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Irish Terrier


The Irish Terrier, also known as the Irish Red Terrier, has a rich heritage as a working farm dog. It originally was bred to control vermin, guard rural Irish farms and families and work as a reliable and skilled hunting companion, both in water and on land. The distinctive Irish Terrier is one the oldest of the four terrier breeds and is the only terrier that is always red in color. The Irish Terrier was approved by the American Kennel Club in 1885 as a member of its Terrier Group.

The average Irish Terrier stands approximately 18 inches at the shoulder. Males should weigh 27 pounds, and bitches should weigh 25 pounds, in top show condition. The short, wiry double coat of this breed acts as a tight, well-insulated, water-resistant jacket. It requires only moderate regular grooming but should be hand-stripped several times a year. Its color must be solid and can range from bright red to golden red, or from red wheaten to wheaten. A small splash of white on its chest is permissible but not desired.

History & Health


Irish sporting terriers have been mentioned in ancient manuscripts for centuries. As one of the oldest terrier breeds, the exact origin of the Irish Terrier has been lost to history. However, it is widely believed that the breed descends from the wirehaired black-and-tan terriers that graced Great Britain in the 1700s. Wheaten Terriers have also been suggested as possible contributors to this breed. The Irish Terrier was bred to be a hardworking farm dog: a capable hunter, affectionate and protective of its people, reserved with strangers and aggressive to the point of recklessness when threatened, blind to all consequences and willing to fight to its last breath if necessary. It retains those traits today. It has been used on rats, rabbits, foxes, otters and badgers, in addition to its guardian and companion roles.
The Irish Terrier was first recognized as a distinct breed in the early 1870s, when it was permitted to enter a class of its own at a Dublin dog show. The Irish Terrier Club, founded in 1879 with a branch in London, developed a written standard to guide breeders in their attempts to produce the ideal Irish Terrier. The Irish Terrier Club of America was formed in 1897. Both standards essentially define the ideal characteristics of the breed similarly: a spunky temper, a graceful racing outline, keen expression and a dense, wiry red coat with a distinctive broken appearance.

Irish Terriers were courageous messengers and sentinels on the front lines of World War I. Their extraordinary bravery is reflected in an anecdote from Africa, where an Irish Terrier accompanying big-game hunters allegedly flushed a lion by hanging onto its tail with its teeth.


The average life expectancy of the Irish Terrier is 12 to 14 years. This is a healthy breed with few if any significant breed-related health conditions. Irish Terriers have been known to have familial footpad hyperkeratosis, melanoma, hypothyroidism and cataracts.

Temperament & Personality


Like most terriers, the Irish packs a lot of personality into a small body. They are lively dogs who love to play and like to hear themselves bark. They are quick to posture around other dogs and won't back down if challenged. In the home, they love to be the center of attention, and aren't above making mischief to receive the attention they crave. Irish Terriers have spunk and sass, and many owners swear their dogs "talk back" to them. They are generally patient with kids, and enjoy playing in the yard with anyone willing to give chase. But at the end of the day, the Irish Terrier will want to curl up on someone's lap for some affection and relaxation.

Activity Requirements

Irish Terriers don't require an excessive amount of exercise. Daily walks and the weekly chance to get out and run will keep your dog quite happy. Outdoors your terrier will want to chase things, so playing ball or romping with children are excellent choices. Indoors you can play ball and tug of war with your terrier as well.
Their size makes them good apartment dogs, but they are adaptable and can live basically anywhere. On farms they are useful vermin catchers, in the suburbs they are lively family dogs, and in the city they will like to strut their stuff on walks about town.


Irish Terriers, like many terrier breeds can be a challenge to train. They have a mind of their own and prefer that they be the ones in charge of the home. Training an Irish Terrier requires absolute consistency – if you bend the rules once for these guys, they'll walk all over you. Training should be conducted with lots of treats and even more patience. Never treat an Irish Terrier harshly, as they will stop responding to you all together. They are prone to defensive reactions – if an Irish Terrier does not like the way he is being treated, he will snap or bite.
Once leadership is established, however, Irish Terriers can pick up on tricks and can be graduated on to advanced obedience or agility training. These activities are a good way to keep the dog's mind active, as they require a lot of mental stimulation.

Behavioral Traits

Irish Terriers can't be trusted off a leash. Their instinct to chase after anything that moves is strong, and it is nearly impossible to call off a terrier who has given chase. Yards should always be fenced, and your Irish Terrier should be supervised when outdoors, as they have been known to dig under fences in search of adventure.
Irish Terriers are best suited for single-pet households. They can be aggressive toward other dogs and will try to chase and hunt cats or rodents.
They exhibit all of the common traits of a terrier: yappiness, posturing toward other dogs, fearlessness and poor impulse control. Though these dogs are small, they pack a lot of energy and personality into a tiny package. Potential owners should be ready to handle these big dogs trapped in little bodies.

