The Irish Blue Terrier

The following is an article written by Mr Fottrell on the Kerry Blue Terrier.

“I WILL now proceed in detail with the foregoing points. Some things which I will say may appear almost revolutionary to many experienced terrier judges, but I ask them to consider that to the average Blue owner all the other breeds appear to have been irreparably spoiled and that we are determined to approach the improvement of the Blue untrammeled by the rooted conventions attached to the showing of the other terriers.

Regarding one and two above, disqualification being the severest penalty that can be exercised by a judge, it is only applicable to very clear cases. The fact of a dog possessing the domed skull of the Bedlington would not be sufficient to justify disqualification, although it denotes a wrong strain. It would, of course, prevent the dog being placed. So also a dog would have to be seriously incapacitated before one could definitely he was incapable of qualifying at trial.

MOUTH, BONE and COAT.—The three most important elements of a Blue. The mouth is the business end of a dog. It’s essentials are teeth and jaw. The teeth must be large. This is most important, as, I believe, the first effect of breeding to enlarge the muzzle unduly, or of inbreeding, will be to reduce the size of the teeth. The jaw must be powerful. “A punishing jaw” pleasingly expresses the idea.

The next constituent is bone. A terrier greatly lacking in the particular should never be placed. Bone is the foundation of a dog. Anything built on a bad foundation never deserves praise, however fair it may appear to the eye.

The last of the vital constituents is coat. There is no doubt that it should be soft, and preferable curly and abundant. It is through coat that objectionable strains are usually detected.

There is a very prevalent white strain running through even some of the most prominent dogs of today—show dogs and game dogs. There are however, some which do not possess the slightest trace of this taint, for it is undesirable. The results of my inquiries in this regard go to show that the white strain is attributable to a cross a long way back. As it does not, however, appear to effect any change in temperament, one might be excused for judging by the eye: that is to only penalize dogs possessing white to an unsightly extent. An adult Blue should never display a white spot of any kind. It is, however, important to note that white hairs appear when the coat is changing in youth, and also when the blue is going away in old age.

Tan is not the result of a cross. It has been in the breed time out of memory, and it is quite unobjectionable on head and legs in puppyhood. On reaching maturity it should change to a silken flaxen color. Some of the very best of the breed in former times had a good share of tan, but the modern market demands it’s absence, mainly from ignorance, and it will, no doubt, have its way. There is a bright red tan, which reminds one of an Airedale, which cannot be sanctioned.

The common hard or wire-coated Blue is far from pleasing and should be severely penalized.

The last remaining bad strain is black—a glossy black. It is the pet aversion of many expert judges, and rightly so, for it is the legacy of some black cocker, that once inhabited Tralee, from whence he scattered his progeny to the surrounding districts. A black dog is not a blue dog in any sense.

If the reader has noted the points already mentioned he will be able to discard without further trouble, all the Yorkshires, cockers, Airedales and Bedlingtons he may find before him and commence to judge the Blues.

The primary point under appearance is HEAD. There is nothing to equal a practical demonstration, but I will do my best to convey on paper my idea of what it should be like. The head, first of all, should be large—larger in proportion than that of a show Red terrier—with a luxuriant covering of hair overhanging the eyes. We want a Blue terrier head, and that is not the same as a Red terrier or an Airedale. It is not desirable, as in the latter breeds, that the length from the point of the nose to the “stop” be equal to the distance from the stop to the point of the occipital bone at the top or back of the skull. An elementary knowledge of the law of the lever will convince you that an unnatural length of jaw entails weakness, or there must be a compensating width and enlargement of the jaw muscles, which in turn, would be promptly put down as “the bull” by the Red or Airedale men.

Taking the sub-divisions in the order of their importance—the mouth, in addition to the large, even teeth,, already mentioned, should not be “soft”—i.e., a large, light framework of bone padded out with flesh. The teeth must on no account be undershot or overshot. The gums and roof of mouth, no matter what may be said to the contrary, should be black all over. It is one of the points that cannot, up to the present, be faked, and it is unquestionable an indication of breeding. I am indebted to two Blue fanciers for the instructive information that their bitches with white gums threw no less than seven all white-coated pups. In neither case could the sires be to blame.

NOSE must be black, with nostrils large and wide.

The EARS should be proportionately small and thin. They affect, to an extent, the expression, and if too small and tending to “fly” give an appearance of irresponsibility, if such can be imagined in a dog. The skull should not be domed or “coarse”, the cheek bones being, therefore, nearly level with the face.

