Kerry Blue Terrier

Introduction | History & Health | Temperament & Personality | Breed Standard

Kerry Blue Terrier

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The Kerry Blue Terrier, also known as the Irish Blue Terrier, the Kerry or simply the Blue, originated in the mountainous regions of County Kerry, near Lake Killarney, Ireland. Legend has it that the Kerry's ancestors were "Russian blue dogs" that swam ashore from a shipwreck in the Bay of Tralee in the late 1770s. This is an all-around working, guard, utility and companion dog, equally adept at hunting small game and birds, retrieving from water and on land, herding sheep and cattle and managing the population of vermin. The Kerry Blue Terrier is known for its intelligence, versatility and loyalty to its owners. It has been described as having a disposition "well nigh faultless, if a slight tendency to diminish the cat population is excepted." The Kerry Blue Terrier is the National Dog of Ireland,and was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1922, as a member of its Miscellaneous Class. Two years later, it became eligible for full AKC registration, as a member of the Terrier Group.
The ideal Kerry Blue Terrier stands 18½ inches at the withers, slightly less for a bitch. In the show ring, males from 18-19½ inches, and females from 17½ -19 inches, are preferred. The desired weight for a fully developed dog is from 33 to 40 pounds, again with females weighing slightly less. The Kerry Blue's coat should be soft, dense and wavy – never harsh, wiry or bristly. Color is important in this breed and should be any shade of blue gray or gray blue, from deep slate to light blue gray, and should be uniform in color, except that darker black points are permissible. Puppies typically are born black and then "clear" their color over time. At 18 months of age, if a Kerry's coat has not faded to an acceptable color, it is not acceptable for the American show ring.

History & Health


The Kerry Blue Terrier was developed in southwestern Ireland sometime in the late 1700s or early 1800s. His original job was to kill rats, tend livestock, guard property and protect people. He was said to be the only dog that would tackle an otter, single-handed, in deep water. The exact lineage of the breed is unknown. It has been suggested that the Kerry Blue descends from Irish, Welsh, Bedlington and Soft-Coated Wheaten terriers, although no one knows for sure. Kerry Blues started appearing in the show ring in the late 19th century and rapidly gained favor. The Dublin Irish Blue Terrier Club was formed in 1920. The newly-organized Irish Kennel Club officially recognized the breed in 1922. Dog fanciers in England quickly became besotted by the Blue Terrier, which gained full recognition by The Kennel Club (England) as a distinct breed. Its popularity skyrocketed almost instantly, and the Blue Terrier Club of England became the parent group for the breed in England. The Kerry Blue reached its peak of popularity in 1924, representing more than 25% of the total Irish Kennel Club registrations.
The English and American breed standards are virtually identical and provide that the Kerry Blue's coat must be trimmed for show competition. The first major show in America at which Kerry's were entered was the 1922 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, where Kerries competed in the Miscellaneous Class. The breed was officially recognized as eligible for championship competition by the American Kennel Club in 1924. In 1926, a group of fanciers met during the Westminster show and organized the Kerry Blue Terrier Club of America. At about the same time, the United States Kerry Blue Terrier Club, Inc., was formed. In 1938, those two clubs merged to form today's parent club, called the United States Kerry Blue Terrier Club.

The modern Kerry Blue Terrier remains true to its roots. He excels in obedience and agility. He is an accomplished earthdog, gundog and retriever, and his herding skills are solid. He performs in the show ring and is indomitable as a watchdog. He has been used for police and military work as well. Most importantly, he makes a faithful and watchful companion, when raised and socialized properly.


The average life expectancy of the Kerry Blue is 12 to 15 years. Breed health concerns may include cerebellar abiotrophy, cryptorchidism, ear infections, epidermal or sebaceous gland cysts, dermal cysts, eye problems (keratoconjunctivitis sicca aka dry eye, cataracts, entropion), footpad keratoses, hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, missing teeth, patellar luxation and patent ductus arteriosus.

Temperament & Personality


The Kerry Blue Terrier is an energetic and often rambunctious dog who loves to play hard. They are true family dogs who love to be surrounded by the ones they love and insist upon being included in all family activities. They have enough stamina to accompany people on long walks and hikes, but prefer yard games like catch, fetch, or plain old games of tag. Kerry Blues can be trusted around children of all ages, though their yen for rough housing makes them a poor choice for homes with toddlers. They are reliable watchdogs, quick to sound the alarm that someone is approaching, and they are fearless protectors of their property and family. They are not aggressive, however, unless absolutely provoked and are a great choice for families with experience raising dogs.

Activity Requirements

This mid-sized terrier needs a lot of physical and mental activity in order to maintain happiness and health. They have energy to spare, and just when you think you've tired our your Kerry Blue, he'll come back for more. This breed is not for couch potatoes, and don't do well in apartments. Houses with open space and a yard to play in are the ideal living situation for a Kerry Blue Terrier. They need about one hour of vigorous exercise every day which can include brisk walks, jogs, or romping in the yard.
In addition to physical activity, it is important to keep the Kerry Blue's mind active. A bored Kerry is a destructive Kerry. Agility training is a good option to work both his mind and his body.