Breed Standard

Long, but in nice proportion to the rest of the body; the skull flat, rather narrow between the ears, and narrowing slightly toward the eyes; free from wrinkle, with the stop hardly noticeable except in profile. The jaws must be strong and muscular, but not too full in the cheek, and of good punishing length. The foreface must not fall away appreciably between or below the eyes; instead, the modeling should be delicate. An exaggerated foreface, or a noticeably short foreface, disturbs the proper balance of the head and is not desirable. The foreface and the skull from occiput to stop should be approximately equal in length. Excessive muscular development of the cheeks, or bony development of the temples, conditions which are described by the fancier as "cheeky," or "strong in head," or "thick in skull" are objectionable. The "bumpy" head, in which the skull presents two lumps of bony structure above the eyes, is to be faulted. The hair on the upper and lower jaws should be similar in quality and texture to that on the body, and of sufficient length to present an appearance of additional strength and finish to the foreface. Either the profuse, goat-like beard, or the absence of beard, is unsightly and undesirable.

Should be strong and even, white and sound; and neither overshot nor undershot.

Should be close and well-fitting, almost black in color.

Must be black.

Dark brown in color; small, not prominent; full of life, fire and intelligence, showing an intense expression. The light or yellow eye is most objectionable, and is a bad fault.

Small and V-shaped; of moderate thickness; set well on the head, and dropping forward closely toward the outside corner of the eye. The top of the folded ear should be well above the level of the skull. A "dead" ear, hound-like in appearance, must be severely penalized. It is not characteristic of the Irish Terrier. The hair should be much shorter and somewhat darker in color than that on the body.

Should be of fair length and gradually widening toward the shoulders; well and proudly carried, and free from throatiness. Generally there is a slight frill in the hair at each side of the neck, extending almost to the corner of the ear.

Shoulders and Chest
Shoulders must be fine, long, and sloping well into the back. The chest should be deep and muscular, but neither full nor wide.

The body should be moderately long. The short back is not characteristic of the Irish Terrier, and is extremely objectionable. The back must be strong and straight, and free from an appearance of slackness or "dip" behind the shoulders. The loin should be strong and muscular, and slightly arched, the ribs fairly sprung, deep rather than round, reaching to the level of the elbow. The bitch may be slightly longer than the dog.

Should be strong and muscular; thighs powerful; hocks near the ground; stifles moderately bent.

Should be docked, taking off about one quarter. It should be set on rather high, but not curled. It should be of good strength and substance; of fair length and well covered with harsh, rough hair.

Feet and Legs
The feet should be strong, tolerably round, and moderately small; toes arched and turned neither out nor in, with dark toenails. The pads should be deep, and must be perfectly sound and free from corns. Cracks alone do not necessarily indicate unsound feet. In fact, all breeds have cracked pads occasionally, from various causes.
Legs moderately long, well set from the shoulders, perfectly straight, with plenty of bone and muscle; the elbows working clear of the sides; pasterns short, straight, and hardly noticeable. Both fore and hind legs should move straight forward when traveling; the stifles should not turn outward. "Cowhocks"--that is, the hocks turned in and the feet turned out--are intolerable. The legs should be free from feather and covered with hair of similar texture to that on the body to give proper finish to the dog.

Should be dense and wiry in texture, rich in quality, having a broken appearance, but still lying fairly close to the body, the hairs growing so closely and strongly together that when parted with the fingers the skin is hardly visible; free of softness or silkiness, and not so long as to alter the outline of the body, particularly in the hindquarters. On the sides of the body the coat is never as harsh as on the back and quarters, but it should be plentiful and of good texture. At the base of the stiff outer coat there should be a growth of finer and softer hair, lighter in color, termed the undercoat. Single coats, which are without any undercoat, and wavy coats are undesirable; the curly and the kinky coats are most objectionable.

Should be whole-colored: bright red, golden red, red wheaten, or wheaten. A small patch of white on the chest, frequently encountered in all whole-colored breeds, is permissible but not desirable. White on any other part of the body is most objectionable. Puppies sometimes have black hair at birth, which should disappear before they are full grown.

The most desirable weight in show condition is 27 pounds for the dog and 25 pounds for the bitch. The height at the shoulder should be approximately 18 inches. These figures serve as a guide to both breeder and judge. In the show ring, however, the informed judge readily identifies the oversized or undersized Irish Terrier by its conformation and general appearance. Weight is not the last word in judgment. It is of the greatest importance to select, insofar as possible, terriers of moderate and generally accepted size, possessing the other various characteristics.

General Appearance
The over-all appearance of the Irish Terrier is important. In conformation he must be more than a sum of his parts. He must be all-of-a piece, a balanced vital picture of symmetry, proportion and harmony. Furthermore, he must convey character. This terrier must be active, lithe and wiry in movement, with great animation; sturdy and strong in substance and bone structure, but at the same time free from clumsiness, for speed, power and endurance are most essential. The Irish Terrier must be neither "cobby" nor "cloddy," but should be built on lines of speed with a graceful, racing outline.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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