Irish Terrier

Irish Terrier dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Irish Terrier is one of the oldest Terrier breeds. Originally, the breed is from Country Cork, Ireland but it first became a recognized breed when it was spotted at a dog show in Glasgow, Scotland. This dog has lots of energy and can be a great companion dog, guard dog and hunter dog. The Irish Terrier loves being with people and is affectionate towards his family. He is intelligent, alert, and curious and will surely be up for a challenge!

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHigh
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog Breed Group:Terrier Dogs
Height:Generally 1 foot, 6 inches to 1 foot, 8 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight:Generally 25 to 27 pounds
Life Span:12 to 16 years

During the World War I, Irish Terriers served as messengers and sentinels. The foundations for the breed were two Irish Terrier Champions named Ch. Erin and Ch. Killney boy, who started reproducing in 1879. It is because of this breed that the appearance of dogs in Great Britain had changed. In 1889, the Irish Terrier Club banned the cropping of the dogs’ ears (which was a common practice then) if they would join dog shows. Because of this, the practice was abolished for all the breeds in Great Britain.

Irish Terriers are intelligent and can be trained easily. However, in training them, it is important to be firm and dominant. This doesn’t mean though that you have to be harsh to them. In fact, they are sensitive dogs and will not respond well to harshness. Irish terriers are very active and playful, and can be great playmates to similarly active kids. Still, interactions between kids and Irish Terriers must always be supervised.

The ideal weight for Irish Terriers is 27 pounds for males, and 25 pounds for females. Their average height is 18 to 20 inches tall at the shoulder. Their coats are dense, straight, and wiry, with an outer coat and an under coat.

Irish Terriers tend to bark a lot and they love hearing their voices. If you are not alright with constant barking, this can be prevented by training your Irish Terrier puppy to learn how to keep quiet. They thrive best in homes where there is always someone who can stay with them. Irish Terriers loves being with people, and they always need interaction. If left alone, they can get bored and become destructive in the process of trying to entertain themselves.

Main Highlights
  • The Irish Terrier is one of the oldest terrier breeds. The dog stands at around 18 inches tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 33 pounds.
  • The exact origin of the Irish Terrier is unknown, but their ancestors are believed to be Terrier-type dogs from Britain and Ireland. They first were seen in Country Cork, Ireland.
  • The Irish Terrier is one of the healthiest dog breeds.
  • Irish Terriers are intelligent dogs and they love playing a lot. They require constant mental and physical stimulation. If these needs are not met, they might become bored and try to make their own fun which can be destructive.
  • Irish Terriers can be great playmates for active kids, but are not always dependable around other pets.
Breed History

It can be said that the Irish Terrier is one of the oldest terrier breeds, which is thought to have been around for about 2000 years now. The exact origin of Irish Terriers is not known, but it is believed that their ancestors were Terrier-type dogs from Britain and Ireland. Originally tough, they were first encountered in Country Cork, Ireland. The Irish Terrier served farmers and soldiers alike. They were used for mundane activities like hunting for otters and water rats. But at the same time, they played crucial roles during the World War I, such as serving as messenger dogs and sentinels.

In 1875, the Irish Terrier became a recognized breed at a dog show in Glasgow, Scotland. However, it took until 1879, when two Irish Terrier Champions named Ch. Erin and Ch. Killney Boy started reproducing, establishing their breed.

In the 1880s, the Irish Terrier became a popular breed in Britain, ranking fourth. It is also because of the Irish Terriers that the way that British dogs looked had changed. Usually, in Britain, terrier dogs and dogs from other breeds had to have their ears cropped. In 1889 though, the Irish Terrier Club, under the Kennel Club rules, didn’t allow dogs to be shown if their ears were cropped. The new rule faced oppositions, but this still resulted in the abolition of the cruel practice for all breeds in Britain.

It wasn’t too long before the breed spread in the United States. In 1881, the first Irish terrier had been shown at the Westminster Kennel Club show and in 1885, the American Kennel Club had its first Irish Terrier registered, a dog named Aileen. In 1986, the Irish Terrier Club of America had been established.

