About Irish Terriers

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“The Irish Terrier is perhaps the finest dog on earth. … He has a heart three sizes too big for his shaggy body; a heart that is as white & clean as that of a knight-errant. He is no bully, but will flinch not one hundredth of an inch from the fight that is forced upon him, be the odds ever so impossible against him. There is a psychic side of the Irish Terrier, too, found in almost no other dog — a touch of the mysticism of the land of his ancestry.” … “He does not throw away his priceless devotion and loyalty on every stranger who may chirp to him, but to the death, he is the comrade, protector, and exuberant playmate and sympathizing comforter of the human who has won his heart and respect. He is an Irish gentleman from the deathless old school, a fiery gentleman from the tips of his braced toes to the rough hatch of his crown.” -  Albert Payson Terhune


Irish Terriers are a medium sized dog (approx.12-16kg) with plenty of substance yet remaining racy and elegant in outline. Built for speed and endurance, the Irish Terrier is a very sound breed with a typical lifespan of 12-15 years.

You would expect Irish Terriers to grow to about 45 to 50 centimetres - usually the top of their shoulder is knee high to an adult. They come in all shades of red, from a wheaten colour through to a deep red. They have a rough wiry coat. 


The Irish Terrier as the name denotes, is a representative of Ireland.  They are described by an old Irish writer as being the poor man’s sentinel, the farmer’s friend, and the gentleman’s favourite. These dogs were originally bred not so much for their looks, as for their working qualities and gameness.  Used by Irish farmers to protect their small holdings, they quickly proved their worth as an allrounder, minding children, guarding the property, dealing with rats and foxes, providing rabbits for dinner, or retrieving game from water.

The Irish Terrier, earning his stripes during WW1, has a record as a war dog and a combat messenger. His efforts and bravery were legendary. Lt. Col. E. H. Richardson of the British War Dog School, is quoted as follows: “I can say with decided emphasis that the Irish Terrier of the service more than did their part. Many a soldier is alive today through the effort of one of these very terriers. My opinion of this breed is indeed a high one. They are highly sensitive, spirited dogs of fine metal, and those of us who respect and admire the finer qualities of mind will find them amply reflected in 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”.

In more recent years the Irish Terrier has wormed his way into the comforts of family life. His enchanting personality easily wins over the hearts and minds of those who are lucky enough to share their life with one.

Temperament & Training

As with all breeds, Irish Terriers have their own unique qualities: some quite wonderful, and others that will try your patience to the umpteenth degree at times!

From the beginning, Irish Terriers have always lived as an integral part of the family. They are happiest when living in the home and are accepted as a family member.  They are loyal, devoted, sensitive, good hunters, love water, and are protective of those they love. They tend not to be a "one person dog" rather a “whole family dog” and will love all members of their family equally. They are very good natured with people, especially with children.

Although not hyper, Irish Terriers have enormous natural energy, and do best with a fully fenced yard or an owner who has time in their daily routine to regularly exercise his canine companion.  If their exercise needs aren't met, they are likely to become bored, and a bored dog will make his own entertainment - there's no telling what he may get into.  Irish Terriers have a mischievous sense of humour, are naturally very intelligent but strong willed. 

They are fast learners, are but they are also smart enough to figure out how to get out of what you want doing (independent thinkers), and clever enough to pretend they didn't hear you (selective hearing).  They can be especially challenging from about 6-9 months old through until they grow out of their ‘teenager’ phase at anywhere from 12 to 24 months old.  They have been known to steal and hide your socks, take off with your kids' toys (especially dolls and stuffed animals), shred your daily newspaper, the toilet paper, empty every waste basket within reach, eat the pair of glasses left within reach, steal the roast that you have defrosting on your counter top, un-plant your garden, take your washing off your clothesline for you, and may even decide to take a swim in your toilet.  Life is NEVER dull with an Irish Terrier! It is these antics that make them so endearing to those of us who love them whole-heartedly.  A sense of humour is a must.

