Irish Terrier: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Irish Terrier running in the grass

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The Irish terrier is a medium-sized dog breed developed in Ireland. It's known for its alert and rectangular body, erect tail, wiry reddish coat, and V-shaped ears that fold in half and flop forward. If you are looking for a dog that has boundless energy, will be devoted to its family, and is playful, adaptable, and up for anything, you may find your perfect partner in an Irish terrier.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Terrier

HEIGHT: 18 to 20 inches

WEIGHT: 25 to 28 pounds

COAT: Dense, wiry, broken, close-lying topcoat, with a fine and soft undercoat

COAT COLOR: Solid colors which include bright red, golden red, red wheaten, or wheaten

LIFE SPAN: 13 to 15 years

TEMPERAMENT: Intelligent, lively, protective, trainable, dominant, respectful


ORIGIN: Ireland

Characteristics of the Irish Terrier

Irish terriers have bags of charm and character. They are brave, energetic, and determined, and tend to be very people-orientated. This will not be a breed for everyone, though. They don't always get on well with other animals, can be very strong-willed, and can get easily bored if not given the right exercise and enrichment.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly  Medium
Pet-Friendly  Low
Exercise Needs  High
Playfulness  High
Energy Level  High
Trainability Medium
Intelligence  High
Tendency to Bark  High
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Irish Terrier

It's not known how far back the history of the Irish terrier really goes, although they are thought to be one of the oldest of the terrier breeds. As with many terriers, they are likely descended from the old, now extinct black and tan terrier. What is known, though, is that they gained popularity because of their adaptability, bravery, and work ethic. Old Irish manuscripts stated that the Irish terrier was the "poor man’s sentinel, the farmers’ friend, and the gentleman’s favorite."

The breed was used in the country farms and estates in Ireland for hundreds of years. Their all-purpose nature meant they were unflinching ratters, loyal watchdogs, guardians of livestock, and even hunting companions.

Their coarse, wiry coat helped to keep them warm in the Irish countryside that plays host to some harsh weather conditions.

By the 1870s, a dog resembling the Irish terrier we know today was starting to emerge, and one which was only found in the solid red color they are known for.

In the late 19th century their popularity began to grow and the first Irish terriers were imported to the United States. They received official recognition from the American Kennel Club in 1885.

The Irish terriers' loyalty and tenacity meant they were selected to deliver messages, act as sentinels, and rid camps of vermin during World War I. Their renowned bravery earned them the nickname of "daredevils."

After World War II, the breeding of Irish terriers slowed dramatically and their popularity dipped. To this day, though, the breed has a devoted following who fall for their feisty, independent, dynamic, and loyal characteristics.

Irish Terrier Care

Their energy levels and their intelligence means they need to be kept busy and, along with a decent amount of daily exercise, you will also need to make sure you offer enough mental enrichment around the home. Stocking up on good interactive toys and incorporating short training sessions into their daily routine will help to keep the boredom at bay and prevent problem behaviors from surfacing as a result.


If you love the great outdoors and head out hiking or running in all weather conditions, then an Irish terrier is probably going to be a game companion. This is not a breed that will be content with a couple of quick walks around the block to your local park. Give an Irish terrier at vigorous daily walk of at least 30 minutes. They have boundless energy and stamina and, with the right direction, they can excel at dog sports like agility and can make great canicross partners.


The Irish terrier has low-maintenance, basic grooming needs. Their short, coarse coat sheds minimally and a weekly brush out should be enough to keep it healthy.

To keep the coat tidy, most Irish terrier owners have them hand-stripped (removal of dead hairs by hand) a few times a year. This is a tricky technique and it is usually best to seek the assistance of a gentle and qualified groomer for this job.


You will need to work hard on their recall skills. They may have to remain on the leash in areas where there are lots of squirrels or rabbits.

Irish terriers can make great watchdogs, but don't let their alert barking get out of control. You also don't want them to start guarding when you are welcoming visitors.

When it comes to training, the breed is very smart, but the dog is also incredibly strong-willed. Trying to force an Irish terrier to do something it doesn't want to is not likely to have good results, and it certainly won't help to strengthen your bond.

They respond well to positive reinforcement and they pick things up quickly because they are so clever. To keep their interest, keep training sessions short, varied, fun, and motivating, and you will likely see great results.

Irish Terrier puppy sitting against a white background
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Irish Terrier moving through agility weave poles
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irish terrier running

Common Health Problems

Irish terriers, like a lot of the hardy terrier breeds, are considered to be generally healthy and robust.

Finding a breeder that performs health checks on prospective parents will minimize the chance of you selecting a dog that will develop genetic health conditions. Being aware of what some of these conditions are, though, can still be helpful.

  • Cataracts: This is a cloudiness that develops in the eye lens. Cataracts can often be progressive and can cause blurry vision and lead to eventual blindness.
  • Hyperkeratosis: This is caused when too much keratin is produced and your dog can suffer from a thickening of the skin around the nose and paws. In the mid-20th century this was a common problem amongst Irish terriers. As a result of responsible breeding programs and genetic testing, it is a rare occurrence now, but it can still sometimes happen.
  • Cystinuria: This relates to when dogs produce excessive amounts of the amino acid cysteine in their urine. It can lead to painful cystine stones forming in the kidney, bladder, and ureter. Although still rare, there is a higher incidence of this condition in Irish terriers than in most breeds.

Diet and Nutrition

It is important to feed your Irish terrier a high-quality dog food. You should also make sure you are careful with the portions you feed and how many additional treats it receives, to prevent your terrier from becoming overweight.

Where to Adopt or Buy an Irish Terrier

You should always do your research before buying a puppy. Finding a reputable breeder that provides a nurturing home environment for the mom and pups is vital in terms of health and early socialization. Depending on the dog's lineage, expect to pay a breeder between $800 to $3,700 for an Irish terrier puppy.

Getting in touch with the Irish Terrier Club of America (ITCA) would be a good place to start your explorations.

You could also consider adopting an Irish terrier. It can be a hugely rewarding experience. The ITCA has a rescue arm, or you could reach out to your local rescue shelter. They may not have any Irish terriers, but there will certainly be lots of other characterful terriers looking for forever homes.

Irish Terrier Overview

  • Very people-orientated and loyal

  • Clever and courageous

  • Athletic and well-suited to an active owner

  • Can have a very high prey drive

  • Doesn't always get along with other dogs

  • Strong-willed and stubborn

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Irish terriers are fantastic dogs. If you are interested in dogs similar to the Irish terrier you could also consider the following breeds:

There are lots of wonderful dog breeds out there. By doing your research, you will find one that will be best suited to having a forever home with you.

  • Is an Irish terrier a good choice for a first-time dog owner?

    This breed is strong-willed and feisty and isn't going to be for everyone. The Irish terrier could be a challenge for a novice dog owner.

  • Will an Irish terrier fit into a multi-pet household?

    Irish terriers don't always get along with other dogs, although appropriate and early socialization can help. Their terrier instincts mean they can have a very high prey drive. This means they may not be able to live alongside cats, either.

  • Will an Irish terrier get along with children?

    An Irish terrier has an independent streak, but it is known for its incredible loyalty to its family. The dog is playful, patient, and often bonds strongly with respectful children.