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Celebrating Irish Dog Breeds for St. Patrick’s Day

Mar 17, 2017

stpatricksday-dogs-600x400.jpgPhoto by Toru Watanabe

There are several popular dog breeds in the United States that are native to Ireland. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’d like to introduce you to a few of them. According to the Irish Kennel Club (IKC), there are nine native Irish dog breeds. Perhaps we should substitute kissing one of these Irish dogs instead of the Blarney Stone for good luck! 

NOTE: The health conditions* listed below for each Irish breed are meant to be informational only. It is not a definitive list of health conditions. Please consult with your veterinarian for more information about health conditions specific to your dog’s breed.

The Irish Hounds

Irish Wolfhound


Irish Wolfhounds are one of the largest and tallest dog breeds. While they are large dogs, they are far from clumsy. They are graceful and have a loping gait like greyhounds. They have a rough and shaggy coat. Irish Wolfhounds are considered the oldest Irish dog breed, with written accounts referring to them as early as 391 A.D. While they were originally used as guardian and hunting dogs, they are now mainly kept as family dogs due to their calm and patient temperament.

Health Considerations

  • Short lifespan around 6-10 years
  • Heart disease
  • Osteosarcoma (bone cancer)
  • Canine Hip dysplasia (CHD)
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Bloat
  • Sensitivity to anesthesia

Kerry Beagle


Kerry Beagles are considered the second oldest Irish breed. The Kerry Beagle may have similar drooping ears like the English (AKC-recognized) Beagle, but they are not related

This breed is thought to have descended from either a dog referred to as “Old Southern Hounds” or a dog called “gadhar” in ancient Irish texts. They were bred for hunting and are still used for hunting hare and fox in rural Ireland. Even though they are valued as hunting dogs, they are also great for families due to their friendly and good-natured personality. An active household is recommended, as Kerry Beagles need a lot of exercise to blow off their energy! 

Health Considerations

There are no known health problems specific to the Kerry Beagle.

  • Lifespan around 10-16 years.

The Irish Gundogs

Irish Water Spaniel


The origin of this breed is debated. The breed is thought to have descended from dogs from Persia, Poodle-type dogs from France, or possibly from Portuguese Water Dogs before coming to Ireland. The Irish Water Spaniel is called so because of the first Irish reference of the dog from 1600 as “water dogs that pursue water fowl.” They are large dogs with a compact and strongly built body. Their dark purplish-brown coat is distinct with tight curly ringlets and is referred to as “waterproof” due to the natural oiliness to them. They are good, playful family dogs but can be wary of strangers. They can be stubborn so an experienced dog owner is recommended. 

Health Considerations

  • Lifespan around 10-12 years
  • Otitis Externa (chronic inflammation of the external ear canal)
  • Canine Hip dysplasia (CHD)
  • Megaesophagus
  • Epilepsy
  • Sensitivity to anti-parasitic and antibiotic drugs

Irish Setter or Irish Red Setter


Also known as the Irish Red Setter, this large-breed dog is probably the most popular and recognized of the Irish breed dogs with its glossy auburn and mahogany coat. They are athletic sport dogs that are popular for their intelligence, stamina, and enthusiasm. They are also affectionate, loving, and loyal. They are generally friendly towards strangers, older children, and other animals. They are great family dogs but need daily exercise and training as they can become bored easily. Remember, a bored dog is one that is likely to misbehave!

Health Considerations

  • Lifespan around 12-14 years
  • Canine Hip dysplasia (CHD)
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
  • Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD)
  • Canine Leukocyte (CAD)
  • Epilepsy
  • Bloat 

Irish Red & White Setter


The Irish Red & White Setter is an older breed compared to the Irish Setter. In fact, the Irish Setter is thought to have evolved from selective breeding to get the solid red color. The Irish Red and White Setters were almost extinct in the 1800s due to the popularity of the Irish Red Setter. Fortunately, there was movement to bring back the breed in the 1920s. They are mainly used in Irish field trials and as bird hunting dogs. They are medium sized with red and white colored coats. Their bodies are slightly heavier compared to their Irish Red Setter cousin. They are friendly, dependable, and energetic which makes them great dogs for an active family. Like the Irish Setter, Irish Red and Irish White Setters need consistent training keep their minds occupied.   

