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Irish terriers are lively, playful, outgoing, and aim to please their owners, though they can sometimes have a willful streak. Standing just 18 inches at the shoulder and weighing between 25–27 pounds, they're dedicated and loyal to their families—that's one of the reasons the breed earned the nickname "Daredevil."
Irish terriers like to have their own space (like a small backyard) to burn energy—and they've got a lot to burn! Whether going for a run or a hike, or even just a long walk around the neighborhood, they enjoy activities that keep their minds sharp and their sleek-yet-sturdy bodies moving. (Agility, anyone?) And as a relatively rare breed, chances are your pup will be the only Irish terrier at the local dog park.
The first thing you'll notice about an Irish terrier is her coat: The standard fiery red is similar to that of another Emerald Isle ginger breed, the Irish setter. But that's where the similarities between the two breeds' coats end. While the Irish setter's long hair flows, the Irish terrier's coat is dense, wiry, thick, and rarely sheds, so you won't be spending all your time vacuuming up after her. Her fur can be a solid bright red, golden red, red wheaten, or wheaten.
Standing 18 inches at the shoulder and weighing between 25–27 pounds, the Irish terrier's frame is sleek, sturdy, and conveys "a balanced vital picture of symmetry, proportion, and harmony," according to the Irish Terrier Club of America (ITCA). Her profile may be similar to other Irish, Welsh, and British terriers—Kerry Blue Terrier, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Welsh Terrier, Lakeland Terrier, and Airedale Terrier—but rest assured, she is her own dog. Look into her eyes and you'll find them a dark brown with an intense expression, "full of life, fire, and intelligence," as the breed standard states.
Her head is long with V-shaped ears that fold over neatly on one end and a scruffy, billy goat beard on the other.
Not only are an Irish terrier's eyes intense, but so is her personality. She's intelligent, curious, good-tempered, affectionate, and loyal.
"Irish terriers absolutely love children, and they will [watch over] their families," says Linda Honey, president of the Irish Terrier Club of Southern California. She has been living and working with the breed for 60 years. "They are equally great with welcome guests and love the attention, but they have been known to be wary of strangers."
Irish terrier puppies need early socialization to new people and animals so they can become adaptable adults. Honey adds that Irish terriers are good with companion animals including cats and other dogs if they've grown up together. Otherwise, "…they are not always friendly with other dogs, and they definitely don't like cats that are not part of their families," she says.
Honey does say, however, that Irish terriers may not be for everyone.
"They are very intelligent and need attention," she says. "One should have experience with owning dogs before getting an Irish terrier."
"The Irish terrier is very adaptable to almost any living situation," says Doug Rapport, president of the Chesapeake Irish Terrier Club, AKC Breeder of Merit and AKC Breeder with H.E.A.R.T. "They do like exercise, so walks and playtime are a must."
Irish terriers do well on half-day hikes and tend to enjoy swimming when introduced properly to water. Like many dogs, if left alone for too long, these pups may entertain themselves by chewing furniture, tearing up tissues, or taking stuffing out of pillows. If an Irish terrier is kept busy and engaged, she is less likely to act out.
"Normally, they can be left alone for hours—four or five maximum—at a time, once they are properly house trained," Rapport says.
"Many of the terrier breeds have coats that need to be stripped, and the Irish terrier is one of them," Honey says. "They are supposed to have a dense and wiry coat in texture and rich in quality, and this can only be achieved if they are stripped."
Consistent and positive reinforcement training throughout an Irish terrier's life will help her be polite and well-behaved. Rapport says the best way to train an Irish terrier puppy is with lots of patience—with the key words being consistent and persistent.
"'Consistent' means all family members have to do it the same way," Rapport says. "For example, if you say, 'Irish sit' and another family member says, 'sit Irish,' we as humans know they are the same thing. However, it is totally different sounding to the dog, and they will not know the words are the same. So, everyone has to say the same thing for the same command.
"'Persistent' is stay with it. Small amounts of training, [like] five to 15 minutes a couple of times a day, is much better than one long session," he adds. "The Irish terrier is very smart, but sneaky smart. They figure out what you want, then decide if they want to do it or not."
For the perfect exercise-and-training combo, your Irish terrier might find agility courses challenging and rewarding. Not only that, but agility is a fun activity you can do with your dog to strengthen your bond.
Irish terriers have a life span of 13–15 years. They are among the healthiest of purebred dogs and are nearly free of inherited health problems.
One rare health issue to be aware of, however, is hyperkeratosis, or hardened, cracked footpads. The condition is rare in North America, but may be found in dogs with European lineage. A second rare health issue, according to the Irish Terrier Club of America, that may be found in Irish terriers is cystinuria, which causes bladder stones. Though these are both rare conditions in the Irish terrier, if you suspect your pup is developing either, be sure to consult your veterinarian.
The origin of the Irish terrier dog is a bit hazy, as early Irishmen weren't known to keep accurate records. But it's widely believed she dates back to the 1800s, and the breed as we know it today was established in the 1870s. In The Illustrated Book of the Dog, published in 1881, George R. Krehl, an advocate of the breed at the time, said "…the Irish Terrier is a true and distinct breed to Ireland and no man can trace its origin, which is lost in antiquity." At the time the book was published, the Irish terrier was the fourth most popular dog in Ireland and England. She first crossed the pond and arrived in the U.S. soon thereafter.
Upon the breed's arrival stateside, the Irish terrier was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1885, just one year after the club's first official meeting. The breed's popularity grew, leading to the formation of the Irish Terrier Club of America in 1896.
Because of her tenacity, determination, and dedication to her people, the Irish terrier was known as a "War Dog" and served as a combat messenger in World War I. In his writing about the breed's contribution to the war, Lt. Col. E H Richardson of the British War Dog School is quoted as saying: "I can say with decided emphasis that the Irish Terriers 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."
- Irish terriers served as longtime mascots for the Notre Dame football team; the first Irish terrier was presented at the Notre Dame-Pennsylvania game on Nov. 8, 1930.
- Four Irish terriers—Arwen, Frodo, Rohan, and Stryder—all starred as "Rex" in the 2007 movie, Firehouse Dog.
- The Irish terrier's nickname is "Daredevil" due to her reputation of being loyal, spirited, and recklessly courageous.