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Irish Terrier

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

Irish Terrier

The Irish Terrier is a medium-sized purebred from Ireland and was bred originally to hunt vermin and den animals like water rats and otters. It is one of the oldest terrier breeds around and a writer once wrote about it as being a “poor man’s sentinel, the farmer’s friend, and the gentleman’s favorite.” Today it does well as a watchdog, is still used in vermin control, and makes a great companion for the right homes. It also does well in dog shows for things like retrieving, tracking, and hunting and is used successfully in the military and police.

The Irish Terrier at A Glance
Name Irish Terrier
Other names Irish Red Terrier
Nicknames Daredevil
Origin Ireland
Average size Medium
Average weight 25 to 40 pounds
Average height 17 to 19 inches
Life span 12 to 15 years
Coat type Harsh, dense, rough, wiry
Hypoallergenic Yes
Color Red, wheaten
Popularity Somewhat popular – ranked 118th by the AKC
Intelligence Average – understand new commands with 25 to 40 repetitions
Tolerance to heat Very good – can handle even hot weather just nothing extreme
Tolerance to cold Very good – can handle even very cold climates just not extreme
Shedding Minimal – does not leave a lot of hair around the home
Drooling Low – not prone to slobber or drool
Obesity Moderate – make sure it gets enough physical activity
Grooming/brushing High maintenance – needs a lot of brushing
Barking Frequent – will need the training to stop on command
Exercise needs Fairly active – needs daily exercise and a fair amount of it
Trainability Moderately easy – though can have a stubborn side
Friendliness Very good with socialization
Good first dog Moderate – best with experienced owners
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Low – needs socialization and supervision at all times
Good with other pets Moderate to good with socialization
Good with strangers Good with socialization
Good apartment dog Moderate – size means could adapt but best in a home with a yard
Handles alone time well Moderate – does not like being left alone for long periods
Health issues Quite a healthy breed but some issues include hip and elbow dysplasia, eye problems, hypothyroidism, and hyperkeratosis
Medical expenses $460 a year for pet insurance and basic medical care
Food expenses $145 a year for good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $535 a year for the license, toys, miscellaneous items, grooming, and basic training
Average annual expenses $1140 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $800
Rescue organizations Several including the Irish Terrier Club of America
Biting Statistics None reported

The Irish Terrier’s Beginnings

The Irish Terrier is one of the oldest terriers and comes from Ireland, first noted in County Cork. Its ancestors have thought to date back to 2000 years ago but not much is really known about its beginnings. Some theories suggest it descends from other back and tan terriers types like the Irish Soft Haired Wheaten Terrier and the Kerry Blue or the Scottish Terriers even. It was bred to hunt vermin and den animals and the main focus then was not on its looks but on making it hardy and game and bold. The earliest reference we can find on the dog we are familiar with today is from paintings dating to the 1700s. It is the only terrier with an all-red coat but it did not start like that. In those paintings, it can be seen to have several colors such as brindle, black and tan, and grey. It was not until the end of the 1800s that the all-red color became the prevalent one.

In 1873 Dublin’s dog show gave Irish Terriers a separate class, and one in Glasgow in 1875 was when they first appeared under the name Irish Terrier. The 1880s saw a huge surge in popularity for the breed and it became the 4th most popular dog breed in Ireland and the UK. The English Kennel Club recognized it as native to Ireland, the first terrier-type to be recognized so. It was also around this time that its popularity in the US rose and it was recognized by the AKC in 1885 though its breed club, the Irish Terrier Club of America was not formed until 1896.

With World War I the breed demonstrated its courage and value as it was used successfully as a sentinel, retriever, and messenger. Many received praise for their loyalty and bravery, Lt. Col. E. H. Richardson said, “Many a soldier is alive today through the effort of one of these Terriers… They are extraordinarily intelligent, faithful, and honest, and a man who has one of them as a companion will never lack a true friend.” After the war, it remained a popular dog in Britain and the US, and that carries through till the 1960s. However, from then its popularity went into decline, for no apparent reason.

New Lease on Life

While its popularity waned there are still several fans and its numbers might be low but it is not at risk. It was used in the 2007 movie Firehouse Dog which gave it a boost in the US especially. Today it ranks 118th in the AKC it has slowly been climbing the ranks over the last few years.

It was actually the Irish Terrier that led to a huge change in how many dogs appeared then and today. At the time it was common to crop the ears of terriers and several other breeds. In 1889 though the Irish Terrier Club made a rule that dogs born after a certain date we’re no longer allowed to have their ears cropped if they wanted to be shown in dog shows. There was quite an uproar about it in dog circles but people complied and it actually led to the eventual banning of all ear cropping in any dog in Great Britain.