The Irish Terriers were bred, not really for their appearance, but for their service and enthusiasm. Originally, they were of different sizes and colors. Mostly, their colors were black and tan, grey, wheat, and red. The way they looked didn’t matter so much if they were strong and cooperative.


The Irish Terrier is a medium-sized dog with the ideal weight being 27 pounds for males, and 25 pounds for females. However, 33 pounds for males and 28 pounds for females are still acceptable. The average height of the breed is 18 to 20 inches tall at the shoulder.

Personality and Character

Irish Terriers are energetic dogs and they love regular mental and physical stimulation. In fact, they perform well at dog sports with proper training. One good thing about the Irish Terrier’s active nature is that it doesn’t come with hyperactivity. They are able to be calm and relaxed, but at the same time, be fully-engaged in activity almost instantly.

Irish Terriers can serve as companion dogs, guard dogs, and hunter dogs. Because of this, it can be said that Irish Terriers are alert and very much awake, have a good temperament, and can easily adapt to the situation. The curiosity level of these dogs is also high; hence they can prove to be brave and dedicated. They are intelligent, independent, and strong-willed dogs. They do love challenges, be it mental or physical ones, but the also need discipline.

Irish Terriers like people a lot, even strangers! They are affectionate towards their families and can be great companions. They can also be great for active and energetic children as Irish Terriers love playing. Because of their intelligence, these dogs can be trained easily. It is important to note though, that since they are strong-willed dogs, it also means that they can be best trained by dominant owners. If the dog senses that his owner is mild or tender, his will is going to become even stronger as he thinks that he has to be the one in charge.

Irish Terriers can be compared to people who love to sing. As such people love to hear their voices when they sing, Irish Terriers love to hear their voices when they bark! An Irish Terrier’s fondness for his voice can grow more if he lives in an area that creates echoes. Your Irish Terrier would be having so much fun, but the downside to this is that you might not. Teaching the dog to learn how to be quiet early in his puppy stage would be the best way to handle this.

Irish Terriers would thrive best when they are with active families. They need exercise and lots of togetherness, and if these requirements are not met, they will most likely become bored and try to create their own fun. Hooray for their independence, but unfortunately, their ways to entertain themselves might involve destructiveness.

As with all breeds, the Irish Terrier needs to be socialized early on in his puppyhood. He needs to be exposed to different people and experiences in order to ensure that he grows up to have good social skills.

Health and Potential Problems

The Irish Terrier is one of the healthiest breeds. Fortunately, there are no known conditions that are consistently diagnosed in the breed. However, just to be sure about your dog’s health, here are the possible health concerns that may exist.

  • Hyperkeratosis: It is the condition that leads to thickening and hardening of foot pads, causing severe pain. Affected dogs suffer from painful cracks, and in worst cases, may cause them to have difficulty in moving. The first symptoms of this condition appear at the age of 4 to 9 months. Around 11% of Irish Terriers carry the gene responsible for the disease. However, responsible breeders do not use that bloodline anymore.
  • Hypothyroidism: It is the condition wherein the body does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Symptoms include hair loss, weight gain, aggression, and fearfulness. This condition is usually treated by hormonal pills.
  • Cataracts: This condition is the most common cause of blindness for Irish Terriers. The eyes become cloudy because of the breakage of fibers in the lens of the eyes. Cataracts are generally painless and can be treated through eye surgery.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: In this condition, the eye’s retina deteriorates. This causes the affected dog to have limited vision in the night, and eventually during the day as well. In most cases, affected dogs will be able to adjust to their impaired vision.
  • Melanoma: This is a common type of cancer among dogs. This condition is normally classified based on its location: in the mouth, in the toe-nail bed, in the skin, or in/around the eye. Melanoma can either be benign or malignant and usually affects older dogs, typically 9 to 12 years old. The Irish Terrier breed is predisposed to developing this condition. There are two types of Melanoma in dogs. One is Benign Skin Melanocytoma, which occurs more than the malignant form and can be treated with surgery. The other type is Malignant Melanoma, which can be treated with surgery, followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation.
  • Ichthyosis: Irish terriers are particularly prone to having this condition which is characterized by dry, flaky, and itchy skin. This condition usually arises very early in life with puppies born with abnormal skin. Treatments like special shampoos and oils may provide relief to affected dogs.
Care Features

Some Irish Terriers love the sport of escaping, and mind you, they are great at it! It is best to have a fence as tall as five to six feet. All terriers love digging, and the Irish terrier is not an exception to that. Hence, it is ideal to have the fence set on concrete.

