Irish Terrier [Full Breed Guide - History, Personality, & Care]

Irish Terrier [Full Breed Guide - History, Personality, & Care]
Shop our solutions →

Out of the thirty-four Terrier dog breeds, one of the oldest Terrier breeds in the world is the Irish Terrier. Though they all share feisty and energetic attitudes, the Irish Terrier is a strong-willed and loving dog that will guard their family against any potential intruder. They're spirited, always eager to play games, and incredibly loyal!


Their spitfire personalities make them a joy to play with, but don't always result in the most well-mannered furry friends. From socialization training to adequate exercise and proper nutrition, here are some great tips you might need to look after the Irish Terrier. Let's take a look at why so many people love this breed of dog!



Irish Terrier Dog Breed Characteristics

Many Terriers share traits, so it's easy to confuse the Irish Terrier for the Welsh or the Fox Terrier. All three of these dogs have v-shaped ears, dark brown eyes, a medium height, and dense, wiry coats. However, the Irish Terrier sports longer legs than the Welsh Terrier and a longer body than the Fox Terrier.


The Irish Terrier has a life expectancy of around 15 years. This is slightly longer than the average dog breed (10-13 years) but similar to other Terriers that live about 14-15 years old.


Irish Terrier Dog Breed Size

Like many other dogs in the Terrier group, Irish Terriers have abundant, plentiful energy. However, their small to medium sizes lead many to assume they are inactive lapdogs. This breed is far from a couch potato, but their height makes them well-suited to apartment living and small households.


The average female Irish Terrier has a height of 17-18 inches and weighs about 25 pounds. The average male stands 18 inches tall and weighs 27 pounds on average. Even though the breed standard for this dog considers 18 inches ideal, Irish Terriers can grow up to 20 inches in height. If you're planning to enter your pet into the dog show ring, be sure to check the height and weight guidelines for your breed.


Irish Terrier Dog Breed Personality

You'll probably find that the Irish Terrier does not shy away from a good argument! Some owners of Terrier breeds even describe their dogs as eager for a squabble.


These dogs were originally bred to hunt small vermin, like rats. Their small size and long legs make them excellent at chasing down small animals and digging up any place they can't reach. In fact, the word "terrier" comes from a French word that means "burrow."


This tendency to guard people and exterminate small creatures has led the Irish Terrier to be incredibly loyal to its family but potentially combative with other dogs. You may find that they dig holes in the backyard or confront other pets. Their "intruder alert" barking can be triggered more easily and frequently than in other breeds. This is why Terrier breeds need early socialization training as a puppy.



happy irish terrier playing in water



Irish Terrier Dog Exercise

The Irish Terrier's former life as an exterminator and guard dog has resulted in a high energy level. You should give this breed plenty of exercise to maintain good mental and physical health. Irish Terriers need at least one hour of exercise every day.


Related: How Much Exercise Does a Dog Need Every Day? [All Breeds & Ages]


One method for providing them with adequate stimulation is to take them to a dog park. This not only allows them outdoor time without a leash, but it is also an excellent opportunity for your pet to practice their social skills. A nice dog walk or some playtime in the backyard also gets this active dog the workout it requires.


Irish Terrier Dog Breed Training

The Irish Terrier's high energy level means it needs an active lifestyle, but their long legs and trainability also make them good candidates for dog sports. These Irish dogs excel at obedience, agility, rally, Earthdog, and flyball events.


Another good source of activity is training for a show. If your Irish Terrier is destined for the spotlight, whether it be for looks or athletics, show dogs must be in peak physical condition to receive winning marks.


Try fashioning a makeshift obstacle course in your backyard, or teach your pet how to be on their best behavior. Whatever your purposes, keep a strong vocal tone and a strict exercise regimen. This teaches your pet obedience, desensitizes them to distractions, and improves their stamina.


