Kerry Blue Terrier

Anna Cherry
Dr Anna Cherry (BSc Hons, BVSc, MRCVS)
 
Photo of adult Kerry Blue Terrier

The Kerry Blue Terrier (also known as the Irish Blue Terrier), as the name suggests, originates from the Emerald Isle and specifically from County Kerry, in the south-west of Ireland. They are a striking looking medium sized terrier that has bags of charm and a fun-loving nature. They are energetic and lively and enjoy chasing around, swimming and having a boisterous play. Their inquisitive nature and finely tuned senses means they adore the chance for a nose around and love exploring outdoors.

They are renowned for their beautiful wavy ‘blue’ coloured coat, which is surprisingly soft and silky. However, they are not born this colour and are in fact born black – only changing to blue as they reach maturity. True to their terrier roots, these dogs are smart, feisty and full of character. Like other terriers, they are skilled hunters. Aside from chasing wildlife, they love being around people and make affectionate and loyal companions.

The Kerry Blue Terrier is a polite companion and will be a loyal member of your family, welcoming friends of the family with an unrivaled fervor. However, due to their guarding instincts, they can be wary of strangers but will be quickly ‘won-over’ with a play or some fuss. Sadly, they are not as welcoming to other pets and can exhibit anti-social and aggressive behaviour towards other dogs.

About & History

The Kerry Blue Terrier is believed to originate from County Kerry in Ireland and dates back to around the 1700s. As a member of the terrier family, Kerries (as they are fondly referred to) are renowned for their retrieval skills (over land and water) and their ability to hunt most things that move. This reflects their original purpose, as fox, badger and rabbit hunters. They were also used as farm dogs, due to their herding skills. Today, they are still used for rat and rabbit hunting, herding sheep and cattle, field trials and, last but not least, as a devoted companion.

Outside of Ireland, this striking breed was a late bloomer and remained unknown for many years, until finally gaining recognition by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1922. It was around this time that it made its first appearance in the English and American dog show circuit, where it quickly drew an eager following. This delay is believed to be due to the unkempt appearance of the first few generations of this breed. However, once introduced to the wonders of the grooming parlour, this ugly duckling was swiftly transformed into the beautiful swan of a dog that we are familiar with today.

Appearance

Kerry Blue Terrier Large Photo

Kerry Blue Terrier puppies are all born with a black coat that at around 9-24 months of age changes to grey-blue or blue-grey. It is said that the timing of this change in coat colour gives an indication of how light their coat will eventually go. For example, those that change to blue earlier will be much lighter. Also, it is not uncommon for the muzzle, head, ears, tail and feet to be slightly darker in the adults of this breed. Characteristically, their coat is soft, dense and wavy and should not be coarse.

This breed has a long but proportional head and small dark beady eyes, which are described as wearing a ‘keen terrier expression’. They have small V-shaped ears that are carried forwards and folded so that they sit above their skull. Kerries also have a long sturdy neck and a well-muscled body that sits on four long legs. Finally, their short tail is held proud and straight, giving the appearance that they are always alert and raring for action. This breed is described to move with a ‘fluid-like’ motion.

Character & Temperament

The Kerry Blue Terrier is a clever, independent and playful breed. They love being part of the family and their sense of fun makes them a fantastic playmate and companion for children. This breed isn’t short of some ‘Irish charm’ too and their cheeky and mischievous terrier antics that will keep the whole family entertained. However, to avoid finding your cat or house rabbit the unwanted recipient of your Kerry’s hunting skills, this breed should ideally be the only pet in the household.

True to its Irish roots, the Kerry Blue Terrier isn’t short of a thing or two to say and barking can be a problem for this breed, so bear your living arrangements in mind before choosing this breed or invest in some ear-protectors. Their willingness to bark does have its benefits when combined with their protective instinct, as they make excellent guard dogs – there’s no need for a burglar alarm with these friends looking out for you.

