Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Today is St. Patrick's Day, which means it's time for me to write about another Irish dog breed.  The Kerry Blue Terrier is a breed that some people think should be the National Dog of Ireland, but it has never been given that name officially.


Kerry Blues come from the mountains of County Kerry, in the southwest part of Ireland.  Their original use was for killing vermin such as rats, rabbits, badgers, foxes, otters, and hares.  Later, people started using the dogs to do things like herd cattle and sheep, and to act as guard dogs.

The terriers were also good hunters and retrievers.  It's quite possible that the peasants used Kerries to poach the grounds of the nobility, where the noblemen themselves hunted with Irish Wolfhounds.

Philip Doyle with his dog "Terri" at the Killarney Show, 1916

In spite of Irish politics, the first show of the Dublin Irish Blue Terrier club took place outside curfew hours and was entered by people on both sides of the fight to establish an Ireland republic.  The Dublin Irish Blue Terrier Club was so successful that it led to the founding of the Irish Kennel Club, with a Kerry Blue as the first dog registered.

Kerry Blue during a dog show in Katowice, Poland
Wikipedia, Pleple2000

Because an aggressive prey drive was intentionally bred into Kerry Blues, the Irish Kennel Club originally required dogs to pass "gameness" tests before being judged.  The tests included catching rabbits and bringing a badger to bay.  Modern breeders have tried to keep the breed's high spirits while breeding out the aggression.

Kerry Blue Terriers, circa 1935

The first Kerry Blues arrived in North America in 1918-19 and began appearing in shows in the early 1920s.  The breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1924.  During the Westminster show of 1924, a group of Kerry fanciers met at the Waldorf-Astoria and organized the Kerry Blue Terrier Club of America.


Kerries are energetic dogs who need plenty of exercise.  They are intelligent, adaptable, alert, and vigilant.  They make good watchdogs and companions for children.  They are eager to please and are highly trainable, but they can also be stubborn and independent-minded.  The breed is well-suited for agility, obedience, sheep herding, earthdog trials, and tracking.  They have even been used for police work in Ireland.

Kerry Blue puppies are born with black coats that eventually fade to various shades of blue-gray.  It usually takes 18 months for the pups to reach their adult color.  The coat is soft and wavy, with no undercoat. It does not shed, but continues to grow all year.  This means that Kerries need regular grooming so that their coats don't get matted.

In general, Kerry Blue Terriers are healthy, but they do sometimes develop genetic problems such as dry eyes, cataracts, entropion, hip dysplasia, and hypothyroidism.  The life span of the breed is from about 9 to 12 years.


Even though a Kerry Blue won the big Crufts dog show in the UK in 2000, the breed is still what you might call "unfashionable."  It has a lot of good things to recommend it, but a Kerry is not the best choice for first-time dog owners.  Besides having high energy levels and high grooming needs, a lot of Kerries tend to be dog-aggressive, especially if they are not well-socialized as puppies.  So this is something that dog owners have to worry about when out in public with their dogs.

My mom says she has had a few dog-aggressive dogs in the past, and she does not want any more of them.  I agree, so we will definitely not be getting a Kerry Blue Terrier anytime soon.  I think it's just enough to know that Kerries have a very special Irish ancestry and to celebrate that on St. Patrick's Day.

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