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Irish Dog Breeds

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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On Saint Patrick's Day we turn our attention to all things Irish: shamrocks, the Blarney Stone and, of course, things green. The Emerald Isle has also brought us a wonderful selection of dogs. Back in the time of Saint Patrick, breeds like the water spaniel, wolfhound and the beagle were reserved for nobility; commoners had to be content with terriers. Now, of course, Irish breeds of all types – terriers included – are exceedingly popular on both sides of the Atlantic.

The list of Irish breeds includes:

Irish Terrier
Irish Setter
Irish Red and White Setter
Irish Wolfhound
Irish Water Spaniel
Irish Glen of Imaal Terrier
Kerry Blue Terrier
Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
Kerry Beagle

Information About Some of the More Common Breeds

The Irish terrier, which looks like a cross between an Airedale and a wirehaired fox terrier, is, in fact, a true breed that has been around for about 2,000 years! Bushy eyebrows and a reddish-colored coat give Irish terriers a Celtic look, which is fitting for these affectionate dogs. Personality-wise, the breed is spirited, loyal, and courageous, if not a little hot-tempered and reckless at times, hence the affectionate nickname, Daredevils.

Irish setters are everybody's darlings. Their flowing, silky, feathered coat and slim greyhound-like build makes them look so refined and dignified that it is hard to pass them by without a second look. Although bred for hunting, Irish setters are now more often house pets - but because of their size and high exercise requirement are not suitable for every home. Some individuals can be placid, bordering on semi-anesthetized; others are giddy and high strung. Occasionally, Irish setters are pushy and such characters can be quite a handful for uninitiated owners.

Irish wolfhounds ("Irish Dogs") are so striking in their appearance that, once seen, they are rarely forgotten. These are massive muscular dogs that, standing on their hind legs, can reach 7 feet tall. Gentle giants that they are, wolfhounds are generally placid and sweet tempered. Though once bred for hunting wolves, elk and red deer, wolfhounds are now at home in the yard (albeit a big yard!), though their predatory nature to chase prey still persists and must be reckoned with.

The Irish water spaniel is a fine-looking dog that, in curly-coated dignity, looks a little like a medieval nobleman. Possibly descended from the poodle and Irish setter, the Irish water spaniel is a largish brown-purplish dog with a hairless tail. They are extremely intelligent and inquisitive, though sometimes shy and independent. As the name implies, Irish water spaniels love swimming and have made their reputation retrieving ducks from sometimes frigid waters.

The Irish Glen of Imaal terrier is a low-to-the-ground Corgi-type dog with bowed legs and a wiry, shaggy coat. Typical terriers, they are spirited, cocky, brave, stubborn and rambunctious. The Glen of Imaal terrier is an expert at digging and going after all manner of small creatures and, by reputation, is relatively silent but deadly in this line of work. Dog-on-dog aggression is not unusual for this breed.

The soft coated wheaten terrier's roots are firmly rooted in Irish soil. Originally bred as working dogs to hunt game and guard home and stock, this terrier has evolved to be a much sought after family pet. One of the principal reasons for the breed's popularity is the soft, infrequently-shedding nature of the breed's coat. The SCWT club of America was formed (appropriately) on St. Patrick's Day in 1962 and will be celebrating its 41st anniversary this year.

Finally, the Kerry blue terrier__. This dog is the national terrier of Ireland (known as the "Irish blue terrier") and has become a symbol of Ireland. Pugnacious, determined, loyal friends but formidable adversaries, Kerry blues, like Irish terriers, live up to their Irish Gaelic heritage.

ERIN GO BRAGH!

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