Irish Dog Breeds
There are some amazing things to come from Ireland; river dancing, leprechauns, milk chocolate, Guinness and also a variety of interesting dog breeds. While we may not be able to comment on the river dancing or Guinness, we’d love to tell you more about these pawsome dog breeds that originate from the Emerald Isle.
Although they all have their unique backgrounds and personalities, you will see a theme of Terriers who have high energy and heaps of loyalty. All of them make great pets, proven by the fact that four of the nine breeds feature on Ireland’s 10 most popular breeds of 2020!
This tall and majestic breed are known to be gentle giants, with a calm and friendly nature despite their original purpose. Originally war dogs, it’s estimated that they have been around since 7000 BC. Later they were bred for hunting wolves, particularly in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains. With a breed standard height of 79cm for males and 71cm for females, they are one of the tallest dog breeds in the world.
Did you know an Irish Wolfhound was made the Irish Guard's mascot in 1902?
This large breed got its name from its role as a guard dog against wolves. They are a sighthound who has inspired literature and mythology due to their size.
Presumed extinct in the 18th and 19th centuries, they were reintroduced by crossing descendants of the original breed with various similar breeds and are now currently the fourth most popular dog breed in Ireland!
The Irish Setter is the oldest of the setter breeds, they were bred by crossing old-type spaniels and Scottish Setters. While they are a lovable and affectionate dog breed, they were originally bred for hunting. Due to their luscious chestnut red coats they’re known as quite the glamorous breed.
They may also be called Irish Red Setters or Irish Red and White Setters (due to their colouring). They’re also known to have a mischievous side. The earliest record of a Setter was in 1570 in a Caius's De Canibus Britannicus print publication.
The first reference to these auburn gundogs in literature was in the 16th century! Red setters were predominantly used for hunting game, namely birds whilst the almost identical Red and White Setters are still working gundogs. The Red Setter was favoured by two American Presidents; Harry Truman and Richard Nixon both owned one and they were Alexander II, Tsar of Russia’s favourite dog.
Unfortunately, the Red and White Setter almost went extinct at the end of the 19th century and is still classed as a vulnerable breed.
Did you know the national bus company in Ireland, Bus Éireann, uses the Irish Setter on its logo?
Whilst the origin of this Irish breed is unknown, it is believed that they were bred from an Irish Wolfhound crossed with a Black and Tan terrier type dog. Irish Terriers are said to be one of oldest breeds in the terrier group. These little terriers were used on farms to guard and protect livestock while also controlling vermin. They’re known as the most gentle of the terrier breeds and are recommended for families with children, as they form strong bonds with their family members. As a highly intelligent breed, with an eagerness to please their master, they are easy to train.
Considered one of the oldest Terrier breeds and a descendent of the black and tan Terrier, the Irish Terrier was used as a ratter, guard dog, livestock guardian and hunting companion. They became the 4th most popular dog breed in Ireland and Britain in the 1880s and during WWI and WWII they were used to deliver messages and catch vermin in camps. They earned the nickname ‘Daredevil’ because of their tenacious bravery.
Did you know they were used as messengers during the First World War?
Kerry Blue Terrier
Legend has it that the Kerry Blue Terrier, or the Irish Blue Terrier as they’re also known, was the sole survivor of a shipwreck off the coast of County Kerry. It is believed that they first appeared in the late 1800s. They’ve been used to guard prisons and were bred to control vermin - over time, they became a working dog. Now, however, they are companion dogs and are known to be outgoing and confident.
Originating in County Kerry, there was a movement to make this breed the national dog of Ireland in the 1900s. Their exact makeup of breeds is unknown but there is a story of a “blue dog swimming ashore from a shipwreck: the coat of this dog was so lovely that it was mated with all the female Wheaten Terriers in Kerry”. Although this is a romantic story, it is believed they may have been bred with the Spanish Water Spaniel, so there may be some truth in it!
Did you know a Kerry Blue Terrier interrupted play at the Ashes when it ran onto the cricket pitch?
Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier
The Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier is thought to be around 200 years old and was bred to work on farms with the responsibility to hunt, guard and also herd livestock. These terriers are hardy and robust, but as they are also trustworthy, affectionate dogs they make great family pets. It is thought that they share their ancestry with the Kerry Blue Terrier and the Irish Terrier, however, their origin is not completely clear.
Bred as an ‘all-purpose farm dog’, the Wheaten Terrier Common shares ancestry with Kerry Blue Terrier and Irish Terrier but were not owned by the gentry as the other breeds were. Instead, they were referred to as the ‘Poor Man’s Wolfhound’. The first record of the breed was in Kerry county in 1785.
Did you know a Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier called “Krista” competed against Retrievers in a ‘swim and dive’ competition and nearly won?
Irish Water Spaniel
Although the first reference to the Irish Water Spaniel was in the mid 1800s, it’s believed the breed came about from dogs brought to Ireland by foreign fishermen from Europe. It is known that all Irish Water Spaniels can be traced back to a dog named Boatswain, an IWS owned by Justin McCarthy in the 1800s. While they are classed as “spaniels” by name, at competitions they are classed as “retrievers”. Due to their intelligence and very kind, affectionate behaviour, they are often used as therapy dogs.
The modern breed we know and love was bred in Ireland in the 1830s. However, their history prior to this is a mystery as no breeding records were left. A variety of breeds have been suggested of which they may have been bred from including poodles and the now extinct English Water Spaniel.
Did you know the breed became popular after they were exhibited in Birmingham in 1862?
Glen of Imaal Terrier
Taking their name from the remote valley they originate from, they hunted badgers, foxes and rodents, even chasing prey underground which means they still have a desire to dig. They need plenty of exercise but are also happy to chill with their family these days and make a great family dog as they are loyal and protective.
Dating back to the 16th century, the Kerry Beagle was originally bred as a Staghound. They are now used to hunt foxes and hares. These dogs were taken by many Irish people when immigrating to America in the 1800s and the breed is believed to be the foundation breed of the Coonhound.
Whether you prefer the Wolfhound or the Irish Terrier, we think we can all agree that Ireland has some truly amazing dog breeds. If you’re interested in learning more about Irish dog breeds or dog ownership in Ireland, we recommend taking a look at the Irish Kennel Club. Fancy borrowing an Irish breed? Take a look at the pups in your local area to see if there's one nearby!
Or check out our favourite Scottish dog breeds!
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