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If you already live with one of these charming breeds, you know you possess the luck of the Irish, and your pup is the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the canine rainbow. But if their history is a mystery, find out more about them here.
Probably the first thing you notice about the low-to-the-ground, rough-and-tumble Glen of Imaal Terrier is its proportions. Why the shorter legs and bigger body? Well, the Glen is achondroplastic, which means a dwarf breed. This causes the front legs to bend around the chest and the feet to turn out a little.
Achondroplasia is nothing new. It’s been around for thousands of years and came about due to an early gene mutation in the evolution of the domestic dog.
Like the other terriers of Ireland, Glens were and are excellent hunters and vermin killers. However, it is also frequently written that they were “turnspit dogs.” Short-legged, muscular dogs with great endurance were said to have trotted along in the turnspit’s wheel, turning meat over a fire to cook. Perhaps this is nothing but Irish lore, yet it is a unique job among canines for which the Glen would have been anatomically well-suited.
Although terriers have a reputation for being barky, the Glen was bred to work “mute to ground,” pursuing its quarry silently into the dens. In hunting trials, Glens were disqualified if they barked at their quarry.
Irish Terriers were the first of the Terrier Group to be recognized by the Kennel Club of England as a native Irish breed. This occurred just before the end of the 19th century. By the 1880s, they were the fourth most popular breed in Ireland and Britain. The first Irish Terriers arrived in the U.S. in the late 19th century and soon found a following.
The three Rs as they apply to the Irish Terrier are racy, red, and rectangular. The breed should look powerful but is built along racy lines, substantial but never cloddy or muscle-bound. As for the nickname, fans of the breed agree that “Red Devil” is very accurate.
Two of author Jack London’s books are about Irish Terriers: Jerry of the Islands and Michael, Brother of Jerry. In fact, according to the bloodlines recorded at the start of the book, the dogs might actually have lived.
Former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was one of the breed’s most famous and eccentric owners. He owned several Irish Terriers, all of them named Pat, and he conducted séances to communicate with the first Pat after the dog’s death.
One of the most famous show dogs who ever lived was a Kerry Blue Terrier. Champion Torums Scarf Michael, better known as Mick, started his great career by winning the world’s biggest dog show, Crufts, in England in 2000, then traveled to America to win Best in Show in 2003 at the famous Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.
Although the Kerry Blue, like so many terriers, was originally bred to control the vermin population, this is one versatile canine. The breed has excelled in a wide variety of jobs, from guard dog to cattle and sheep herder. Still a capable all-around farm dog, today’s Kerry is more commonly seen tearing up the agility course or groomed to the nines and parading around the show ring.
In dog terminology, blue is a common term for gray with a blue cast to it. Kerry puppies are born black; as they grow up, the coat color lightens to any shade of blue-gray or silver-blue. It’s a gradual process that can take up to two years. When the Kerry’s soft, wavy locks finally turn that shiny, shimmery blue, the result is quite striking.
Although the four terrier breeds of Ireland descend from the same basic stock, the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier is the least scrappy and quarrelsome of the group. Wheatens offer the best of the terrier attributes — exuberance and playfulness — without the sharpness that characterizes most of the breeds in this group.
Most breeds who were developed to work in severe climates, including the terriers, have double coats. The Wheaten, on the other hand, has a long, soft, wavy single coat that covers his whole body and head and flows when the dog moves. The warm golden color is also distinctive, but it takes time to lighten. Puppies are typically reddish brown, and the coat can take as long as three years to mature to its adult texture and classic wheaten color.
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About the author: Allan Reznik is a journalist, editor, and broad-caster specializing in dog-related subjects. He is the editor-in-chief of Dogs in Review and the former editor of DOG FANCY magazine. A city dweller all his life, on both coasts, he now enjoys the rural South with his Afghan Hounds, Tibetan Spaniels, and assorted rescues.