Breeds of the Emerald Isle

Breeds of the Emerald Isle

By Susan Spisak

St. Patrick’s Day, honoring Ireland’s most famous patron saint, is observed on March 17th. While it started as his Feast Day in the 1600’s, over time it has become a celebration of Irish culture with parades, leprechauns, and all things green. In following with this observation in a “dog” way, let’s explore these special breeds of Ireland.
Irish Setters, developed in the 1700s for hunting and field work, are one of the most noted. Easy to distinguish with their rich red coloring and regal appearance, they’re super active but may be stubborn due to their independent nature. (When I think of this Sporting Group breed, I think of the movie Funny Farm. The main character wanted a slower life and moved to the country with his wife. They adopted a Setter who when brought home, immediately took off and ran, ran, ran across their acreage. The Setter was returned for a lazy yellow Lab.)
Judith K. Herman DVM explained that Irish Setters are beautiful, playful, and have a friendly, family-oriented personality. “They are easy to handle at the vet office. They do suffer from separation anxiety more so than some other breeds. This would need to be addressed as a pup to avoid problems as they age.” She added that as far as grooming, their coat is easier to deal with but does need standard grooming.

Irish Setters require plenty of supervised exercise and can burn energy playing with other canines in dog parks. Setters enjoy walking, hiking, agility, hunting, and jogging with their owners.
Compared to their cousins, the Red and White Setters are slightly shorter and stockier. Their personality traits are similar, and they’re great family dogs, too. A job is a necessity for them, and they love daily walks. They shouldn’t be left alone outside—they can become bored, destructive, and a loud nuisance to neighbors. Although developed in Ireland in the 1700’s, they weren’t recognized by the AKC until 2009.
The tallest of the AKC Giant breeds are the kind, double-coated Irish Wolfhounds. Their undercoats are soft while the topcoats are harsh and wiry, which require weekly brushing. Their colors are white, gray, brindle, red, black, and fawn. Dr. Herman said that Irish Wolfhounds have a reputation of being short-lived with a high incidence of bone cancer and heart disease. “Otherwise, they are easy to live with.”
Sara Sokol, Owner & Trainer at Mr. Dog Training, lost her beloved, “wicked funny” Wolfhound named Westin two years ago. She shared that her “magic creature” was the easiest, most gentle, low energy, and kind dog she ever had the privilege of living with. “I never had to teach him not to jump up, he never pulled on a leash, he was always just a super easy dog.”
People may be fearful of owning Giant breeds due to their size. “The truth is Giant breeds are so much easier than a large or small breed dog and as a dog trainer, I wish more people had them,” said Sara. She simply provided plenty of exercise and mental stimulation for Westin, as she has done with all her dogs.  “Other than that, he was pretty much asleep or just laying around resting and relaxing.” Wolfhounds are sweet souls and are extraordinarily devoted, and if one is thinking of adopting one, be prepared to be stopped frequently as they receive positive attention.  
The liver-colored Irish Water Spaniels are exceptional swimmers, excellent field workers, and are good in the home. Also in the Sporting Group, they have a curly coat with a unique “rat” like tail which doesn’t require much brushing. Elsebeth DeBiase, BAminSC, ICMG, FFCP, LSHC-S and owner of Coastal Creations Pet Salon, said this breed, (as well as the Kerry Blue Terrier) is one of the most suitable breeds for people with allergies because they are low-shedding and release less dander. But their skin and coat can be problematic for them—they may develop chronic allergies that can lead to hot spots.
Irish Water Spaniel owners know their brave, smart, hardworking dogs are off the charts as far as playfulness, well past their puppy years. They were extremely popular in the Victorian era, so much so that they were one of the nine original charter dogs introduced by the AKC in 1878.  


The Soft Coated Wheaten, one of four Irish Terriers, are wheat-colored vigilant watch dogs and are loving with their family and young children. Dr. Herman said Wheatens may be high maintenance because they need exercise and supervision. For those considering adopting one, “All the Terriers from the Irish clan have come from farm dogs with the tough Terrier personality and tenacity.  Anyone looking for a Terrier needs to do their homework.”
Dr. Herman shared Wheaten Terrier coats shed less. As far as styling those coats to look sharp, Elsebeth added, “The soft-coated Wheaten Terrier (as well as the Kerry Blue Terrier) will require the most professional grooming to keep them looking nice, on average every 4 to 6 weeks for breed standard trimming. However, they can be trimmed shorter for pet styles.”
The intelligence, loyalty, and bravery were evident of Irish Terriers in WWI as they were used to transport messages between troops on the front lines. They’re willing to please and are good family dogs. Irish Terriers thrive with swimming and other outdoor activities. A plus is that their short coat which doesn’t shed much, is easier to maintain.

Kerry Blue Terriers aka Irish Blue Terriers, first recognized by the AKC in 1922, are all-around hardworking land and water hunters who were once used to guard homes and farms. They were expected to kill rodents and this breed became general working dogs to herd sheep and cattle. Kerry Blues thrive in homes and are also considered great apartment companions.
The spirited, friendly Glen of Imaal Terriers aka Glens, have gentle dispositions and do not bark much. These cute, small dogs were bred to rid the home and farm of pests. They’re double coated, but due to their wiry coat, they’re lower on the shed level. For more on the Irish breeds, including detailed grooming and temperament info, historical details, and life expectancies, go to

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