If you've got a puppy, consider playing tug of war. This is a fantastic way to not only exercise, bond, and play with your Irish Terrier but also to teach them obedience. New pets sometimes like to challenge authority, and tug of war is a chance to assert your dominance. Whenever you decide that the game is over or should your dog drop the item, your command should be all it takes. Practice with your puppy until it knows the difference between play and commands!


Socialization Training

Socialization is one of the most important parts of training for all dogs. It allows them to become familiar with new sights and sounds so they can act appropriately around other animals and humans. You should begin socialization as soon as the puppy enters the home.


Dogs that aren't properly socialized may be more anxious or aggressive later in life out of fear. It can be much harder to raise a dog without socialization. Be sure to expose them to as many new experiences and situations as possible so that you'll have a happy, confident dog!



Irish Terrier Dog Breed History

The early days of this breed remain a mystery to experts. The first Irish Terrier was likely a descendant of the black and tan Terrier dogs that were popular in Britain and Ireland. These black and tan dogs were the ancestors of the modern Terriers we see today, such as the Welsh and Scottish Terriers.


Some also believe that the Irish Terrier was created by breeding the black and tan Terrier with the Irish Wolfhound, a sighthound breed deeply intertwined with the history of Ireland.


Function Over Form

Countless dog breeds have been shaped for a certain look. It was not uncommon for a wealthy family or an influential breeder to favor longer noses, thicker hair, or specific colors in certain canines. Irish Terriers, on the other hand, were bred for function rather than form.


The various coat patterns of this breed tell us that breeders paid much more attention to the Irish Terrier's ability to hunt vermin and guard the house rather than focusing on the shape of their ears or a high-stepping gait. With numerous coat color possibilities, it's no wonder that some people referred to the breed as the "Irish Red Terrier."


Breed Establishment

By the 19th century, the Irish Terrier was gaining recognition as its own distinct breed. The first Irish Terrier kennel club was established in 1879 in Dublin, Ireland. The club helped establish just what defines this breed today.


For years the Irish Terrier was loosely referred to by several names, "Irish Red Terrier" and the "Daredevil of Emerald Isle" being just two examples. Thanks to a dedicated kennel club, the breed name was officially set in stone as the Irish Terrier.


In the First World War, Irish Terriers served as messenger and sentinel dogs. After the war, they were increasingly recognized as fantastic show dogs. The Irish Terrier first came to the United States in the late 1800s, and today they are one of the most beloved breeds in the world!



Irish Terrier Dog Breed Health Problems

Irish Terriers are typically a healthy breed, but there are still some potential issues to be on the lookout for. A dog can suffer illnesses if its breeder failed to screen the stock for congenital conditions.


Be sure to research your breeder, or if you're adopting, try to learn about the canine's parentage. It may be hard to acquire detailed paperwork for some rescued puppies or dogs, but a responsible breeder will often have information about their stock.


Urinary Issues

Urinary stones are a potential problem that affects Irish Terriers more than other breeds. Several different types of stones can form in the kidney or bladder, so treatment will be geared towards which type of issue your dog is experiencing.


For example, calcium oxalate stones cannot be broken down and usually require surgery. On the other hand, urate stones can be dissolved with a combination of a low purine diet and medication. Symptoms include difficulty urinating, blood in the dog's urine, or if they have gone longer than usual without urinating. If you notice any of these signs, contact a veterinarian.


To help prevent these stones from forming in your pet, be sure to keep them well hydrated. Give your pet between 0.5-1 ounce of water per pound of bodyweight daily as a general guideline.



Hyperkeratosis is a hereditary disease that results in hardened and/or cracked footpads. Roughly 11% of all Irish Terrier dogs carry the gene that causes this disease. This disease makes it painful for the pet to walk, and an affected canine may need assistance.


While there isn't much an owner can do to stop a congenital condition, this disease is preventable. Recently, scientists developed a genetic test to determine whether a parent carries the gene that causes hyperkeratosis. Irish Terrier breeders should use this test to ensure they are not producing puppies that will go on to suffer from this painful condition.



