kerry blue terrier dog breed profile treatment on yellow background

Kerry Blue Terrier

Kerry blue terriers are loyal, hard-working, and strong-willed dogs. They are happiest when they have a task to do, preferably if it’s by their owner's side.
By Kristin Salaky
August 18, 2021
Kerry Blue Terrier
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament

Kerry Blue Terrier

height
  • 17.5–19.5 inches
weight
  • 33–40 pounds
life span
  • 12–15 years
breed size
  • medium (26-60 lbs.)
good with
  • families
  • children
temperament
  • friendly
  • willful
  • playful
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • infrequent
exercise needs
  • high
energy level
  • active
barking level
  • frequent
drool amount
  • low
breed group
  • terrier
coat length/texture
  • medium
  • curly
colors
  • black
  • gray
  • blue
other traits
  • hypoallergenic
  • requires lots of grooming
  • tendency to chew
  • high prey drive
  • loves water
  • cold weather tolerant
  • strong loyalty tendencies
  • good hiking companion

Loyal and loving, Kerry blue terriers give you the best of both worlds—while they are strong-willed and love to be given a task to keep them busy, many will be just as happy to snuggle up with you when the day is done.

These striking pups may not be the most well-known terriers in the group, but they have distinctive personalities. They are also known for their high-maintenance-but-beautiful coats and distinctive beards; you'll want to keep their coat well-groomed to maintain the Kerry's iconic look.

Kerry blue terriers typically grow to be 17–19.5 inches and are perfect for people who want to spend plenty of quality time with their dog, especially outdoors. This pooch will be your ultimate MVP during hikes, herding, and seeking events. 

Appearance

Kerries have distinctive, muscular bodies thanks to their love of physical activity. They come in at about 18–19.5 inches for males and 17.5–19 inches for females and usually weigh around 33–40 pounds, putting them snugly into the medium-sized dog category. But make no mistake, these pups have a big presence. 

kerry blue terrier outside
An easy way to point out a Kerry blue terrier is his scruffy beard.
| Credit: VKarlov / Shutterstock

Despite their name, they aren't typically born blue. Kerry blue terrier puppies are typically born with deep, black hair that fades into a gorgeous blue or gray color. They also have long heads, rock a distinctive beard, and have soulful dark eyes. 

Rather than fur, Kerry blue terriers have hair, which helps wick away water when swimming (a favorite pastime) and bounding into puddles. And while no dog is 100-percent hypoallergenic, Kerry blues don't shed much, making them a good choice not only for people allergic to dogs, but for your rugs, too! However, this means their coats can be pretty high-maintenance. To avoid matting and knots and to take away dead hair, it's best to brush them every few days and have them groomed by a pro every six to eight weeks.

Temperament

Kerries are ultimately well-rounded dogs. John J. Garahan, president of the United States Kerry Blue Terrier Club, describes them best, calling them an "all-around" type of dog. While they have a reputation for being strong-willed, they are loyal and loving dogs with their families

These terriers are high-energy as well as extremely smart, so they need lots of attention and jobs to do. Any boredom can lead to chewing if you're not careful, but exercise and mental stimulation (it doesn't hurt to load up on interactive toys) will keep him happy. If you're considering a Kerry blue terrier, be sure you're ready to rise to his level of wits. 

"With a Labrador, I could throw a ball all day long," Garahan says. "That Labrador is gonna go running after that ball and bring it back to me all day long. With a Kerry blue, I might be able to do that for probably, maybe about a half an hour. And then they're gonna say, in their own mind, 'enough of this, there's really not much going on. I've got to find something else to do.'"

Kerry blues love to be side by side with their family members, including children, during long walks and doggy sporting events. They may get bored after the fifth game of fetch that day, but pique their interest with a new stimulating activity and you've got a friend for life.


Kerry Blue standing near pond
A lot of work goes into keeping a Kerry blue's stunning profile. Along with visiting a groomer every six to eight weeks, you'll need to brush their hair every few days.
| Credit: Kseniia Kolesnikova / Shutterstock

However, their devotion is dialed-in to their family: They don't typically do well with other dogs, especially if they haven't been raised with them since day one. Similarly, they don't take well to strangers without a proper introduction, so socializing Kerry blue terrier puppies early is important so they learn to be comfortable around new people. When passing strangers in the park or at the veterinarian's office, be sure to keep them on a lead in case they're feeling a bit suspicious. True to being a terrier, they also are prone to barking, so expect them to make their presence known.

But make no mistake: If you're dedicated to training them and making sure they get their energy out, Kerry blue dogs can be cuddle bugs as well.

Living Needs

Kerry blues are devoted to their families, and they need an owner who is willing to be just as devoted to them. They are ideal dogs for active families who can provide these pups with intellectually and physically stimulating tasks.

