9 Irish Dog Breeds That You’d Be Lucky as a Four-Leaf Clover to Have

·9 min read

Irish dog breeds have big personalities and bigger hearts. Pups from the Emerald Isle are not meant to sit, stay and sleep. Every Irish dog breed on our list enjoys having things to do and places to be. Their stories go as far back as the Táin Bó Cuailnge, also known as The Cattle Raid of Cooley, a piece of Irish literature some believe was written as early as the 8th century. In these ancient tales, dogs followed their fellow Irishmen into battle and helped during hunts. From there, they went on to become today’s diligent farm dogs, excellent hunters, swift athletes and faithful guardians. After spending centuries weathering wet, rugged terrain, Irish dog breeds are game for anything that comes their way.

A word on terriers

Ireland and England are home to many types of terriers, a group defined by its bold charm. Terriers seem to be the quintessential Irish dog breed because they are lively, stubborn and tireless. The Irish Terrier Club of America says the word itself comes from “terra,” which is Latin for “earth.” These pups were actually first called terriers by Romans and Greeks who noticed small, scrappy dogs doing a great job of digging underground to flush out badgers and rabbits from dens. Terriers are still famous for this high prey drive. They have an uncanny ability to catch prey like rodents or squirrels quickly. Purina says if you can’t incorporate this type of fun into their training and exercise, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your dog. A terrier will chase no matter what; make it rewarding!

Unlike many other hunting dogs, terriers were popular among lower classes. Folks who couldn’t afford Irish Wolfhounds or elegant Irish Red and White Setters raised terriers to keep their farms in tip top shape. Perhaps this is part of the reason why terriers see themselves as big dogs despite their wee bodies. Terriers are brave and don’t care who is threatening their homestead! They’ll protect at all costs, which is why they’ve got stubborn, independent streaks today.

A word on hunters

Sláinte to the hunting dogs of the Irish gentry! Get ready for a playful group with lots of silky soft coats. Don’t be fooled by their regal looks; these dogs were also bred to do specific jobs. Remembering this will help you navigate training and better understand your dog’s behavior! Irish dog breeds used in hunting are going to be big fans of the outdoors and following their noses where’er they may lead. If you’ve got other small pets in your household, it’s wise to introduce them to your Irish hunting dog as soon as possible. While Irish Setters, beagles and Spaniels are incredibly sweet souls and tend to get along well with other animals, a darting cat could trigger their prey drive. Firm—yet positive—training early and often will make a big difference.

Modern warriors

Though Irish dog breeds aren’t used to fight our battles for us any longer as The Cattle Raid of Cooley suggests they used to, several breeds on our list have been used in wartime to help soldiers. During World War I, roughly 20,000 canines were employed as guard dogs, ratters and messengers (some even wore little khaki coats!) by the English and Irish while they were in French and Belgian trenches. Irish Terriers were heralded as one of the best breeds to have on one’s side, as they followed orders, were loyal to their soldiers and had boundless energy.

At the end of the day, you may not be able to find a dog more devoted to his family than an Irish pup.

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1. Irish Red and White Setter

Height: 22-26 inches

Weight: 35-60 pounds

Personality: Friendly, spirited

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Low

Life Expectancy: 11-15 years

This dog has been perfecting the art of bird hunting since the 1600s. Irish Red and White Setters would army crawl on their bellies to sneak up on birds before “setting” to let hunters know where to toss nets. These powerful, athletic dogs are also absolute sweethearts. They love to have fun and are incredibly friendly and outgoing. While Irish Red and White Setters are smart and eager to please, they tend to get bored quickly so make training exercises fun and short!

2. Irish Setter

Height: 25-27 inches

Weight: 60-70 pounds

Personality: Affectionate, social

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

Irish Setters are known for being affectionate, energetic puppies well into adulthood. This, and their eagerness to learn and please, makes them kid-friendly pets. Irish Setters are gorgeous dogs with long, flowing dark red coats. In the 1800s, Irish hunters bred these dogs to be quick and discreet on the flat plains of Ireland while hunting. Irish Setters tend to be slightly larger and smarter than their red and white counterparts. They are also more common in the U.S. If you embark on the Irish Setter journey, train these sweethearts early and consistently so they don’t give in to their independent tendencies.

