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Kerry Blue Terrier

Nicole Cosgrove

kerry blue terrier

The Kerry Blue Terrier is a medium-sized purebred from Ireland. Despite its name and what is commonly believed about this dog it is not from County Kerry, Ireland, it is actually from Tipperary, Ireland. There it is more commonly called the Irish Blue Terrier and it is also sometimes referred to as the Kerry and Irish Blue. It was originally bred to hunt vermin like rats and other small creatures regarded as pests at that time like badger, otter, hare, fox and rabbit. Today as well as being a great companion dog it also does well in agility and obedience events, as well as retrieving, earthdog and herding. It is also used as a watchdog, and has been used by the military and police.

The Kerry Blue Terrier at A Glance
Name Kerry Blue Terrier
Other names Kerry and Irish Blue, Irish Blue Terrier
Nicknames Kerry, Blue
Origin Ireland
Average size Medium
Average weight 30 to 40 pounds
Average height 17 to 19 inches
Life span 12 to 15 years
Coat type Medium, thick, dense
Hypoallergenic Yes
Color Blue, silver, black, grey
Popularity Not that popular – ranked 127th by the AKC
Intelligence Above average – understands new commands after 15 to 25 repetitions
Tolerance to heat Good – can handle living with warm to hot climates but nothing too hot or extreme
Tolerance to cold Very good – can handle cold weather better than hot just not extreme conditions
Shedding Low – not going to leave a lot of hair around the home
Drooling Low – not prone to drool or slobber
Obesity Average – can gain weight if it overeats but not especially prone, just watch how much it eats and give it enough exercise
Grooming/brushing High maintenance – needs a fair amount of attention
Barking Occasional – does not bark all the time despite being a terrier
Exercise needs Fairly active – needs a good amount of activity
Trainability Moderate to train with the right approach
Friendliness Very good with socialization
Good first dog Moderate – not a dog for new owners
Good family pet Very good with socialization
Good with children Very good with socialization
Good with other dogs Moderate – socialization and supervision is essential
Good with other pets Moderate to good – again socialization needed, can have high prey drive
Good with strangers Excellent with socialization
Good apartment dog Good but does better with a home that has a yard
Handles alone time well Good – can be left alone for short periods
Health issues Somewhat healthy but there are several issues to look out for such as eye problems, hypothyroidism, cancer and skin cysts
Medical expenses $460 a year for basic medical care and pet insurance
Food expenses $145 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $535 a year for miscellaneous items, toys, grooming, license and basic training
Average annual expenses $1140 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,200
Rescue organizations Several including the United States Kerry Blue Terrier Club
Biting Statistics None reported

The Kerry Blue Terrier’s Beginnings

The Kerry Blue Terrier was bred to be a working dog with several roles from guard to companion, small bird and game hunter and water bird retriever to herding cattle and sheep and controller of vermin. Its beginnings were the late 1700s in Ireland but its exact development is not known. Stories suggest that in the mix were Russian blue dogs, from a shipwreck in the late 1770s. Other suggestions include Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, Welsh Terriers, Irish Terriers and Bedlington Terriers. Its name comes from where it was first observed not from where it actually originated! The Blue part of its name is for its coats color.

In the late 1700s and 1800s it was a popular breed especially for farmers in rural Ireland. Then in the late 1800s dog shows become popular and an attempt was made by breeders to tidy it up for the show ring. It was the founding of the Dublin Irish Blue Terrier Club in 1920 that led to the founding of the Irish Kennel Club in 1922, and the Kerry Blue Terrier was the first dog it registered. In those early shows it earned the nickname ‘blue devil’ as it was also judged on its ability to catch rabbits and badger. It quickly became popular in England too and the Blue Terrier Club of England formed in 1924.

New Lease on Life

It is not known who or when exactly the first Blue was brought to the US. The first big show it appeared in though was the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1922 at Madison Square Garden. It received recognition from the AKC in 1924 and a breed club was put together called the Kerry Blue Terrier Club of America. Around the same time another club was formed called the United States Kerry Blue Terrier Club, Inc and in 1938 they merged together. Breed standards in America are almost identical to those in England except for the trimming of the coat for competitions. Even though it has won some major shows over the years the Kerry is not one of the more popular dogs but it is not as rare as some other terrier breeds and has some dedicated breeders and fanciers loyal to it. Its AKC rank in popularity is currently 127th.

