The Irish Terrier sports a wiry, fiery red coat, well suited to its Emerald Isle roots. One of the original terrier breeds, this debonair, mid-sized dog is all heart—equal parts brave and loving. They are true terriers, with energy to spare and an instinct to dig up your garden. The build of the Irish Terrier is well balanced and athletic, leaving an overall impression of grace, agility, and speed. In motion, this impression bears out.
Deeply loyal to their families, Irish Terriers make excellent family dogs who are playful and protective. They are wary of people they don’t know, but will take cues from their owner. ITs are known as ‘daredevils’ who rush bravely toward other dogs they deem a threat to their people. Early socialization is important for a well-mannered dog who can enjoy peaceful walks. You’d be hard-pressed to find a companion as brave, good-natured, and fun-loving as the IT when he is thoroughly trained.
Irish Terriers are also known as Irish Red Terriers and ITs.
Irish Terriers have wiry, broken double coats that are dense and lay close to the body. The outer coat is somewhat rough to the touch, while the undercoat is fine and soft. The hair grows longer on their face to form slightly pronounced eyebrows and a dashing beard. The coat color is a solid bright red, golden red, red wheaten, or wheaten. They may have a small white patch on their chest.
Average Height: 18 inches
Male: 27 pounds
Female: 25 pounds
Breed Standard & History
The IT has a lean, athletic build, with a deep chest and well-muscled limbs. Their neck and back are long, which gives them an elegant profile. The ITs head is long and rectangular when viewed from the side. Their eyes are dark brown, with a fiery, alert expression. The Irish Setter in motion is the picture of intensity, agility, and grace. In temperament, the breed conveys pluck and friendliness.
The early ancestry of the Irish Terrier is unclear, though it's believed they are related to the now-extinct black and tan terrier. They were bred as versatile farm dogs, who were able to clear the barn of rodents, guard the property, and keep their families company. By the late 1800s they were one of the most popular dog breeds in Ireland and England. During World War I, Irish Terriers were enlisted as guard dogs and messenger dogs, and they gained new admirers for their vigilance and courage. ITs were first shown in the Westminster Dog Show in the US in 1881, and a dog named Aileen was the first of the breed registered with the American Kennel Club in 1885.
AKC Breed Category
Active and curious, Irish Terriers are always fully committed to whatever they are doing—whether that’s chewing the couch cushions to bits, protecting their family members, or chasing down squirrels. They are loving and sweet-tempered with members of their family, a.k.a. their favorite humans, above all others. ITs shouldn’t be aggressive with people they don’t know, but with dogs it’s another story—they are known to be combative with unfamiliar dogs.
Are Irish Terriers Good with Kids? Irish Terriers are loving and patient with children they are raised with from puppyhood. Keep in mind they are rambunctious and need close watching when playing with young kids. Also, wait until children are older to give them the responsibility of walking Irish Terriers. They are powerful and may get loose if they see another dog or a squirrel to chase.
(Note: Every dog has a unique personality and distinct life experiences that affect his disposition. As a rule, adults should always supervise playdates between kids and their four-legged friends.)
Are Irish Terriers Good with Other Pets? Irish Terriers do best as only dogs. They tend to dominate other dogs, especially those of the same sex, and their strong prey drive puts cats, small animals, and birds at risk.
Irish Terriers are protective of themselves, their territory, and their families.
Are Irish Terriers Good Guard Dogs? The watchful Irish Terrier will bark incessantly when anyone—friend or foe—approaches the house. They are also a brave breed that will go on the offensive if they suspect their family is in danger. ITs aren't a breed to back down from a fight.
Irish Terriers are on the high end when it comes to energy levels. However, with enough exercise and mental stimulation, they are usually laid back in the house.
- Prone to digging
- May become nuisance barkers without attentive behavioral training.
- Require a good deal of exercise each day
- Stubborn and strong-willed
- Require patient, consistent training to ensure they are well mannered and easy to manage
- Not a good match for first-time dog owners
- They will dash out of the yard or the door if given the opportunity
Irish Terriers should live indoors with their favorite folks. Though brimming with energy in the yard and on walks, ITs thankfully save their mellow moods for inside your house or apartment. Your Irish Terrier is happy to spend time relaxing on the couch as long as you’ve kept him busy most of the day. Fur cleanup is minimal after this light-shedding breed.
Take your Irish Terrier on frequent excursions outside. This will provide them the exercise they need to stay fit and calm. It’s convenient to have an enclosed yard where they can burn off steam, but it’s not necessary as long as they get enough exercise during walks, hikes, and playtime.
Healthy Irish Terriers need about an hour or two of daily physical activity. They are champs in almost all varieties of dog sports, but will also be happy simply taking long walks or runs with you.
Irish Terriers have the stamina for extended walks and play sessions.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: Healthy, adult Irish Terriers can run alongside you for a brisk three to four miles.
- Hiking Miles: When they are well trained, ITs can manage half day hikes with ease. If not well trained, they will spend the day pulling you off trail as they race to catch squirrels and chipmunks.
Generally, this breed requires about 1 to 1½ cups of good quality dry dog food each day, given in two feedings. This will vary, however, based upon your ITs activity level and age. Talk to your veterinarian about the optimal diet and quantity of food for your Irish Terrier.
Irish Terriers get into mischief when left alone too long. Though independent, they bore easily and will create their own fun by chewing up chair legs and removing the stuffing from couch pillows. It’s helpful to crate train your IT so you can spend a little time outside the house—just keep it brief and give them plenty of attention and exercise before and after.
Health and Grooming
The Irish Terrier’s water-resistant coat requires hand-stripping by you or by a professional groomer to keep their fur close and neat. Avoid clipping because it softens the ITs rough coat. Beyond stripping, Irish Terriers benefit from a weekly brushing and a monthly bath. Be sure to brush out the longer hair on their legs and face to prevent knots. Wash your IT’s ears weekly with a gentle, dog-friendly cleanser to prevent dirt buildup that can cause infections. Brush your Irish Terrier’s teeth several times a week, and trim their nails every month or so to prevent painful cracking.
Common Health Issues
Though generally healthy, some Irish Terriers may present breed-specific health conditions including:
- Urinary stones
- Eye conditions, including progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts
- Hyperkeratosis, a thickening of the paw pads
- Muscular dystrophy, in rare instances
You can minimize serious health concerns in an Irish Terrier by purchasing from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
Strong-willed and independent, Irish Terriers are known to avoid training because they have better things to do. Gentle, but firm training is the way to a well-behaved, biddable IT.
Though sometimes an exercise in frustration, advanced training is rewarded with a happy and well-mannered IT. Put your Irish Terrier through his paces in obedience classes, agility courses, and dog sports, and you'll both be happier.
Sporting Dog Training
Though Irish Terriers retain their prey drive and will chase down nearby squirrels, they are not known as ace sporting dogs.
Yes. The wire-coated Irish Terrier is often considered one of the hypoallergenic breeds. They shed lightly and, as a result, leave little pet dander in your home compared with other breeds. Pet dander is the primary cause of pet related allergies. Keep in mind, no dog is 100 percent hypoallergenic.
Yes. Irish Terriers tend to enjoy swimming and the water. Each dog has unique likes and dislikes, so introduce them to the water slowly and don't force the issue. If they do enjoy swimming, they may like participating in dock jumping contests.