Sunday, March 17, 2013


It's St. Patrick's Day, and you know what that means:  time for my annual blog entry about an Irish breed of dog!  This year I have chosen the Glen of Imaal Terrier, which a lot of people have probably not even heard of unless they have watched some of those dog shows on TV.

County Wicklow is that red spot
There are four terrier breeds that come from Ireland, and the other three are the Kerry Blue Terrier, the Irish Terrier, and the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, which is what our neighbor, Henry is.  If you're like me, you may be asking yourself "Where the heck is the Glen of Imaal?" and "Why does it have such a strange name?"  Well, I have done the research, and now I know that the Glen of Imaal is in County Wicklow, which is on the east coast of Ireland.  And the reason it has that strange name is because the Irish people used to speak Gaelic, and they gave everything strange, Gaelic names.

Blue brindle puppy
Glen of Imaal Terriers, which are called "Glens" for short, date all the way back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I.  Or at least that's what some people say.  The Irish were being naughty and rebellious, so the queen hired some French and Hessian soldiers to go make them behave.  After the fighting was over, these soldiers decided just to stay in Ireland, mostly in the Wicklow area.  They brought their own short-legged hounds with them, and they bred them to the local terriers.  The result was a type of terrier that was only found in the Glen of Imaal area.

Glens were used as working dogs on farms.  They did some herding, and they also hunted foxes, badgers, and otters.  Like other terriers, they went after these pesky animals by digging down into their burrows and dragging them out.  If the dog got stuck in the burrow, it had a nice sturdy tail that the farmer could use to pull it to safety.  Some terriers do a lot of barking while they are hunting their prey, but the Glen of Imaal Terrier was trained to work "mute to ground," so it kept quiet while it was digging.

The dog is in the wheel up on the wall, on the right.
Another thing Glen of Imaal Terriers did was work as turnspit dogs.  A turnspit dog walks in a wheel, sort of like a big hamster wheel, and there's a pulley that is attached to the spit that holds the meat that is cooking over the fire in the fireplace.  The spit has to keep turning or else the meat will get burned on one side.  Personally, I would eat the meat anyway, burned or not, but humans are fussy about things like this.  Anyway, Irish lore says that Glens were turnspit dogs, but there is no real proof of this because the pictures of dogs turning spits do not much look like Glens.

Nowadays, people have electric rotisseries, so there is no need to have turnspit dogs.  Also, not too many people hunt badgers and foxes and stuff like that unless they live in the country.  So Glen of Imaal Terriers are mostly companion dogs, which is a job they also do very well.  They are gentle and good-natured, inquisitive, spirited, and brave.  But like all terriers, they can also be stubborn and independent.  They are not as hyper as some terrier breeds, but they are still active and need some kind of exercise every day.  Some Glens are dog aggressive, and they might think of cats as prey.  They don't bark a whole lot, unless they are living in a home where there are a lot of other barky dogs.

The colors of Glens are wheaten, blue, and brindle.  Males weigh about 35 pounds, and they are between 12.5" and 14" at the shoulder.  Females are a little smaller.  Glen of Imaal Terriers are longer than they are tall, and their front legs bow out a little bit.  They have a double coat, with harsher hair on the outside and softer hair underneath.

The Glen of Imaal Terrier breed almost died out completely, and then some people started working to bring it back in the first part of the 20th century.  The Irish Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1934, and after that it got recognized by the Kennel Club of Great Britain, the FCI, and several rare breed associations.  Sadly, much of the Glen of Imaal area is now used by the Irish Army as a firing range, so there are no terriers or people living there these days.

The AKC recognized the breed in 2004, and there are about 1,000 Glens in the U.S. right now.  In the AKC list of rankings by registration numbers, Glens were #149 in 2007, #158 in 2011, and #162 in 2012.

Glen of Imaal Terriers don't have a whole lot of health problems, but there have been some cases of Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), hip dysplasia, and skin irritations.

In my opinion, Glens are kind of cute, with that scruffy-terrier sort of look.  But I don't think Mom would let us have one because it might try to eat our cats.  And also, Glens are probably kind of expensive, since there aren't all that many of them around.  So I guess we will have to wait and get some other kind of dog sometime.


  1. Love your site. Most enlightening. Thank you. Where did you get that great engraving of the Turnspit Dog in the wheel? Could you email me?
    Davia Nelson, NPR's Kitchen Sisters

  2. I live in France and have a Glen. Such a wonderful dog - loving, dependable, loves walking, sleeping, great with kids and other dogs. True he doesn't like cats, but all in all a fabulous dog!
    Mark, Uzes, France

    1. I'm very happy to hear about your Glen. He sounds like a great dog! It's too bad we have so many cats at our house; otherwise, I would invite you and your dog to come visit me here in America!