Cystinuria is a very rare condition that does not have a genetic test. While the urinary stones we mentioned earlier typically result from some sort of urinary tract infection, cystinuria can form stones for a different reason.


When the amino acid cysteine is not filtered properly, it can build up in the kidneys and form stones. These stones are very painful for dogs to pass, and there is even a chance that blockage will occur.


As with other conditions that result in stones, symptoms include bloody urine, difficulty urinating, or the inability to urinate. Any of these could be a sign that your pet is experiencing blockage or having trouble passing a stone. If you notice any of these signs, seek veterinary help immediately. Changes to diet, medication, and in some cases (in severely affected dogs) castration can cure some cases of cystinuria.


Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

PRA is a degenerative disease that causes the photoreceptor cells in a dog's eyes to gradually deteriorate over time. There are two different types of this condition. One is inherited (retinal dysplasia), and the other develops over time (late-onset PRA). Either type of PRA will initially cause your dog's night vision to diminish, so the first sign is often nervousness at night. Other symptoms include bumping into objects and general clumsiness.


After 1-2 years, PRA leads to complete blindness. Regrettably, there is currently no treatment for either kind of progressive retinal atrophy. However, PRA is not the only cause of blindness in dogs, so make sure to consult a vet to find the exact cause of vision loss. In some cases, cataracts or retinal detachment could be the reason for vision loss, but those conditions are treatable.



beautiful dog looking up at owner



How to Care for an Irish Terrier Dog Breed

Fortunately, Irish Terriers are not the most high-maintenance dogs to take care of. However, they love digging and jumping fences, so make sure their enclosure is properly secured or leashed. If you don't want them digging in your backyard, make sure to close them in a concrete area away from your grassy yard.


Irish Terriers are very active animals, and if they don't receive proper physical stimulation, they may try to expend their energy in other ways. Most of the time, this can result in destructive behaviors such as digging through the trash, ripping up the toilet paper, or barking at everyone passing by your front porch. Remember to give them plenty of exercise (at least 30 minutes to an hour) so that they will be tired out by the time they come home!


Nutrition and Feeding for Irish Terrier Dog Breed

Nutritional needs can vary based on activity level and weight, but the Irish Terrier's average size and energy level generally requires 1 to 1.5 cups (0.31-0.46 pounds) of dry dog food every day.


Be sure to get a kibble brand that complies with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Any dog food that does not adhere to these regulations should not be given to your Irish Terrier. Check the product's website or the back of its packaging to see if they comply with AAFCO standards.


Irish Terriers should eat food that is predominantly made of meat. Modern domesticated canines are descendants of wolves, and even though they are considered omnivores nowadays, their digestive system still favors a carnivorous appetite.


Check to see what stage of life the dog food is specified towards. As a general guideline, puppy kibble helps growth, while adult dog food maintains health. Kibble is better for puppies because it has higher amounts of amino acids, which assists tissue growth. Adult Irish Terriers may not need these compounds.


When you're shopping for dog food, keep in mind that puppies need more protein to grow than adult dogs. Alternatively, all-stage dog food caters to the average nutritional requirements of a dog at any point in its life. Ask a veterinarian which type of food is best for your specific dog.


Coat Color And Grooming

Irish Terriers can come in golden red, red wheaten, or even a solid red color. Some Irish Terriers are born with some black hair, but in most cases, it fades out by the time they grow up. They also often feature a small patch of white on their chests.


Grooming the Irish Terrier can be a relaxing, fun experience for all involved. These dogs don't have a coat that sheds as much as some other breeds, and they don't often wear a hairstyle that calls for much attention to detail.


It may not look like it, but technically the Irish Terrier has not just one coat, but two! A double coat does not affect the color of the Irish Terrier's hair, it only means that they have a hard, wiry coat on the outside and a soft, short undercoat.


How to Groom

Irish Terriers benefit from a method of grooming known as stripping. This is the manual removal of dead or loose hair from the dog's body. You can do this with your hands or with a stripping knife. Either way, your pet should be brushed weekly and stripped/clipped 2-4 times a year. To make their bright red-golden coat extra fluffy, try applying a coat conditioner spray with some distilled water to dampen the coat.