The Dog You See Today

The Irish Terrier is a medium-sized dog weighing 25 to 40 pounds and standing 17 to 19 inches tall. It is a bit longer than it is tall with straight and muscular front legs. Its shape is rectangular and it has a deep chest. It is a powerful dog but is not overly heavy or sturdy. Its tail is docked to ¾ length in places where that is still allowed. However, in its homeland and much of Europe tail docking is no longer allowed. Its tail is set fairly high but should not curl over the back or sides of its body. Its coat is dense, wiry, harsh, and rough. It lies close to its body and comes in shades of red, or wheaten. Its undercoat is soft. On its face are a beard and long whiskers. Some have small white patches on the chest. A puppy can be born black and then change color as it grows.

This dog’s head is long and between the ears it is flat. Those ears are V-shaped and fold to the eye’s corners. Sometimes its ears need help to form correctly but not all have that problem and it is only necessary for show dogs. They tend to be darker in color than the rest of the coat. It has a black nose and its eyes are small and dark brown. It has bushy eyebrows along with the mentioned beard and whiskers.

The Inner Irish Terrier


Irish Terriers make great watchdogs. They are alert and will bark to let you know if an intruder is trying to get in. It also is fearless and bold and has protective instincts so will act to defend you and its home. This is not the best breed for new owners as experience really helps in handling it well. It is a bold dog, intelligent and energetic, loyal and fierce. It is devoted to its family and is a hard worker if being kept in a working role. It does have an independent side that can make it more stubborn and willful. With their family, they can be sweet, affectionate, funny, and entertaining too. It enjoys life and loves its people, it is also good-tempered, curious, and adaptable.

This is one of the boldest terriers there are but with strangers, it is aloof and vigilant until it is sure of them. It must have early socialization to make sure it stays controlled. It is a confident breed and will need owners who make it clear what the pecking order is and where it is in that. It can handle short periods alone but would not be happy being left alone for a long time. It should be a part of family activities. While this is a lively and active breed it should not be hyperactive, if it is acting that way it may be that it is not getting enough care or stimulation. Indoors it should happy to relax and not always be bouncing around. That being said when it is a puppy it does bounce around a fair bit!

Living with an Irish Terrier

What will training look like?

Irish Terriers are moderately easy to train for people with experience. You should start the training and the socialization as soon as you get it home, the younger a dog is the more it can soak up and the less stubborn it has learned to be! It likes to be challenged and is eager to please and intelligent. Use positive things to motivate and reward it like treats, praise, and encouragement. Keep the sessions interesting and engaging and short too. Be consistent, firm and make it clear your rules are meant to be followed at all times. It needs strong owners, not meek ones but that does not mean it will accept harshness or physical punishment. It is sensitive and will bulk at such treatment. It can be independent and stubborn so some experience training terriers will certainly help.

While basic obedience training should go quite well, and you should consider taking it further to give it mental stimulation, housebreaking may take longer than expected. Draw up a routine and stick with it. Along with basic training and house, training make sure you socialize your dog too. Early socialization means introducing it to different people, sounds, locations, situations, animals, and so on to get used to them. Dogs that are well socialized grow to be more confident and happy and are more trustworthy too.

How active is the Irish Terrier?

Irish Terriers are fairly active dogs so need to be in homes with active owners. It can adapt to apartment living if it gets enough daily exercise but does best in a home with even just a small to average yard. Tow or three 20 to 30-minute walks should be enough along with playtime and off-leash time. It can join joggers at a moderate pace with some training. This is an intelligent dog with an active mind so just as important as physical activity is ensuring it has mental stimulation too. If it does not get enough of both it is liable to find its own amusement often by shredding or destroying things, becoming hyperactive and difficult to control, and more vocal.

It likes to swim and be in the water and it loves to dig and explore. Take it to the dog park for safe off-leash time if you think yours can handle being around strange dogs. Otherwise find somewhere else to safely let it run free now and then, and to play doggy games with you. Do not take it off-leash on your regular walks or it will chase off after moving things. For the same reason make sure the yard is well fenced in, they are very good diggers and jumpers so could escape either way.

Caring for the Irish Terrier

Grooming needs

There is quite a lot of care involved in grooming and maintaining the Irish Terrier if it is being kept to show standards. Its wiry coat will need professional stripping now and then particularly if it is a show dog. It does not shed a great deal at all so there is not a lot of hair around the home. It is a dog that could be good for people with allergies though if that is a concern, always check first before buying. Brush weekly at least using a slicker brush or stiff-bristled brush and if you opt to have the coat clipped rather than stripped note that it could change the texture of the coat. Only give it a bath when it is needed, if you do it too often it will damage the natural oils it needs in its skin. That can lead to skin problems.