The Dog You See Today

The Kerry Blue is a medium-sized dog weighing 30 to 40 pounds and standing 17 to 19 inches tall. It has a sturdy and strong body with a long neck that widens as it reaches the shoulders and a deep chest. Its high set tail is a moderate length, straight and is held upright. In some countries it is still docked but in Europe and Ireland where it comes from docking is now illegal. Its coat has no undercoat and is wavy, dense but not harsh or wiry, rather soft and thick. Common colors come from its name, blues, greys, silvers with some black. Often a puppy is born black and then their coat clears to one of those colors. In that clearing stage there can be times when it is brown and the coat can change color several times before it settles. Some may have small white markings.

Its head is long and in proportion with a flat skull. It has facial hair that includes whiskers, long eyebrows and a beard. Its ears are v-shaped, small and fold forward. For show dogs those ears are often taped to make sure the ears conform to standards. Its eyes are small and dark and its nose is large, black and has wide open nostrils.

The Inner Kerry Blue Terrier


The Kerry Blue Terrier is an alert dog and makes a good watchdog as it will bark to let you know if someone is breaking in. It does have strong protective instincts too so will act to defend you, the family and the home. It is important it is well socialized so it learns to identify real bad guys from just visitors. It is not the best breed for new owners though as it needs someone with experience. Kerrys are fearless, loyal, energetic, and with their family playful, gentle and affectionate. It barks occasionally so you may want train it to stop on command but it is not constant. It is intelligent and hard working and has a lot stamina. It can be independent and have a mind of its own.

It is dedicated to its family and needs to with them and included in family activity. It is energetic and rambunctious enjoying some roughhousing while also being spirited and comical. Some owners find its antics entertaining and endearing, some become aggravated by its mischief. Blues are full of life and do not like being left alone for long periods. It can become destructive, noisy, and depressed when it does not get enough attention and company. It does have an independent side and is a determined dog. It can be somewhat sensitive which can make it moody if it feels there has been some unfairness. For this reason it does not like being teased either.

Living with a Kerry Blue Terrier

What will training look like?

Kerry Blue Terriers are moderate to train for experienced owners who know how to handle them, but might be a little harder if you are inexperienced but have still opted for this breed. Results will come but will likely be gradual as these dogs are good at reading you and the situation and then manipulating you! It is essential to be consistent, firm and confident with how you handle them otherwise they will try to get their own way. They will not respond as well to meek or owners who are not confident. Use positive methods such as offering praise and rewards, treats and encouragement. Avoid making the training overly repetitive, long and boring. It needs to stay interested in what it is doing so sessions should be short and engaging. Being a smart breed mental stimulation is an important part of keeping the Kerry happy and training will fulfill that need. Therefore it is well worth extending basic training to something more advanced. These dogs have a good memory and like a challenge. Early socialization is also important to see it grows into a dog that can deal with different places, situations, people and animals appropriately and be a confident and trusted dog.

How active is the Kerry Blue Terrier?

Blues can adapt to apartment living as long as they get plenty of opportunities for exercise outside. It does do better with a yard though, and it does like to dig. It is a good idea to give it a sand box or somewhere where it is allowed to dig, and protect places you do not want to be dug up. Also a yard needs to be well fenced in. Being a fairly active dog it needs to be in a home with active and committed owners. Being so energetic along with at least an hour of vigorous walks a day, so two 30 minute outings for example or three 20 minute walks, it also needs some other opportunities of play, romping in the yard, visiting a dog park where it go safely off leash if you can trust it around other dogs. They can join you for hikes or jogs but prefer playing doggy games. Along with physical activity make sure you give it plenty of mental stimulation too.

Caring for the Kerry Blue Terrier

Grooming needs

The Kerry is a low shedding dog so it would be a great choice for owners who do not want a lot of hair around the home. It is also an odorless breed. It is said to be suitable for allergy sufferers though this is something that should be tested with a visit before bringing one home. It does have a fair amount of needs with its coat care and that can make it somewhat high maintenance. It will also need some professional attention, especially if you are keeping it as a show dog. Brush the coat daily to remove dirt and debris, keep tangles away and move its natural oils around its body. Ideally its monthly or 6 weekly bath and trim should be done by a professional but as this is not a common dog having groomers who know how to properly care for its coat is also uncommon. Your best chances are to check out groomers certified by a national certifying agency, which indicates the groomer does educate themselves. Unlike with many other dog breeds bathing too frequently should not be a problem for its skin.

