likes to dig and explore, and therefore a backyard fence should be well-secured and deeply buried.

Breed History

As one of the oldest Terrier breeds, evidence exists dating the Irish Terrier back two thousand years, although the earliest images available only go as far back as the 1700’s, and their first appearance on the show circuit was in 1875. Originally from County Cork, Ireland, this breed was used to hunt vermin on land as well as water. Two dogs in particular, Champions “Erin” and “Killney Boy,” served as the foundation breeding stock leading to the establishment of the breed standard. The breed was introduced to the United States in the late 1900’s and quickly became quite popular.

Body Structure and Composition

Although it is one of the larger Terrier breeds, the Irish Terrier is a medium-sized dog with a body structure that denotes grace and elegance. The elongated headpiece is comprised of a flat forehead and long muzzle, which is tipped by this breed’s characteristic whiskers on the chin. Small v-shaped ears flop neatly over towards the front of the face. The long and sturdy neck widens down to the shoulder, and leads to a level topline. Both the front and the back legs are remarkably straight and well-boned. The tail of this breed is customarily docked by one quarter for confirmation purposes in the U.S., although docking has been banned in many other countries.

Medical Information

The Irish Terrier is a remarkably healthy breed with almost no incidence of hereditary health issues. A rare few individuals may experience Hypothyroidism, a condition that causes an underactivity of the thyroid gland, leading to decreased appetite or weight gain, hair loss, recurring skin infections, and lethargy.

Although they shed little to no hair, the Irish Terrier requires a significant amount of grooming to keep it’s coat healthy. Regular brushing, nail trimming and dental care are recommended by the Irish Terrier Club of America. The dog will periodically need to be professionally stripped as opposed to trimmed, which can diminish the color and texture of the coat. (Stripping includes pulling loose or dead hair out by the root.) Some Irish Terriers need to have their ears “trained” between 4 and 8 months of age to correct the ear carriage. This is done by gluing or taping the ears to the head, and is done primarily for cosmetic purposes. (This form of ear training is quite different from ear cropping, which has been outlawed in many countries.)

Anecdotal Information

The Irish Terrier is now a relatively rare breed in the United States, ranking 126th out of 157 breeds in 2007 according to registration statistics provided by the American Kennel Club.

Former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King owned several Irish Terriers, all of which were named Pat. King had séances to “communicate” with the first Pat after the dog’s death, along with significant individuals in his life.

An Irish Terrier played the title character in the 2007 film Firehouse Dog.

Two novels written by author Jack London in 1917, Jerry of the Islands and Michael, Brother of Jerry, depicted supposed real-life Irish Terriers on the South Seas.

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