Irish Terriers, even if they are active and energetic, do not need loads of exercise. 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walk would do fine. They also love running, so a yard where they run around would be very much welcome. Unfortunately, you cannot trust your Irish Terrier that much when he is running wild and free, so if he’s not inside a secure area, it is best to keep him on a leash. Even if Irish Terriers love running, it is important to note that this breed is not really a running breed. If you want to jog with your Irish Terrier, train him gradually, and wait for him to become an adult before you do so.

An Irish Terrier would do just fine inside an apartment if you can train him to keep quiet. He has to live with his family and be given enough mental and physical stimulation, and he will be a good dog. In contrast to this, if you leave him alone and bored, he will most likely entertain himself with ways that might disappoint you.

This breed loves playing. And you know how “playing” is with dogs. It can include shredding your books, digging the soil, rearranging your living room, and basically just messing up your house. He would love that, and you probably won’t. In order for your Irish Terrier to not be this destructive, he should be trained from the start about the things he is allowed and not allowed to do.

The Irish Terrier can be trained best when you give him an incentive. Training him has to be creative and dominant but loving. He has to be praised and rewarded when he does something right. The training also needs variety in order to keep his interest.

Feeding Schedule

Recommended daily amount: 3 to 1.5 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.

Your Irish Terrier can get bored if you feed him the same food every day. This breed has a natural desire for raw meat, and it would be nice to buy your Irish Terrier a piece of cheap steak twice a week (but you have to deworm them every 3 months!).

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Irish Terrier is covered in dense and wiry hair. He has an undercoat or under wool which is made of softer and lighter-colored hair. Both the outer coat and the undercoat function to protect the Irish Terrier from rough shrubs, bushes, and small trees, as well as from the changing weather when he works or plays outside.

An Irish Terrier’s coat can be golden red, red wheaten, or wheaten. A small white patch can appear on the chest, but should not be seen elsewhere. Grey hair may appear in his coat as he grows old. He will probably have longer hairs on his legs than the rest of his body.

To keep your Irish Terrier’s coat clean and healthy, it is necessary to brush it weekly using a natural bristle. Trimming his coat may make it feel softer and look lighter. There is an option to not trim his coat if you are okay with the scruffy appearance. Show dogs’ coats must be hand-stripped a couple of times in a year in order to keep their hard texture. They also must not be clipped. The Irish Terrier does not shed that much and can be considered as hypoallergenic.

Examine his ears on a regular basis in order to check signs of wax, irritation, or infection. Consult a veterinarian for the proper cleanser. His teeth should also be brushed weekly in order to clean out the tartar, maintain healthy gums, and prevent bad breath. Trim his nails monthly if daily activities do not wear them down.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Irish Terriers will make great companions if they are socialized well. Because they are energetic, they make great playmates for equally energetic children. It is important to remember, though, that interactions between them must be supervised.

When it comes to other pets or animals, Irish Terriers don’t really like unfamiliar dogs, and can be dominant and aggressive towards dogs of the same sex. Generally, Irish Terriers are not friendly towards other dogs and will not back down from a brawl, even if they injure themselves. They’ll even take on dogs bigger than them. It is best to make sure that your dog is on a leash and you have command over him when he’s around other dogs.

With early socialization, your dog can get along with one or more cats. It is best to keep an eye on them when they’re together, and to keep them away from each other when you are not around.

When it comes to smaller animals like rodents, Irish Terriers can hardly be trusted. Remember that your dog loves raw meat, and may make a meal out of your small pets.

Irish Terriers are fun-loving dogs but they can also be diligent working dogs if given the right training. They are active, energetic, intelligent, and alert, and are always open to challenges. They are very brave dogs, but the downside to this is that they can get into a brawl with other dogs if they don’t have developed social skills. Irish Terriers are full of curiosity and life, and they are sure to entertain you and give you good company!

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.