Puppy school and/or Obedience classes are DEFINITELY RECOMMENDED as soon as possible. Classes not only teach the puppies, but the owners alike - this is very important.  An uneducated Irish Terrier can be a handful!  You will need to put in your time and attention into the required training from day one, and some degree of training will be ongoing and life-long.

They are typical terriers, and like all the terrier breeds will want to dig, chew, chase and tease.  They should never be totally trusted off their lead, as they are likely to bolt after anything that moves, and may not return when called!

Much is written about these dogs being aggressive towards other dogs. This is an injustice to the breed. The truth is that entire males (and sometimes females) at times show same sex aggression, but this seems to be limited to situations where there is active breeding occurring and therefore quite a bit of rivalry in regards to who had puppies and who will get stud duties! (all fairly understandable behaviour).  Away from that environment, and with the correct socialisation this is a very amiable breed that will only show aggressive behaviour in response to an unprovoked attack from another dog, or a serious threat to their family.

Irish Terriers are not for everyone, but for people who put in the ground work, they will find that Irish terriers are indeed a highly trainable, loyal, loving dog that will prove to be gentle with children and the elderly alike, well-mannered and dignified indoors, amicable with other pets and accepting of invited guests.

Health & Breeding

The Irish Terrier is one of the healthiest of all purebred dogs, it is a vigorous dog that usually just gets on with living.  With only a small number of devoted breeders throughout the world, the breed has remained extremely healthy, partly because it has never suffered from being ‘fashionable’ but mostly because breeders hold them so dearly and protect them well, in order to maintain the excellent health and quality of the breed.

Irish Terriers rarely suffer from the complaints commonly seen in other breeds, and although diseases can occur, especially in old age, they not known to be hereditary.  There are only two hereditary diseases known to affect Irish Terriers: Hereditary Footpad Hyperkeratosis (HFH) and Cystinuria (Type III - androgen-dependent).

Hyperkeratosis is a condition where there is abnormal development of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) on the footpads.  The footpads harden and grow with cracks and protrusions forming, which can cause pain and lameness especially if they become infected.  Hyperkeratosis is an autosomal-recessive condition, this means that a dog must inherit two copies of an abnormal gene (one from its mother and one from its father) before its health is affected.  A dog that inherits only one copy of the abnormal gene (from its mother or its father) will have no signs of the disease, but will be a carrier and may pass the gene on to any offspring.  A DNA test is available, so carriers can be identified to eliminate the risk of producing affected puppies.  As a result, the disease is now very rarely seen in Irish Terriers.

Cystinuria is an increase of cystine (an amino acid) concentrations in the urine.  Affected dogs fail to reabsorb cystine in their kidneys, which leads to the formation of cystine crystals and uroliths (kidney or bladder stones) in the urinary tract that may require surgical removal.  Cystinuria occurs in many different breeds of dog and there are several genetic tests for specific forms of cystinuria.  However, to date, there is no genetic test is available for Cystinuria Type III, which is the type that occurs in Irish Terriers and the mode of inheritance for Type III is not known.  Cystinuria Type III develops only in the presence of a certain level of male hormones, so only mature intact males may become clinically affected, and with most pet dogs being neutered the disease is not often seen.  This makes identification of carriers difficult, but gene sequencing research is being conducted and a DNA test is expected in the future.  If affected dogs are treated and neutered, they are expected to lead normal lives.

Reputable breeders are interested in placing their puppies in quality, loving, and life-long homes with responsible people who are educated in this breed.  You can expect that a good breeder will stay in touch with you and happily answer your questions. They will offer follow up advice on training, grooming, and be willing to mentor you for as long as you need.

**Acknowledgment for the content on this page must go to numerous different sources/people whose words so wonderfully capture the nature of Irish Terriers, that it is difficult to improve on it other than to abridge and merge the best bits that I have collected together over time.  Thank you!

Contact Details

Rebecca Drummond
Manawatu, NZ
Email : [email protected]