Irish Terrier breed: nicknamed the “daredevil of terriers”, with a fiery temperament to match his reddish coat

László Enikő

2023. August 29 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Reckless and adventurous, he is a real terrier, but between the four walls, he is like being exchanged: a calm and extremely affectionate companion, who is also an excellent playmate for children.


Also known as the terrier daredevil or the fiery devil, the Irish Terrier is serious at work but loving, loyal and attentive at home. Here’s what you need to know about this feisty little rascal!

Playful character, excellent companion for children.


Its exact origin is unknown, but it is considered one of the oldest terriers. Its ancestor is most often referred to as the now extinct black and tan terrier, although the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier or the Irish Wolfhound are sometimes mentioned, although many doubt the latter. Terriers have lived in Ireland for centuries and have been observed to vary from one part of the country to another. Those in the north were more agile, lighter, thinner-boned and faster dogs. The southerners were more robust dogs with stronger builds. The conformation of the Irish Terrier is a clear indication of its northern origin.

The breed was very popular in its native country. According to an Irish legend, leprechauns gave Irish terriers to children, they are such good playmates and love little ones so much. Old Irish manuscripts claimed that the Irish terrier was ‘the poor man’s watchdog, the farmer’s friend and the gentleman’s pet’. So everyone loved it. So did the famous dog-loving writer Jack London, who described it as “A dog made of gold. Inside and out.” Several of his books feature an Irish terrier, giving a perfect illustration of what this daredevil terrier is like. The 19th-century author Alberg PaysoneTerhune wrote of him, “this is perhaps the finest dog in the world. It does not immediately take a liking to every stranger who pets it. But he is companion and protector to the end of all who win his heart and attention. An Irish gentleman from the old days”.

Old illustration of Irish Terriers.

The breed was also used as a signal dog and guard dog in case unauthorised persons approached the gate. It was also used for rodent control and as a hunting dog. Its hunting instinct has survived to this day and some people still use it for this purpose.

It used to come in a variety of colours, and only its talent was important, not its looks. It was one of the most popular dog breeds in Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the First World War made it even more popular. It was also used on the battlefield as a messenger dog, a signal dog and a rodent exterminator.

It first appeared at dog shows in the 1870s, and the first Irish Terrier Club was founded in Dublin in 1879. After the Second World War, however, only a few breeds survived in a few European countries, and they are not as popular today as they once were.

Until the 1880s, ear mutilation was common in Britain. In 1889, the Irish Terrier Club ruled that only dogs with their ears naturally attached could compete. As a result, this procedure was banned for all breeds of dog.

Breed standard

The Irish Terrier  is a medium sized, brave and adventurous dog. It has a lively appearance, radiating agility and strength. Its lines indicate speed and agility. The head is long, the skull is flat and rather narrow between the ears. The stop is barely visible except from the side. Jaw strong and muscular. Nose black. Eyes dark, small and not bulging. His eyes are full of intelligence and fire. Ears are small, V-shaped and close fitting forward on the muzzle. The neck is of considerable length. The chest is deep and muscular, the torso moderately long. Muscular and curved. The limbs are strong, muscular and straight. Paws strong, round and moderately small. Tail is high set, long, free from flags.

The coat is dense, close-fitting, hard and giving the impression of being broken, the undercoat is finer. Colour: uniform red, reddish wheat or yellowish red. A small white patch is allowed on the chest. Height at withers approximately 45 cm. The ideal body weight is 12 kg for males and 11,5 kg for females. Life expectancy is 14 years.

Once the star of the show, the Irish Terrier is now less common in the ring.


He is extremely loving and protective of his family and is a great playmate for children, as he has a very similar personality to them. Being a sharp terrier, it is important to keep his mind active, not just his body. If left alone, it may be a good idea to entertain him with intelligence toys to keep him occupied and out of mischief. Socialisation should be started early to ensure he becomes a well-balanced adult. He is suitable for various dog sports such as agility or flyball.

He will quickly pick up his owner’s mood. A good sense of humour is also necessary for this red devil. But for all his mischief, the Irish Terrier’s immense love and endless loyalty make up for it. A brave and fearless dog who knows no fear. At home, however, he often rests his head affectionately on his owner’s lap and gazes down at him with his beautiful, demanding eyes for a little petting.

He is playful, people-loving, but also brave and daring.

Ideal environment

The Irish Terrier is happy in both a garden house and an apartment, but it is important to stop barking from puppyhood so as not to disturb the neighbours. It is not suitable for outdoor living, but loves to be close to its family and relax in the four walls. However, when he is let out, he becomes very energetic and playful.

Blood terrier, i.e.: prone to digging and chasing rodents. A high fence is important in his case, so that if his instincts tempt him out into the world, he has something to contain him.

Irish terriers are often said to not get along with other dogs, but with proper socialisation this is usually not a problem.

He has a very good relationship with children, and is an excellent playmate. He also gets on well with cats, especially if they have been brought up together. A well-socialised Irish Terrier will find common ground with other dogs, but if not properly trained can be feisty. This is why it is not a good first dog owner, as it needs a lot of training. He is smart and intelligent but, being a terrier, he is stubborn and willful, which requires determination on the part of the owner and, of course, positive reinforcement techniques.


Grooming his coat is not very difficult. On average, it should be trimmed twice a year, and it is advisable to ask an expert for help, but farmers can learn how to do it themselves. It should not be trimmed with scissors as it loses its hard, weather-resistant character. The coat should be brushed 1-2 times a week with a terrier brush. It should only be brushed if it becomes very messy. Eyes and ears should always be kept clean and claws trimmed if they become too long.

Irish terrier puppy.

Common health problems

The Irish Terrier is a very healthy breed, due to the fact that it has always been a hardy dog and is not very popular or overly exaggerated in appearance (as is the case with bulldogs).

It is at risk from two hereditary diseases, which were mostly confined to older bloodlines. The first is Hyperkeratosis, a horn development disorder that causes the paws and nose to be scabby. The other is Cystinuria, which causes cystine-containing kidney stones.

(Literature: János Szinák – István Veress: Kutyakalauz, János Szinák – István Veress: A világ kutyái I., David Alderton: Kutyák, Joan Palmer: Kutyákalauz, Dr. Pál Sárkány: International Dog Encyclopedia, Paul McGreevy: Dogs, Sarah Whitehead – Beverly Cuddy: Dogs)

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