3. Irish Terrier

Height: 18 inches

Weight: 25-27 pounds

Personality: Sweet-natured, independent

Activity Level: Moderate

Shedding Factor: Low

Life Expectancy: 13-15 years

Talk about a versatile farm dog! Irish Terriers have really done it all—chased out vermin, guarded the home, herded livestock and even helped during hunts. The Irish Terrier Club of America calls them “red daredevils” because their coats tend to have a reddish hue and their demeanor can be mischievous and stubborn. Irish Terriers are sweet, sensitive and loyal around those they love best. Often referred to as ITs, they were officially accepted into the American Kennel Club in 1885. They also served as combat messengers during World War I!

4. Irish Water Spaniel

Height: 21-24 inches

Weight: 45-68 pounds

Personality: Playful, alert

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Shedding Factor: Hypoallergenic

Life Expectancy: 12-13 years

Another brave, bold Irish dog. Irish Water Spaniels, though notoriously quiet, are remarkably active. They are the result of breeding South Country Water Spaniels with North Country Water Spaniels in the 1830s. Famous for their hypoallergenic, super curly brown coat, these playful pups are always up for an adventure. As with many Irish breeds, these dogs thrive when they know what’s expected of them and they can show off their skills. Don’t leave them to their own devices! Irish Water Spaniels will get bored and sad. Bonus point if you live near water and can take them swimming.

5. Irish Wolfhound

Height: 30-34 inches

Weight: 100-120 pounds

Personality: Calm, brave

Activity Level: Moderate

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 6-8 years

As one of the largest dog breeds around, Irish Wolfhounds have a regal presence and enjoy a large living space. These mellow dogs are serene and intelligent, which make them excellent companions for seniors but pretty lousy guard dogs. All they want is to love people! Their history is truly ancient. A letter mentioning a gift of seven enormous Irish hounds from the British Isles to the Roman Empire is dated 391 A.D. In the 1500s, these giant dogs began hunting wolves, and were thus dubbed Irish Wolfhounds. When it was thought Irish Wolfhounds would go extinct in the mid-19th century, a dedicated group of breeders brought these dogs back. We’re so glad they did!

6. Glen of Imaal Terrier

Height: 12-14 inches

Weight: 32-40 pounds

Personality: Gentle, smart

Activity Level: Moderate

Shedding Factor: Low

Life Expectancy: 10-15 years

Have you ever heard such a breed name? Glen of Imaal Terriers hail from the eastern coast of Ireland in Wicklow county. According to the Glen of Imaal Terrier Club of America, these bold little dogs hunted badgers (who are about the same size) and worked turnspits, large wheels that rotated spits over fires. Basically, these dogs made sure dinner was cooked evenly, which is very impressive. Glens aren’t super vocal and are content living just about anywhere—as long as secure fences keep them out of pools and away from the street. They’re not strong swimmers and will follow a squirrel forever.

7. Kerry Beagle

Height: 22-24 inches

Weight: 50-60 pounds

Personality: Affectionate, energetic

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor:

Life Expectancy: 10-14 years

Though Kerry Beagles have similar coats and coloring to Beagles, they aren’t related! Kerry Beagles are much larger and are believed to be descendants of Celtic Hounds. Since the 1500s, these scenthounds have been used to hunt all types of animals. Today, they make great family pets, especially if you have more than one dog. They definitely need lots of exercise and prefer having a job to do. Find ways to exercise that high prey drive and you’ll have a happy pup! Kerry Beagles are also the only dogs on our list not yet recognized by The American Kennel Club.

8. Kerry Blue Terrier

Height: 17-20 inches

Weight: 30-40 pounds

Personality: Affectionate, intelligent

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Shedding Factor: Non-shedding

Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

The exact origins of the Kerry Blue Terrier are tricky to pinpoint (The American Kennel Club calls them Leprechaun dogs because of their mysterious past and mischievous nature). Their unusual blue-grey coats are actually black when they are puppies and morph over time. Smart and quick, Kerry Blues were used to hunt, herd and hang out with their people (primarily peasants, whereas upper classes suck to Irish Wolfhounds). Their closest relative is the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier. Kerry Blues don’t do well with strangers and new dogs, so beware when taking them out to a pub.

9. Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

Height: 17-19 inches

Weight: 30-40 inches

Personality: Friendly, loyal

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Shedding Factor: Non-shedding

Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

If you ever forget this breed’s name, just take a look at its silky soft, golden-hued coat. Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers are gorgeous dogs with friendly dispositions. In fact, the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America recommends firm training early on to make sure their excitement around new people doesn’t bowl anyone over. Be prepared to brush their coats daily to prevent knots. Though thought to have been bred by farmers in southwestern Ireland for hundreds of years, they weren’t recognized by the Irish Kennel Club until 1937. Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers can thrive in the city or the country, as long as they have room to run around.

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