Judging Irish Terriers

A Working Breed

The following shows how an experienced and knowledgeable Judge applies the Standard to the actual dog before him/her. It explains for example why the coat should be rough with an ample undercoat and how the length of back enhances the dog’s raciness and ability to cover ground quickly and efficiently.


The modern Irish Terrier primarily serves as a loyal family companion but it has a rich heritage as a hard working farm dog. This strong-willed breed was highly valued by rural Irish families. Bred to control vermin, Irish Terriers were watchful guardians of farm and family and also served as hunting companions, capable on land and water. To judge the Irish, one must prioritize those characteristics which speak to the essence of this breed and which set it apart from others in the Terrier group.


The Irish is built on the lines of speed, with a graceful outline. It should be neither cobby or cloddy. The short back is not characteristic of the Irish Terrier and is extremely objectionable. Jowett, a prominent breeder and author of the first book on the breed, wrote an Irish Terrier “even if he were white should not be mistaken for a Wire -haired Fox Terrier.” So when first scanning an entry, it is necessary to find the dogs with a profile that includes a moderately long body with the length coming from a well ribbed back and not a longer loin. The tail should complement the outline with a rather high set on - but not curled.


This working Terrier needed protection from the elements and rough terrain of his environment. So a judge must locate those dogs with dense, wiry broken coats that hug the body. This is the kind of coat that creates a tight water-resistant jacket. Under the stiff outer coat is a dense undercoat of softer, finer hair that traps body heat on a cool, damp day. Quality of hair on the legs and the face furnishings should be similar to that found on the body.


Dr. E. S. Montgomery writes in his book THE COMPLETE IRISH TERRIER, “The business end of an Irish Terrier is the front end.... the head piece...” The head needs to be in balance, lean and wedge-shaped with a flat skull, without bumpiness over the eyes. It must be sizeable enough to accommodate a jaw of strength and good punishing length. The foreface must not fall away between or below the eyes. (If you grab the muzzle you should feel a continuous bone mass from the cheeks to the nose.) Eyes should be dark and will appear small because they are set moderately deep into the skull. They should show an intense expression, full of life, fire, and intelligence. Montgomery writes “...all judges... must always carry in their minds the hard-bitten ‘devil-may care’ expression.” Small, darker colored “v” shaped ears are set well above the level of the skull, out of harm’s way of a nipping vermin. A “bumpy” or coffin shaped head is to be faulted. The term “rather narrow between the ears” (as stated in the standard for the head) should not be interpreted to mean an Irish Terrier is narrow headed. Rather, this phrase refers to the fact that the ears should be set high on the head giving the allusion of narrow space between the setting of the ears.

Size, balance and character

The dog should be of a size which approximates the standard of 18”, weight approximately 27 to 30 pounds. He should present a balanced picture of symmetry, proportion and harmony.

He must show great vitality and animation with lithe and wiry movement, conveying power and athleticism.

The Irish Terrier Club of America strongly encourages the proper use of sparring to allow dogs to show themselves. This provides the judge with an excellent opportunity to see first hand which dogs show the fire and dare devil character so essential to our breed. Sparing can separate the plain dog from the fiery Mick.