Trim the nails of your pet at least once a week, unless normal activity wears down the nails. It might also help to brush their teeth 2-3 times a week to cut down on tartar and bacteria buildup in their teeth and gums. For best results, consider cleaning their teeth daily.


Check the dog's ears weekly for infection. Signs of an infection include redness or a bad smell coming from the ears. When cleaning the canine's ears, do not insert anything into the ear canal. Only clean the outer ear using a veterinarian-approved cleaning solution and cotton balls or gauze.


Every month, take some time to check the body of your Irish Terrier for sores, rashes, or signs of infection. If you find any redness, tenderness, or skin inflammation, contact a veterinarian immediately. This will increase the chance you'll catch a potential health problem early.



Children And Other Pets

The Irish Terrier makes a wonderful companion to those who do well with small or medium-sized dogs. Still, that doesn't mean these active dogs love everyone at first sight. People with children or other small animals may want to separate their new Irish Terrier from the rest of the house until they've gotten proper socialization training. Terrier breeds are spirited and naturally inclined to chase. Sometimes their nature might result in some nipping, growling, or other behavior that could frighten children.


Supervise any playtime with your Irish Terrier, whether they be interacting with other dogs or kids. Their naturally cautious personality may cause them to be wary of new dogs or dogs of the same sex. Keep the dog on a leash as they get comfortable with the presence of the other animal or child. Pull back on the leash if their bodies become stiff, aggressive, or if they begin to growl.


After they demonstrate calm body language, let them sniff and examine the other individual. Try letting them off the leash, and end the playtime if things get rough. Once your pet knows how to be well-behaved around its family, try taking them to the dog park to further practice their social skills.



Rescue Groups

If you'd like to add an Irish Terrier to your family, you're in luck! There are several resources that prospective pet owners can use to find a dog needing a new home. The Irish Terrier Rescue Network (ITRN) is a non-profit charity organization that's sole mission is to connect dogs of this breed with new owners.


A rescue group will often operate locally and pull Irish Terriers set to be put down from nearby shelters. To find more organizations like the ITRN, the American Kennel Club (AKC) has over 450 Rescue Network groups across the United States. Click here to search their database and get a hold of a rescue group near you.



Breed Organizations

A kennel club, or breed club, is a body of breeders, owners, and enthusiasts who want to preserve and promote a particular type of canine. These clubs have a long history dating back to the mid-19th century, so you can rest assured that reputable clubs will do all they can to preserve the breed.


How does one find a reputable club? Well, the biggest canine group in the world is the American Kennel Club (AKC), established in 1884.


Any Irish Terrier breed clubs that the AKC has approved are considered reputable. However, the AKC should merely be a starting point. There are plenty of excellent clubs that may be more local to you.


The Irish Terrier Club of America (ITCA) is an official member club of the AKC. Founded in 1896, the ITCA has a long history of documenting lineage, researching health concerns, and getting owners in touch with all of the resources they need to keep their pets strong and conformed to the breed's standard. In addition to a network of registered breeders, all of this makes the ITCA the best Irish Terrier club to register your pet with.



More About This Dog Breed

The Irish Terrier is the perfect companion to any home that doesn't mind a little socialization training and regular exercise. These active dogs will do nearly anything for their families, so don't be surprised if they suddenly back an intrusive critter into a corner.


A fenced backyard will be this breed's favorite spot in the world, so long as they don't manage to escape. Their strong legs make them excellent diggers, so be sure to keep an eye out for any holes or gaps in the yard's perimeter. They are a loving yet spunky breed, which is what makes Irish Terriers the fourth most popular dog breed in Ireland and Britain and the first in our hearts!

Reading next

Poodle Dog Breed Guide [How to Care For These Smart Pups]
Portuguese Water Dog: Energetic, Intelligent, Loyal

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Looking for something in particular?

Stay connected & get updates on the latest pet news