Kerry Blues are highly intelligent dogs and can be difficult to train. They spend a lot of time observing and reading the behavior of those around them and will use what they've learned to manipulate the situation whenever possible. Training should be done with confidence and consistency, as the Kerry Blue will take a mile if given an inch. Positive reinforcement and lots of treats are a must, as is mixing up the routine. Kerry Blues will become bored doing the same thing over and over.
Once consistent leadership has been established and basic obedience has been mastered, Kerry Blues should graduate on to advanced classes and agility training. Because they are so smart, they need a lot of mental stimulation to stave off destructive behaviors, and these advanced activities will keep their mind and bodies sharp.

Behavioral Traits

Kerry Blue Terriers need to be socialized early and often to accept new people and to learn to coexist with other animals. While Kerry Blues are rarely aggressive with other dogs, they will not back down from a fight if provoked. Teaching them to be even-tempered around other animals can minimize the possibility of a fight. Around people, the Kerry Blue needs to learn that strangers are not necessarily bad. They are protective dogs and unless they learn to identify the "good guys," they will assume outsiders are bad.
Cats, birds, and other small pets should be kept away from Kerry Blue Terriers. They have a strong chasing and hunting instinct, and living amongst potential prey could be disastrous. Kerry Blues are best as the only pet in the house.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
The typical Kerry Blue Terrier should be upstanding well knit and in good balance, showing a well-developed and muscular body with definite terrier style and character throughout. Correct coat and color are important. A low-slung Kerry is not typical.

Size, Proportion, Substance
The ideal Kerry should be 18½ inches at the withers for a dog, slightly less for a bitch. In judging Kerries, a height of 18-19½ inches for a dog, and 17½-19 inches for a bitch, should be given primary preference. Only where the comparative superiority of a specimen outside of the ranges noted clearly justifies it should greater latitude be taken. In no case should it extend to a dog over 20 inches or under 17½ inches, or to a bitch over 19½ inches or under 17 inches. The minimum limits do not apply to puppies. The most desirable weight for a fully developed dog is from 33-40 pounds, bitches weighing proportionately less. A well-developed and muscular body. Legs moderately long with plenty of bone and muscle.

Long, but not exaggerated, and in good proportion to the rest of the body. Well balanced. Eyes-Dark, small, not prominent, well placed and with a keen terrier expression. Anything approaching a yellow eye is very undesirable. Ears-V-shaped, small but not out of proportion to the size of the dog, of moderate thickness, carried forward close to the cheeks with the top of the folded ear slightly above the level of the skull. A "dead" ear, houndlike in appearance, is very undesirable. Skull-Flat, with very slight stop, of moderate breadth between the ears, and narrowing very slightly to the eyes. Foreface full and well made up, not falling away appreciably below the eyes but moderately chiseled out to relieve the foreface from wedginess. Little apparent difference between the length of the skull and foreface. Jaws deep, strong and muscular. Cheeks-Clean and level, free from bumpiness. Nose-Black, nostrils large and wide. Teeth-Strong, white and either level or with the upper (incisors) teeth slightly overlapping the lower teeth. An undershot mouth should be strictly penalized.

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck-Clean and moderately long, gradually widening to the shoulders upon which it should be well set and carried proudly. Back short, strong and straight (i.e., level), with no appearance of slackness. Chest deep and of moderate breadth. Ribs fairly well sprung, deep rather than round. A slight tuck-up. Loin short and powerful. Tail should be set on high, of moderate length and carried gaily erect, the straighter the tail the better.

Shoulders fine, long and sloping, well laid back and well knit. The elbows hanging perpendicularly to the body and working clear of the side in movement. The forelegs should be straight from both front and side view. The pasterns short, straight and hardly noticeable. Feet should be strong, compact, fairly round and moderately small, with good depth of pad free from cracks, the toes arched, turned neither in nor out, with black toenails.

Strong and muscular with full freedom of action, free from droop or crouch, the thighs long and powerful, stifles well bent and turned neither in nor out, hocks near the ground and, when viewed from behind, upright and parallel with each other, the dog standing well up on them.

Correct coat is important it is to be soft, dense and wavy. A harsh, wire or bristle coat should be severely penalized. In show trim the body should be well covered but tidy, with the head (except for the whiskers) and the ears and cheeks clear.

Color is important. The correct mature color is any shade of blue gray or gray blue from the deep slate to light blue gray, of a fairly uniform color throughout except that distinctly darker to black parts may appear on the muzzle, head, ears, tail and feet. Kerry color, in its process of "clearing," changes from an apparent black at birth to the mature gray blue or blue gray. The color passes through one or more transitions--involving a very dark blue (darker than deep slate), shades or tinges of brown, and mixtures of these, together with a progressive infiltration of the correct mature color. The time needed for this "clearing" process varies with each dog. Small white markings are permissible. Black on the muzzle, head, ears, tail and feet is permissible at any age. A black dog 18 months of age or older is never permissible in the show ring and is to be disqualified. Disqualification - A black dog 18 months of age or older is to be disqualified. (White markings on a black dog 18 months of age or older does not constitute clearing or mature color and the dog is to be disqualified.)

Full freedom of action. The elbows hanging perpendicularly to the body and working clear of the sides in movement; both forelegs and hind legs should move straight forward when traveling, the stifles turning neither in nor out.

A black dog 18 months of age or older is to be disqualified. (White markings on a black dog 18 months of age or older does not constitute clearing or mature color and the dog is to be disqualified.)

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