An Irish Wolfhound rests on a wooden bridge.

Irish Dog Breeds

With Saint Patrick’s Day right around the corner, we collectively turn our attention to all things Irish: shamrocks, Guinness beer, the Blarney Stone and, of course, anything green. In addition to the folklore and fun, 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, while 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.

Common Irish breeds include:

Irish Terrier
Irish Setter
Irish Wolfhound
Irish Water Spaniel
Irish Glen of Imaal Terrier
Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
Kerry Blue Terrier

Facts About Irish Dog Breeds

The Irish Terrier, which looks like a cross between an Airedale and a Wire Fox Terrier, is, in fact, a true breed that has been around for nearly 2,000 years. It is one of the oldest terrier dog breeds. Bushy eyebrows and a reddish-colored coat give Irish Terriers a Celtic appearance, 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, “Daredevil.” The Irish Terrier makes a great family pet and is good with children.

Irish Setters are everybody’s darlings. Their flowing, silky, feathered coat and slim greyhound-like build make 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 considered house pets – but because of their size and high exercise requirement, they are not suitable for every home. These dogs have a variety of temperaments. Some individuals can be placid, bordering on semi-anesthetized, while others are giddy and high strung. Occasionally, Irish Setters are pushy and this characteristic can make them 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, Irish 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!), but their predatory nature to chase prey still persists and must be reckoned with by patient pet parents.

The Irish Water Spaniel is the largest of all spaniels, weighing in at about 55 to 65 pounds. This is a fine-looking dog that, in curly-coated dignity, looks a bit like a medieval nobleman. Possibly descended from the poodle and Irish setter, the Irish Water Spaniel is brown-purple in color with a hairless tail. They are extremely intelligent and inquisitive, despite a shy demeanor and introverted nature. As the name implies, Irish Water Spaniels love swimming and have made their reputation retrieving ducks from frigid waters.

The Irish Glen of Imaal Terrier is a low-to-the-ground Corgi-style dog with bowed legs and a wiry, shaggy coat. Like any terrier, they are spirited, cocky, brave, stubborn, and rambunctious. The Glen of Imaal Terrier is an expert at digging and going after all types of small creatures and, by reputation, is relatively silent but deadly when it comes to hunting. Dog-on-dog aggression is not unusual for this terrier.

The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier’s roots are firmly planted in Irish soil. Originally bred as working dogs to hunt game and guard home and stock, this terrier has evolved into a much sought after family pet. One of the principal reasons for the breed’s popularity is the soft coat that sheds infrequently. The SCWT club of America was formed (appropriately) on St. Patrick’s Day in 1962 and will be celebrating its 58th anniversary this year.

Finally, the Kerry Blue Terrier is the national terrier of Ireland (known as the “Irish Blue Terrier”) and has become a symbol of Irish pride. In fact, it was the first dog registered with the Irish Kennel Club. This breed has a soft coat of wavy hair that does not shed. Pugnacious, determined, loyal friends but formidable adversaries, Kerry Blues, like Irish Terriers, live up to their Gaelic heritage.