You should check its ears once a week for irritation, redness, discharge or wax build up which are all signs of infection. Also to be done weekly is an ear clean using either a damp warm cloth or ear cleanser with cotton ball. Hair in the ears will need to be pulled out too. Just do not insert anything into the ear. Brush its teeth at least two to three times a week for good dental hygiene. Its facial hair will need cleaning daily to remove food debris and dirt. Its nails need to be trimmed when they get too long if it does not wear them down naturally. Take care not to cut too far down into the quick of the nail. There are blood vessels and nerves there that means clipping them would cause pain and bleeding. Have a vet or groomer do it for you if you are not knowledgeable or experienced.

Feeding Time

Kerry Blues will eat between 1 1/2 to 2 cups of a good quality dry dog food a day, split into at least two meals. How much it will need exactly can vary from one dog to another depending on its health, age, build, level of activity and rate of metabolism.

How is the Kerry Blue Terrier with children and other animals?

With socialization and when raised with children this dog is playful, affectionate, lively and also good natured. It can be quite boisterous though so around small children supervision is a good idea as they can get knocked over accidentally, and it stop the toddlers pulling their ears and tail. Teach the children how to play and stroke the Kerry in a kind and acceptable way. That socialization is actually essential for its interactions with other pets and other dogs, and it may not be the best choice for homes with other animals if supervision cannot always be given. It has a high prey drive so keep away birds, cats and other small pets. It can also be aggressive with other dogs, while it may not instigate something if it perceives a challenge or feels slighted for some reason it will fight and will not back down.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

The Kerry Blue Terrier will live for 12 to 15 years but there are a number of issues that it can be affected by so is only somewhat healthy. Those issues include cerebellar abiotrophy, ear infections, cysts, eye problems, cryptochidism, hip dysplasia, dental problems, patellar luxation, cancer, footpad keratoses, hypothyroidism and skin problems.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dogs attacking people in North America over the last 35 years and doing bodily harm, there is no mention of the Kerry Blue Terrier. It is not a common dog there though so the odds are less that they would be involved. This breed is not aggressive towards people but it is or has that potential with other small animals and dogs. It is always possible that something could escalate with them, they might have a bad day, or there might be a trigger. Any dog even the friendliest breed you can think of has the ability to become aggressive towards people. While that potential cannot be completely removed you can train and socialize it, give it enough exercise and stimulation and make sure it has the attention it needs. These things can reduce the risk.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Kerry Blue Terrier puppy is not a cheap dog to own! Prices from a decent breeder of pet dogs are going to start at $1200, and show dogs and top breeders are going to be even more. These are both likely to put you on to a waiting list too. However this is the best option you have to own this dog. Backyard breeders, pet stores and puppy mills are to be avoided at all costs, and shelters and rescues are not likely to have a purebred Kerry. However that latter option is a good one if you are willing to take in perhaps a mixed Kerry or some other dog waiting for a second chance at a new home.

When you have your puppy you will have some initial costs to cover for things like medical care and items needed at home. The former would cover blood tests, deworming, shots, an exam, micro chipping and spaying or neutering. These come to about $270. For items at home like a carrier, crate, bowls, collar and leash costs will come to about $200.

There are also ongoing costs as you will of course need to feed it, keep it healthy and provide for its needs. A good quality dry dog food and dog treats are going to cost about $145 a year. Medical care, just the basics like flea and tick prevention, shots and check ups, along with pet insurance will cost somewhere around $460 a year. Then there are miscellaneous items, license, basic training, grooming and toys which will cost a further $535 a year. This gives an annual cost of around $1140.


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The Kerry Blue Terrier is an athletic and energetic dog so needs owners who are that same. It does not shed much and is likely good for allergy sufferers but it needs proper socialization and training from an early age. It is best in homes that do not have other pets and it needs experienced and confident owners who are able to deal with its strong will and independent mind. It is a loyal and affectionate dog who will want to be with you, needs lots of attention and will be devoted and protective of you.

Featured Image Credit: vgorlitsky, Shutterstock

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.