Because of this, Kerry blue terriers would do best in a home with plenty of room to (safely) romp around and play to get their energy out. A fenced-in yard will make his tail wag, and, because their coats are naturally fairly water-resistant, if your property is prone to puddles, they'll fare just fine. Once they are tired out for the night, they're usually happy to lounge around with you or join you in whatever leisure activity you're doing. They just want to be close to you. 

Because they crave attention from their people, Kerry blue terriers would prefer to be the only fur child in the house. Families with cats and other small pets may also want to think twice before welcoming a Kerry blue terrier into their family—because of their history as hunters, they can see these smaller animals as something to chase after. 

Care

Kerry blues turn heads with their one-of-a-kind coat. Grooming your Kerry blue terrier will likely be your biggest undertaking as a pet parent, as they'll need to be brushed every few days. You'll also need to find a groomer who knows how to trim their coat mostly with scissors, rather than a razor (though when grooming a Kerry blue terrier, pros will know to use a razor for places including the front of the neck, on their ears, and on their rear).

You should get them professionally groomed around every six to eight weeks to keep their coat looking sleek, shiny, and free of knots. Their beard will need extra attention, too. Grooming a Kerry blue terrier's head requires care to help show off his iconic shape.  

As with all dogs, you'll need to keep your Kerry blue terrier's nails trimmed, his ears cleaned, and his teeth brushed.

black kerry blue terrier running in field of grass
Kerry blue terriers have a go-go-go personality. They need to stay active, both by keeping their paws moving and by keeping their minds engaged.
| Credit: Osetrik / Shutterstock

In addition to caring for their appearance, Kerry blue dogs need great attention paid to their minds. Garahan emphasizes the breed's intelligence and says it's important to keep them stimulated with regular and varied activities. Their combination of high energy levels and smarts makes them ready to tackle many different games, dog sports such as agility, and learn tricks

"They are very, very smart dogs; they really pick up very quickly," he says. "If people are interested in Kerry blues, to keep them busy, a lot of people will do a lot of the agility, [they] will do obedience, they'll do what we call barn hunt, will do companion dog. All of the other types of awards and honors that the American Kennel Club offers, the Kerry does them all. 

"They were a working dog, so you send them out to do something, and they'll do it. They would just go all day."

Being determined enough to train a Kerry blue can make all the difference in making them your perfect companion. Just be sure to play to their intellect by training them early and showing plenty of positive reinforcement

Health

Kerries are a fairly healthy breed with a typical lifespan of 12–15 years, though they can live even longer. But, like all breeds, there are some health concerns owners need to be aware of.

Garahan notes that some Kerries can have a tendency towards small skin nodules in the form of sebaceous cysts. These types of cysts typically aren't serious, but if you see these on your Kerry blue dog, be sure to speak with your veterinarian about them and see what your treatment options are. 

Because Kerry blue terriers have hair around their eyes, they can also develop some sensitivity and eye issues, which is part of why it's so important to keep them well-groomed. You can also perform a gentle cleaning to prevent any eye irritation.

Kerries may also develop elbow or hip dysplasia, which is inherited. This condition develops in their more mature years and causes joint stiffness and discomfort. Be sure to speak with your vet if you're noticing any mobility issues. 

Of course, these issues won't affect every Kerry, but that's why it's so important to bring them to a vet regularly and monitor their health closely.

kerry blue terrier wearing a yellow collar with snow on their chin in owner's arms
Credit: golubka57 / Shutterstock

History

This breed's origin is shrouded in mystery and legend. Some like to spread the lore that Kerry blue terriers came about after a Portuguese water dog jumped from a boat and paddled to Ireland.

Garahan says what we do know is that Kerry blues sprung about in Ireland as a result of people breeding different types of terriers—and yes, likely Portuguese water dogs—to create a more "all-around" terrier to work the farms. That was more than 150 years ago, and today, these dogs still love having a task to do. 

While they are often mistakenly referred to as the National Dog of Ireland, they definitely have deep Irish origins. Kerry blue terriers quickly became known as working dogs on the island, where they were used to hunt small game and birds and herd sheep and cattle. 

In 1920, the Dublin Irish Blue Terrier Club put on its own dog show and, two years later, became the Irish Kennel Club, which is still in existence today. Fittingly, the Kerry blue terrier was the first breed recognized by the club.

Fun Facts

  • Kerry blue terriers may not technically be the official National Dog of Ireland, but they know their roots. They were named for County Kerry in Ireland and are also referred to as Irish blue terriers.
  • Irish national leader Michael Collins owned a Kerry blue terrier named Convict 224. Collins was a major player in the push for the breed to become the National Dog of Ireland.