Health Considerations

  • Lifespan around 10-14 years
  • Posterior polar cataract
  • Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)
  • Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) 

The Irish Terriers

Irish Terrier


The Irish Terrier has the personality traits of most terriers like being dashing, bold, adventurous, and good-natured. Like most terriers, they are agile and move with speed and endurance. They are medium sized breed with a wiry coat. The Irish Terrier is a loyal companion, but can be aggressive of strangers and other animals. Early socialization as a puppy and consistent training is key with this strong-willed breed. 

Fun Fact: The Irish Terrier dogs were used as messenger dogs in WWI for their intelligence and bravery.

Health Considerations

There are no known health problems specific to the Irish Terrier.

  • Lifespan around 12-15 years

Glen of Imaal Terrier


Named after the remote Glen of Imaal Valley Ireland, this breed is a true working dog. They are tough, agile, and intelligent hunters. This breed was originally used to hunt fox and badger, and keep rodents away from the home. While bold as a hunter, the Glen of Imaal Terrier is gentle, and a calmer than most terrier breeds. This medium-sized dog is a good family dog being friendly and gentle, but need early socialization and training, as they can be wary of other dogs and strangers. Be aware that like most terriers, this breed is independent, loves to dig (gardening aficionados take note!), and may have a strong prey drive with small animals.

Health Considerations

  • Lifespan around 10-14 years
  • Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) 

Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier


The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier is called so because of its soft wheat colored coat. Because their coat is soft and silky with slight waves, this medium-sized dog needs a lot of brushing and grooming. They are one of the oldest of the Irish terrier breeds. Written records from 200 years ago talk about a “soft-coated” dog that may have been referring to the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier. Like the Glen Imaal Terrier, this breed was originally used to hunt vermin and as working farm dogs. The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier is very friendly, lively, and but more sociable compared to most terrier breeds. They are great family dogs and friendly with other dogs, strangers, and children. 

Health Considerations

  • Lifespan around 12-14 years
  • Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
  • Renal dysplasia (RD)
  • Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s Disease)
  • Protein-Losing Nephropathy

Kerry Blue Terrier


This breed is named after Ireland’s Kerry Blue County and is thought to have been around for centuries. However, since all four Irish terriers were used as farming dogs, there are not many references to the breeds. This breed has a very distinct look with a muscular body, long legs, and a soft, thick blue-gray coat. They are very energetic, playful, and need regular exercise. They are extremely loyal and affectionate with their owners. They make great family dogs but can be very aggressive with other dogs. Because of their strong-willed nature and dog aggression, they are not for the novice pet owner.

Health Considerations

  • Lifespan around 12-15 years
  • Ocular disorders (Entropion, Retinal folds, cataracts, & dry eye)
  • Factor XI deficiency (Hemophilia C)
  • Skin disorders (Spiculosis, Keratosis, Hair follicle tumors or skin cysts)
  • Cerebellar abiotrophy
  • Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)
  • Otitis Externa

We hope you enjoyed learning about these wonderful Irish breeds. Have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day!

An Old Irish Blessing

“May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life's passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!”


Irish Kennel Club:

* Certain health conditions are associated with purebred dogs; however, this does not mean that if you have a purebred dog they are guaranteed to develop a condition. A responsible breeder will use genetic testing (if available) and additional screening tests in order to minimize the risk of passing of a genetic condition. It is wise to be aware of the possible congenital disorders common in purebred dogs such as hip dysplasia, epilepsy, heart disease, etc., but many purebred dogs generally live healthy lives given proper care and attention.

Whether your dog is purebred or mixed, provide your dog with regular preventative care and wellness exams with your primary care veterinarian to keep them healthy. 

Category: Pet News