As of 2020, there are eight dog breeds native to Ireland that are currently recognized by the American Kennel Club. These Irish dog breeds have storied histories in their homeland and abroad, and they run the size gamut from miniature to massive. Two Irish breeds were even among 1878’s nine charter breeds first recognized by the AKC at its inception in 1884. The most recent entry on this list gained full AKC recognition a decade ago, bringing the total number of AKC Irish dog breeds up to eight. Learn more about these breeds from the Emerald Isle and when they first earned AKC recognition.
Irish Setter (1878)
Green may be the color of the Irish, but deep mahogany or rich chestnut red is the color of this four-legged beauty. The Irish Setter was recognized by the AKC at its inception and is part of the Sporting Group. Irish Setters have rollicking personalities and require a good amount of exercise to satisfy their breed instincts. They are also tough and tireless field dogs. At home, Irish Setters are loving family dogs that enjoy the company of children. It takes about three years for this breed to fully mature into adulthood, so if you’re considering bringing an Irish Setter into your home, you should be prepared for an active, fun-loving dog.
Irish Water Spaniel (1878)
The Irish Water Spaniel has variously been referred to as the “Shannon Spaniel,” “Whiptail Spaniel,” and “Rat Tail Spaniel.” Distinguishing characteristics are a topknot of long, loose curls and a body covered with a densely-curled liver-colored coat, contrasted by a smooth face and a tapering “rat” tail. This ancient Irish dog breed is a natural water dog. Irish Water Spaniels are devoted to their family and cautious around strangers. They are impressive dogs and possess a quality of endurance that makes them equally agile in the water and in the field.
Irish Terrier (1885)
An Irish Terrier was featured in the 2007 movie “Firehouse Dog,” where it was cast as a canine hero. Not surprising, considering they were used to transport messages between troops on the front lines in World War I. Their bravery and spirit make them incomparable pals, and they possess great tenacity. Loyal and friendly, Irish Terriers hardily adapt to any situation, and they are deeply committed to their owners. Irish Terriers have served as longtime mascots for the Notre Dame football team, providing halftime entertainment for adoring crowds.
Irish Wolfhound (1897)
Literature refers to this ancient Irish dog breed in many ways, including “Big Dogs of Ireland,” and Irish Wolfhounds were documented in Rome as early as the year 391 A.D. They were presented to the Roman Counsel as gifts, which “all Rome viewed with wonder.” The largest and tallest of the Hound Group, males should be a minimum of 32 inches tall and weigh 120 pounds, while females should be a minimum of 30 inches tall and weigh 105 pounds. This is a swift breed that hunts by sight and needs an ample, fenced-in yard to accommodate its full gallop. As in early times, Irish Wolfhounds possess an extraordinary social temperament, as well as the intelligence to distinguish between friend, family, and foe.
Kerry Blue Terrier (1922)
The Kerry Blue Terrier hails from the Irish county of the same name. The breed has been known in that section of Ireland for more than 100 years. Known for superior working skills, the Kerry Blue has been used for hunting small game and birds and for retrieving from land, as well as water. Although small in stature, Kerry Blues make excellent watchdogs and all-around farm dogs. In some instances, they’ve even been used for police work. A Kerry Blue by the call name “Mick” is one of the most accomplished show dogs in recent history, taking home Best in Show wins at the AKC National Championship, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and the Crufts Dog Show before retiring.
Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier (1973)
Among Irish dog breeds, the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier has a special connection to St. Patrick’s Day, having first appeared in the show ring at the Irish Kennel Club Championship on March 17, 1937. The name of this breed describes the characteristics of the coat—soft, silky, with a gentle wave, and of warm wheaten color. Underneath is a formidable dog that enjoys plenty of exercise every day. Most Wheatens are spirited when greeting people and are extremely alert in their surroundings. They are quick learners and love to travel with their owners.
Glen of Imaal Terrier (2004)
The Glen of Imaal Terrier gets its namesake from a valley in Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains. Longer than tall and sporting a double coat of medium length, the Glen possesses great strength and conveys the impression of a dog of good substance. This is a working Terrier that must have the agility, freedom of movement, and endurance to do the work for which it was developed. Like its counterparts among Irish dog breeds, the Glen is also courageous and always ready to give chase. When working, they are active, agile, silent, and intent upon its game. Otherwise, the Glen can be docile and a companion for families with older children.
Irish Red and White Setter (2009)
Though first achieving AKC recognition in 2009, the Irish Red and White Setter (IRWS) has been known in Ireland since the 17th century. While the Irish Setter surged in popularity, the IRWS reached near extinction until the breed was revived in the 1920s. The IRWS is now known as a prized gundog. They are primarily field dogs that are powerful, athletic, and high-energy. They require daily exercise and are great companions for active families. Irish Red and White Setters are also eager to please and are said to have a soft temperament.