Take care when letting the Kerry Blue Terrier off the lead, as their appetite for exploration combined with their heightened hunting instincts can get them into all sorts of mischief. So, always ensure you are somewhere safe before unclipping their lead. Other less desirable traits include a love for digging, so if you are green fingered and value your lawn and flower beds, this breed may not be a match made in heaven for you.

Importantly, Kerries love to spend time in your company and do not do well if left alone for long periods of time, as they can suffer from separation anxiety. This can lead to destructive behaviours developing.

Trainability

Photo of Kerry Blue Terrier puppy

Due to the Kerry Blue Terrier’s stubborn terrier streak and that ‘mind of their own’, they require firm and patient training. It’s well worth the effort though, as this smart breed can pick-up new commands, as well as more complex tasks, quickly once engaged.

Sadly, their recall and obedience can leave a lot to be desired (as their hunting instincts tend to dominate), so always make sure you have a super tasty treat in your pocket at all times when out and about!

Health

The Kerry Blue Terrier is a fairly resilient and healthy breed with a life-expectancy of around 12-15 years. However, they can be predisposed to certain health problems, including:

Eye Problems

Kerries are prone to eye problems, including entropion, which is when the eyelids turn inwards, causing the eyelashes to sit against the eyes. This can lead to chronic irritation and corneal ulceration, which can be very painful. They are also predisposed to Dry Eye (also known as Kerato-Conjunctivitis Sicca (KCS)), which is caused by insufficient tear production and can require life-long treatment and management.

Ear Problems

Due to their excessively hairy ear canals, they are predisposed to suffering from chronic Otitis Externa, which is caused by an infection of their external ear.

Cerebellar Cortical Abiotrophy

This is a progressive degenerative condition that affects the nervous system, causing limb stiffness and head tremors initially. As it progresses, it causes those affected to lose co-ordination and stumble and trip before they are finally unable to stand. This is a disease of the young and signs are first evident in puppies aged between 2-6 months with the inability to stand occurring at around 1 year of age.

Hip Dysplasia

This condition occurs when the joint created by the hip bone and the end of the thigh bone (femur) don’t sit together properly. This causes the femur to pop in and out of the joint during movement. Over time, this can lead to damage to the cartilage and boney structures within and around the joint. Long-term, this can lead to early-onset osteoarthritis.

Skin Problems

Kerries are affected by several skin problems including cysts, dermal cysts, corns in their pads, as well as Naso-digital Keratoses (this is when the nose and pads become dry and cracked).

Exercise and Activity Levels

This lively breed needs plenty of mental and physical stimulation to keep them content. They are an all-around athlete and love to run, swim, chase and retrieve. Because of this, they will need to go on at least one long walk a day (for at least 1 hour). They should also be given the opportunity to burn off some of their energy with a spirited play session or a chance to roam-free (when safe to do so, as this breed’s addiction to hunting wildlife can get them lost or in trouble).

Grooming

The Kerry Blue Terrier has a single coat, that consists of a non-shedding top coat. This means you won’t have to grab the vacuum cleaner at every given opportunity and can instead sit back, relax and enjoy your fluff free home! However, this does not mean you are completely off the hook in terms of grooming, as this fluffy fella can get knotted and matted and will need combing about twice a week. You will also need to pop them down to the groomers each month for a quick scissoring and shape.

Kerries have excessively hairy ears and, for this reason, it is vital that you clean them regularly, especially if they are a water-baby! This will help keep them free from any dirt, wax and reduce the risk of them getting an ear infection.

Famous Kerries

The Kerrie rose to fame when a Kerry Blue Terrier called ‘Ch Torums Scarf Michael’ won ‘Best in show’ at Crufts in 2000. This breed also has a famous following with well-known owners of this breed believed to include, Samuel Beckett (the Irish Novelist), Michael Collins (Ireland’s most renowned patriot) and more recently British Boxer, Henry Cooper, Alfred Hitchcock, and actor Bill Cosby.

Cross-Breeds

Kerries are sometimes used in crossbreds and have been known to be crossed with Poodles, Schnauzers and also Wheaten Terriers – the latter being known as a 'Kerry Wheaten'.

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