Glen of Imaal Terrier

Peter Richards
Peter Richards (BVSc, MRCVS, University of Bristol)
Photo of adult Glen of Imaal Terrier

The Glen of Imaal Terrier, known as Glens to their fans, is often thought of as a big dog in a small dog’s body. They are known for their loyalty and fearless attitude to big challenges. Whilst their tenacious attitude can be a great characteristic, it might land them in trouble if a bigger dog were to a pick a fight with them. Perhaps they still see themselves as the Irish Wolfhounds that no doubt played a part in developing the breed. The breed was originally an all-round farm dog, which could turn its paw to a variety of different tasks. One of their main tasks was controlling pests and hunting, leaving them with a strong prey drive. This characteristic makes them uneasy bed-fellows for smaller animals and even cats.

They are good family dogs who are more tolerant of children than other terrier breeds. Their calm attitude, relaxed attitude and adorable sitting behaviour make their owners rapidly fall in love with them. Whilst they’re energetic dogs, they’re not exercise fiends and a short and a brisk walk is enough to keep them happy and in good health. This, coupled with their smaller size, make them suitable to apartment life even though it’s far away from their remote, rustic origins in Ireland. What’s more, their coat sheds only lightly so their grooming needs are minimal.

About & History

The Glen of Imaal is a remote valley in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland. Not much is known about the history of how this quiet valley developed its own breed of terrier. Some say that the terriers are the offspring of dogs brought over by French and Hessian mercenaries. They were sent by Queen Elizabeth I to suppress an Irish rebellion. Since the Crown was lacking funds at the time, the soldiers were paid in land instead of money, settling in the Glen along with their dogs. This might tie in with a mention of a hunting dog named after the Glen of Imaal in “The Noble Art of Venerie and Hunting”, written in 1575 by George Turbeville. The Glen of Imaal terrier’s woolly appearance is often attributed to their descent from the Irish Wolfhound, specifically the Marquis of Huntly’s Irish Wolfhound. The Marquis commanded a group of Highlanders at the entrance to the Glen in 1798. Their mission was to prevent an Irish rebel, Michael Dwyer, from escaping. The Marquis’ Wolfhound’s mission was the roam the Glen, mating with as many of the local hounds and terriers as possible, resulting in the appearance of the present day Glen of Imaal Terrier.

The original purpose of the Glen of Imaal Terrier has also been lost along with its history. Like many other terriers, and as their inclusion in “The Noble Art of Venerie and Hunting” suggests, they were probably used as hunting dogs. They would have been sent after a variety of smaller mammals, such as rats, foxes, badgers and perhaps otters. It’s possible they were used as a general-purpose farm dog who would kill vermin, herd livestock and provide companionship. It’s also been suggested that they were used for domestic tasks like turning meat cooking over a fire or churning butter.

Whatever the origins of the breed, they were first recognised as a distinct breed by the Irish Kennel Club in 1934. Despite this recognition, the Glen of Imaal Terrier almost died out, but was revived by a dedicated group of local breeders. They remain a rare breed of terrier and is considered a vulnerable breed by the UK Kennel Club as less than 300 puppies are registered per year.


Glen of Imaal Terrier Large Photo

The Glen of Imaal Terrier is an achondroplastic dwarf breed, resulting in dogs with short legs and longer bodies. Their length-to-height ratio is about 5:3. Despite their dwarfism, they are not small dogs. Males attain an adult height of 30-36cm and weigh 16kg. Females are slightly shorter and lighter but no specific ranges are listed in breed standards.

Glen of Imaal Terriers have large heads in proportion to their body. Their ears prick up although the top half is often folded downwards. Their legs are short and may be slightly bowed, giving them a stocky appearance. In general, they are sturdy and muscular dogs. Their coat changes over their body. The flanks, head and legs are covered in a soft undercoat while the back has both a soft undercoat and wiry overcoat. While there is some variation in colours and colour combinations, most Glen of Imaal Terriers are either wheaten or blue.

Character & Temperament

Glen of Imaal Terriers are energetic and determined little dogs, however, they’re often thought to be calmer and more forgiving than other terrier breeds. Whilst they enjoy exercise, they’re not highly strung and will be just as happy to curl up near their owner and enjoy a relaxing afternoon. Other terriers are known for being vocal and barking at the slightest provocation. Glen of Imaal Terriers are less vocal than their counterparts, but this doesn’t make them quiet dogs! They are effective watch dogs who will bark if they think something fishy is going on.

Glens are a very loyal breed who enjoys the company of people from adults to children. Whilst they are more forgiving than other terriers, they won’t tolerate too much manhandling. Their strong prey drive makes them impossible to keep with other species, even cats. While they generally get on well with other dogs, some individuals have a tendency to show aggression when provoked. They are a fearless breed, so have no problem picking a fight with larger dogs.

Glen of Imaal Terriers have an interesting way of sitting, sometimes called the “Glen sit”. They sit on their hind legs and hold their bodies vertically. A quick search on your favourite Internet search engine will reveal plenty of photos of this uncommon behaviour!


Photo of Glen of Imaal Terrier puppy
Kindall /

Glens are intelligent dogs and amenable to training. However, their intelligence comes with a stubborn streak. They will react poorly to heavy-handed training so a soft-hand with plenty of positive reinforcement is especially important. Training sessions should be kept as interesting as possible, otherwise they have a tendency to get bored.

Due to their potential for dog-aggression, socialisation is essential for this breed. Once their vaccines are up to date, they should be introduced to as many dogs and people as possible so they learn how to respond appropriately to strangers. If you’re looking for an activity to keep you both occupied, Glen of Imaal Terriers do particularly well at agility training.


Glens are a generally healthy breed with a life expectancy of between 12 and 15 years. Despite their achondroplastic dwarfism, they do not suffer from the back problems that plague other breeds. Only one condition is of concern in this breed:

  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) – PRA is a condition that causes gradual sight loss culminating in blindness. Symptoms tend to begin at about five years old. The first symptom is often reduced vision at night or in dim light. The disease progresses rapidly and total blindness can occur within one year of the first symptoms. There is no cure for this condition. However, since it is inherited in a predictable way, a genetic test now available to ensure that litters of puppies will be free from the disease. Make sure that your breeder is registered and has tested the parents to avoid affected puppies.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Although Glens are energetic dogs, they enjoy relaxing too. While they would happily do a lot more, a brisk 30-minute walk will keep them trim and in good health. If you’re planning on giving a Glen unfettered access to your garden, bear in mind that one of their favourite activities is digging. If you’re fond of your flowerbeds make sure that they know where they can and can’t indulge their instincts.

Their heavy front build coupled with dwarfism makes them susceptible to growth-plate injuries. Most owners are advised to limit activities that could put excessive pressure on the front legs, such as jumping down from heights, for the first year of life.


Glens are a low maintenance breed when it comes to grooming. They don’t shed much hair, so brushing can be limited to once a week. They are a breed with a rustic appearance so grooming isn’t as intensive as for other breeds. Various styles of clip are used for showing, but you could just as well leave their coat as it is. You should keep an eye on their nails to make sure they don’t get too long, especially if your Glen doesn’t walk on hard surfaces which can wear them down.

Famous Glen of Imaal Terriers

Despite their brief mention in 16th century literature, the Glen of Imaal Terrier was too busy catching rats and turning spits to find fame.


As a rare breed, the Glen of Imaal Terrier has not been used to produce any cross-breeds.

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