Irish Terrier Temperament
What's Good About 'Em,
What's Bad About 'Em
Irish Terrier Temperament, Personality, Behavior, Traits, and Characteristics, by Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2014
The AKC Standard says, "There is a heedless, reckless pluck about the Irish Terrier which...coupled with the headlong dash, blind to all consequences, with which he rushes at his adversary, has earned for the breed the proud epithet of Daredevil."
One of the boldest and most animated of the terriers, this fearless breed, built on lines of speed with a graceful, racy outline, must often be protected from himself.
Energetic and intense, he romps and plays with vigor and will take as much exercise as you can offer. Leashes and secure fences are compulsory, for he is exceedingly fast and agile, with strong chasing, digging, and jumping instincts.
The Irish Terrier does best with active families, for without exercise and lots of companionship and personal interaction, he will become bored and seek to entertain himself -- and his choices usually involve mischief and destructiveness.
His reaction to strangers varies from polite to aloof, and even the polite ones are vigilant watchdogs. Early socialization is important for a stable, controlled temperament.
The Irish Terrier can be exceedingly scrappy with other animals, whether canine or feline, and will make short shrift of rabbits and rodents.
Stubborn and self-assured, he is inclined to test for position in the family pecking order.
If you want a dog who...
- Is medium-sized, with a slender, elegant build
- Has a wiry red coat and whiskery beard and doesn't shed too much (shed hairs are trapped in his wiry coat)
- Moves swiftly with light-footed grace
- Is one of the boldest and most intense of the terriers
- Thrives on vigorous athletic activities
- Makes a keen watchdog, yet is usually dependable with people
An Irish Terrier may be right for you.
If you don't want to deal with...
- The dynamic terrier temperament (see full description below)
- Providing enough exercise and activities to keep them busy
- Aggression toward other animals -- chasing instincts
- Digging holes
- Regular brushing and clipping of the wiry coat
- Waiting lists (hard to find) and high price tag
An Irish Terrier may not be right for you.
- choosing the RIGHT breeder and the RIGHT puppy
- or choosing an ADULT dog from your animal shelter or rescue group – a dog who has already proven that he doesn't have negative traits
- training your dog to respect you
- avoiding health problems by following my daily care program in 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy
More traits and characteristics of the Irish Terrier
If I was considering an Irish Terrier, I would be most concerned about...
- The dynamic terrier temperament. Most terrier breeds are remarkably similar. The same words are used over and over -- quick to bark, quick to chase, lively, bossy, feisty, scrappy, clever, independent, stubborn, persistent, impulsive, intense.
- Providing enough exercise and mental stimulation. Irish Terriers are active go-getters. They MUST have regular opportunities to vent their energy and to use their busy minds to do interesting things.
Terriers were never intended to be simply household pets. I strongly recommend that you get your Irish Terrier involved in obedience classes at the intermediate or advanced level, in agility (an obstacle course for dogs), or in tracking (following the trail of a hidden person).
- Bounciness. Young Irish Terriers romp and jump with great vigor, and things can go flying, including people.
- Animal aggression. Many Irish Terriers are dominant or aggressive toward other dogs. Most terriers have strong instincts to chase and seize small fleeing creatures. This can make for conflict if you own a cat. It may be much worse than that if you own a pet rabbit or hamster!
Terriers cannot be trusted off-leash. They will take off -- oblivious to your frantic shouts -- after anything that runs.
- Fence security. Many terriers are clever escape artists who will go over or under fences in search of adventure. You may need higher fences than you might imagine for their small size. You may also need to sink wire into the ground along the fence line to thwart digging. Gates should have the highest quality locks.
- Barking. Terriers are often too quick to sound the alarm at every new sight and sound. You have to be equally quick to stop them. If you work all day and have close neighbors, terriers are not the best choice for you. For the same reason, terriers should NEVER be left outside in your yard, unsupervised. To make matters worse, some terriers have high-pitched barks that can set your teeth on edge.
- Mind of their own. Irish Terriers are not Golden Retrievers. They must be taught at an early age that they are not the rulers of the world. The toughness that makes them suited to killing vermin can frustrate you when you try to teach them anything. Terriers can be stubborn and dominant (they want to be the boss) and will make you prove that you can make them do things. You must show them, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say.
To teach your Irish Terrier to listen to you, "Respect Training" is mandatory. My Irish Terrier Training Page discusses the program you need.
- Defensive reactions. If you need to physically chastise a terrier, and you go beyond what THEY believe is a fair correction, terriers (as a group) are more likely than other breeds to growl or snap. It may be because they were bred to become more fierce when their prey fought back, i.e. terriers are apt to "return pain" if they "receive pain." As an obedience instructor, I'm always extra careful when putting my hands on any terrier for a correction.
I do NOT recommend terriers for small children. Many terriers will not tolerate any nonsense from little life forms whom they consider to be below themselves in importance. Many terriers are quick to react to teasing, and even to the normal clumsiness that comes with small children (accidental squeezing of their ears or pulling of whiskers or stepping on their paw). Many terriers are possessive of their food and toys and will defend these from all comers, including children.
- Grooming. To keep their wiry coat free of mats, Irish Terriers require regular brushing, and also clipping and trimming every few months. But don't expect your pet Irish Terrier to look like the Irish Terrier show dogs you've seen in books or on TV. That particular look takes hours of work by experienced show groomers.
- Finding one and paying the price. In the United States, fewer than 350 new Irish Terrier puppies are registered each year. (Compare that to over 60,000 new Golden Retriever puppies.) And many breeders are charging $1500 and up.
To learn more about training Irish Terriers to be calm and well-behaved, consider my dog training book, Teach Your Dog 100 English Words.
It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will make your Irish Terrier the smartest, most well-behaved companion you've ever had.
Teaches your dog to listen to you, to pay attention to you, and to do whatever you ask him to do.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a healthy Irish Terrier. Health problems have become so widespread in dogs today that this book is required reading for ANYONE who is thinking of getting a purebred, crossbred, or mixed breed dog.
If you'd like to consult with me personally about whether the Irish Terrier might be a good dog breed for your family, I offer a Dog Breed Consulting Service.
Once you have your Irish Terrier home, you need to KEEP him healthy -- or if he's having any current health problems, you need to get him back on the road to good health.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy is the book you need.
Raise your dog the right way and you will be helping him live a longer, healthier life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.
Please consider adopting an ADULT Irish Terrier...
When you're acquiring an Irish Terrier PUPPY, you're acquiring potential -- what he one day will be. So "typical breed characteristics" are very important.
But when you acquire an adult dog, you're acquiring what he already IS and you can decide whether he is the right dog for you based on that reality. There are plenty of adult Irish Terriers who have already proven themselves NOT to have negative characteristics that are "typical" for their breed. If you find such an adult dog, don't let "typical breed negatives" worry you. Just be happy that you found an atypical individual -- and enjoy!
Save a life. Adopt a dog.
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