Other needs include trimming its nails when they get too long. There are proper nail clippers for dogs you can use and you should take the time to learn about dog nails. There is a part of the nail that should not be cut into as it will hurt and lead to bleeding. Have the groomer or vet teach you or have them do it for you. Its teeth should be brushed two to three times a week for good dental and gum health. Once a week its ears should be checked for swelling, wax build-up, or irritation in case of infection. They should also be cleaned by wiping them down with a warm wet cloth, or a cotton ball and ear cleaner solution. DO not insert anything into the ears, this could do a lot of damage and hurt your dog.

Feeding Time

Feed your Irish Terrier about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of good quality dry dog food a day, split into two meals. The amount can vary from one terrier to another depending on its metabolism, level of activity, age, health and build.

How is the Irish Terrier with children and other animals?

The Irish Terrier is excellent with children with socialization and especially when raised with them, but it is not at all good with other dogs, and socialization is also needed for helping it be better around other pets and small animals. Its energy and liveliness and playfulness make a great companion and playmate for children and it can handle a certain amount of roughhousing too. It is bold, curious, and loves to join the kids for a great adventure. It is a good idea to supervise interactions with young children though and teach them how to approach dogs, how to touch them, and not to pull at them.

Around other pets socialization is crucial. It has high prey instincts and cannot be fully trusted around non-canine animals like cats, rabbits, and so on. It is not a dog that is good at distinguishing between family pets and strange creatures outside. If it sees something fleeing those chase and seize instincts are triggered. Around other dogs socialization and close supervision are essential and it needs strong leadership from its owner. Even with socialization, this is not a dog that is happy around other dogs so care needs to be taken in places like a dog park. It is especially aggressive with other dogs of the same gender.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

This dog has a life span of 12 to 15 years and is a fairly healthy breed but there are a few issues it can suffer from. They include muscular dystrophy, eye problems, hyperkeratosis, hip dysplasia, and hypothyroidism.

Biting Statistics

In reports of dog attacks against people causing bodily harm over 35 years in North America, there is no mention of the Irish Terrier. However, it is not that common there so the odds of those incidents are much reduced. This breed does have an aggressive side, but it veers towards animals and other dogs, not people. It is not likely to act a person, but any breed has the potential of doing it and that should be remembered. Socialization, training, proper care and attention, and enough mental and physical activity are also important in it being stable and trustworthy. This dog needs very firm owners and to know its place in the pecking order. With these things in place, you can reduce the odds though not remove them completely.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A puppy Irish Terrier is going to cost around $800 from a decent breeder for pet quality dogs. From atop breeder and looking at show quality dogs you can pay a lot more, sometimes even triple that amount or more. While the chances of finding a purebred in a shelter or rescue are low for this breed, you may find mixed dogs that need a new home and are well worth a consideration if you are not intending to show your dog. Under 350 new puppies are registered in the US each year compared to around 60,000 Golden Retrievers. Never use puppy mills, pet stores, or backyard breeders, even if the idea of avoiding a waiting list is tempting. These are not places we should be helping stay in business.

When you have your puppy or dog there are some initial costs to pay out for medical procedures and for items you need at home. Take it to a vet as soon as you can so it can have a physical examination, have blood tests done, be dewormed, micro-chipped, spayed, or neutered, and have its vaccinations updated. This will cost about $270. For things at home like a crate, carrier, collar, and leash, bowls and so on you can expect to pay about $200.

Then there are also ongoing costs with dog ownership. It will need to be fed, and you should use a good or excellent quality dog food as it is more nutritious for the dog. This and dog treats will cost about $145 a year. For pet insurance and basic medical needs like shots, flea and tick prevention, and check-ups you can expect to pay about $460 a year. For miscellaneous costs like basic training, toys, license, grooming, and miscellaneous items expect to pay $535 a year. This gives an annual starting figure of $1140.


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The Irish Terrier is a spirited and fiery dog with a lot of confidence, attitude, and character. It makes a great companion for strong and experienced owners but does need socialization and training and supervision with other animals and dogs. Owners will need a lot of patience and a sense of humor! It loves to be around people though and gets along well with children. It is loyal, affectionate, and devoted to its family. Just be prepared for holes in the yard and some mischief around the house!

Meet Irish Troodle – Irish Terrier x Poodle Mix

Irish Troodle
Irish Terrier and Poodle Mix
General Information
Size Medium to large
Height Up to 24 inches
Weight 20 to 60 pounds
Life span 10 to 14 years
Touchiness Fairly sensitive
Barking Rare
Activity Quite high
Breed Traits

Great family dog



Featured Image Credit: congerdesign, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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