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The Irish Terrier is an active, compactly sized dog that is suited for life in both rural and city environments. The red, harsh coat protects an Irish Terrier well in all kinds of weather.
The tail is customarily docked soon after birth to approximately two-thirds of the original length. In countries where docking is prohibited, the conformation judges emphasize tail carriage. The tail should start up quite high, but it should not stick straight up or curl over the back or either side. The ears are small and folded forward just above skull level. They are preferably slightly darker than the rest of the coat. It is fairly common to see wrongly positioned ears, even though most dogs have their ears trained during adolescence.
The Irish Terrier is coloured golden red, red wheaten, or wheaten. Dark red is often mistaken as the only correct colour, possibly because wheaten coats are often of worse quality. As with many other solid-coloured breeds, a small patch of white is allowed on the chest. No white should appear elsewhere. As an Irish Terrier grows older, grey hair may appear here and there.
The outer part of the double coat should be straight and wiry in texture, never soft, silky, curly, wavy, or woolly as might be expected in the Kerry Blue Terrier. The coat should lie flat against the skin, and, though having some length, should never be so long as to hide the true shape of the dog. There are longer hairs on the legs, but never so much as a Wire Fox Terrier or Schnauzer.
The inner part of the coat, called the under-wool or undercoat, should also be red. The under-wool may be hard for the inexperienced eye to see. Coat should be quite dense and so that "when parted with the fingers the skin is hardly visible"
A properly trimmed Irish Terrier should have some "furnishings" on legs and head. The slightly longer hair on the front legs should form even pillars, while the rear legs should only have some longer hair and not be trimmed too close to the skin. The chin is accentuated with a small beard. The beard should not be as profuse as that of a Schnauzer.
The eyes should be dark brown and quite small with a "fiery" expression. The eyes are topped with well-groomed eyebrows. The whole head should have good pigmentation.
Very seldom does one see Irish Terriers that weigh only 11 to 12 kg (25-27 lb), as the original Kennel Club breed description states. 13 kg for a bitch and 15 for a dog are acceptable.
The Irish Terrier is full of life, but not hyperactive. It should be able to relax inside the house and be roused to full activity level quickly.
Irish Terriers are good with people. Most Irish Terriers love children and tolerate rough-housing to a certain extent. They should know who is the boss, and have natural respect for him/her. Irish Terriers respond best to firm, consistent training from a relaxed, authoritative person. Violence should never be used - it is always best to outwit and lure.
Irish Terriers are often dominant with other dogs, particularly same-sex aggression is a common problem. Poorly socialized individuals will start fights with minimal,if any, provocation. Thus, early socialization is a necessity. Most can have strong guarding instincts and when these instincts are controlled, make excellent alarming watchdogs. Most Irish Terriers need a reason for barking, and will not yap continuously.
Irish Terriers are intelligent and learn new things easily. They can learn complex tasks with relative ease, when they have the motivation to do so. In motivating tidbits and toys work equally well. Training will not be as easy as with other dog breeds that have stronger willingness to please people. When seeking a trainer, one should look for a person who has experience with terriers.
The Irish Terrier is an active dog, and loves to be challenged mentally and physically. Most Irish Terriers are companions and show dogs. There are however more and more people joining organised dog sports with their ITs. Obedience training to a certain level is fairly easy, though the precision and long-lasting drive needed in the higher levels may be hard to achieve. Many Irish Terriers excel in agility, even though it may be hard to balance the speed, independence and precision needed in the higher levels. To date there is one Agility Champion in the US, and a handful of Finnish and Swedish Irish terriers compete at the most difficult classes.
Irish Terriers have a good nose and can learn to track either animal blood or human scent. Many Irish Terriers enjoy Lure Coursing, although they are not eligible for competition like sight hounds are. In Finland one Irish Terrier is a qualified Rescue Dog specializing at Sea Rescue.
The breed's origin is not known. It is believed to have descended from the black and tan terrier-type dogs of the British Isles, just like the Kerry Blue and Irish Soft-haired Wheaten Terriers in Ireland or the Welsh, Lakeland and Scottish Terriers in Great Britain.
F. M. Jowett writes in The Irish Terrier, 'Our Dogs' Publishing Co. Ltd., Manchester, England 1947 - 7th Edition: They are described by an old Irish writer as being the poor man's sentinel, the farmer's friend, and the gentleman's favourite...These dogs were originally bred not so much for their looks as for their working qualities and gameness, the Irish Terrier being by instinct a thorough vermin killer. They were formerly of all types and of all colours - black-and-tan, grey-and-brindle, wheaten of all shades, and red being the predominant colours. Colour or size evidently did not matter if they were hardy and game."
The proper selection process of the breed began only in the latter 19th century. They were shown now and then, sometimes in one class, sometimes in separate classes for dogs under and over 9 pounds.
The first breed club was set up in Dublin in 1879. Irish Terriers were the first members of the terrier group to be recognized by the English Kennel Club as a native Irish Breed - this happened just before the end of the 19th century. The first Irish Terriers were taken to the US in late 19th century and quickly became somewhat popular.
Although the breed has never been very "fashionable", there used to be big influential kennels in Ireland, the Great Britain and US up to the 1960s. Nowadays there is ambitious breeding in many continents, including North America, (Northern) Europe and Australia.
The coat must be stripped by hand or a non-cutting knife to retain its weather-resistant qualities. This does not hurt the dog when done properly. Keeping the skin above the stripped section taut with the other hand helps especially where the skin is looser, i.e. belly and chest. Never cut the coat - use your fingers or a non-cutting knife. If the coat is clipped, it loses color and becomes softer, thus losing its weather-resistant characteristics. For the same reason the coat should not be washed too often, as detergents take away the natural skin oils. Most Irish terriers only need washing when dirty.
When stripping, the coat may be "taken down" entirely to leave the dog in the undercoat until a new coat grows in. For a pet, this should be done at least twice a year. When a show-quality coat is required, it can be achieved in many ways. One is by "rolling the coat", i.e. stripping the dog every X weeks to remove any dead hair. Before a show an expert trimmer is needed to mold especially the head and legs.
Most Irish Terriers need to have their ears trained during adolescence. Otherwise the ears may stick up, roll back or hang down unaesthetically.
The proportions are not over-exaggerated in any way and thus eye or breathing problems are rare. Most Irish Terriers do not show signs of allergies towards foods. As they are small dogs, the breed has a very low incidence of hip dysplasia.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there were problems with hyperkeratosis, a disease causing corny pads and severe pain. Today it is widely known which dogs carried the disease and respectable breeders do not use those bloodlines anymore. A health study conducted by the Irish Terrier Club of America showed a greater-than-expected incidence of hypothyroidism and cataracts. There are not enough eye-checked individuals to draw any conclusions.
Jack London's books Jerry of the Islands and Michael, Brother of Jerry were about Irish Terriers, that according to the bloodlines recorded in the beginning of the book may actually have lived.
It is said that Disney's Tramp in Lady and the Tramp, although a mutt, was drawn to resemble an Irish Terrier. (In the comic book versions the brownish red color of Tramp has been changed to grey.)
The 2007 film Firehouse Dog features an Irish Terrier as the title character.