The stop should never be bred out, for by doing so you will breed away the dog’s intelligence. A slight stop in not way detracts from a dog’s appearance, but I will admit that a deep stop causes a “monkeyish” look without and compensating advantage.

I differ on the subject of EYE with all the accomplished terrier judges of the present day. It should be relegated to the least important of the points of the head. The color of the eye is purely a matter of appearance; if anything a light eye seems to be keener than a dark one in a hunt. All the nonsense talked about hazel and mahogany should be discouraged. The only eye that should be penalized to a certain extent is the bright lemon one that hits you like a slap in the face the moment the dog looks at you.

Regarding BACK and RIBS, it is largely a matter of training your eye by experience. The ribs should be nicely sprung, and the novice will find it a help in judging dogs if he starts noting the distance with his hand from the last rib to the thigh of the hind leg. The short back, making for strength, is the objective.

Next, SHOULDERS and CHEST.—Width is wanted in moderation, not the narrow chest of the Red Irish terrier.

HINDQUARTERS.—Still aiming for strength, we want well developed muscles, strong hocks, the whole well set under the dog.

DEW CLAWS on the hind legs are fatal on two counts,. Firstly, they seriously impede a working terrier, and secondly, they come under the heading of a wrong strain, being, in my humble opinion, a symptom of a sheep dog. Some authorities dispute the latter fact, but they cannot deny that as long as one breeds from Blues of known and pure pedigree there will never be an instance of a pup born with dew-claws. The Blue differs in this respect from other breeds of terrier.

Everyone knows what a well carried tail means. It should, in addition, be thin. Even on the question of tail we differ from other breeds. I was shown recently two photographs of perhaps the two best known Blues in England. Both are faked, but in both instances the artist had added an Airedale’s tail instead of a Blue’s.

FEET should be compact and not spread out, the pads being rounded and soft, not showing any splits. Blues naturally have larger feet than breeds from generations bred for the show bench and a useless existence, just as an agricultural worker, as a rule, has larger hands than a scrivener. I refer these misguided judges who are seeing a fox terrier foot on a Blue to study the feet of an Afghan hound and admit that East is East and West is West. White toe-nails are a permanent blemish.

As nice neck adds greatly to a dog’s appearance, but calls for no special remark.

The reader will notice I place COLOR last. By this I mean that once a dog is not a black, or mottled with white or red tan, I would not attempt to interfere with individual taste for dark Blues, silver Blues, or Blue and Tans. A good judge of Blues would not let color interfere unduly with his decisions.

It will often be found impossible to differentiate between good Blues, even after taking into account all I have already mentioned. It is then the all-important factor, expression, must be taken into account. In a Blue it is particularly essential. Your ideal Blue should have a keen, alert and wild devil-may care appearance.

Some dogs show a weakness in movement which may not be otherwise detected. Even if a dog fulfils all the elements to make a Blue, yet lacks that fire and appears dead-minded, he should be ineligible for any prize.

Judging puppies needs special attention. They show the texture of their future coats in even the first few days of their existence. Blues are invariably born black, and the period of change denotes what colors they will be eventually. For instance a pup that starts turning silver at six weeks will be a whole silver, and so on until you come to the Blue that does not turn until nine months, and who is fated to be a dark blue all his life. You will be able to judge the gums when from two to three weeks old.

The methods and details I have outlined go far enough, and are not at the same time that hard and fast standardization which is demanded by a few fanciers, most of, significantly enough, are equally interested in other breeds. These people, sincerely, but wrongly, wish the showing and sale of Blues reduced as far as possible to mathematical precision. Possibly they may be so business-like and unsporting as to object to that uncertainty which at present is inseparable with the, so to speak, Blue terrier “trade”.

My readers, now knowing what a Blue terrier should be like, will, no doubt, be struck at the points of similarity between the present day terrier and authentic descriptions of the wolfdog of centuries ago.

Take the following extracts for example, referring to the Irish wolfdog, which might accurately be used in connection with thousands of Blues throughout Ireland: “Blue grey brindle”, “light fawn”, “fierce looking with piercing eyes, shaggy brows, and rough, dark grey coats, and yet so kind a child could play with them.” (1848); “Unless excited by the sight of its game, or by anger, it is a very peaceful animal; but when roused, exhibits a most determined spirit.” (1859); “They were not smooth skinned, like our greyhound, but rough and curly-haired.” (Sir W. Betham, Ulster King at Arms); “The color of Oscar is dark iron-grey with white breast.” (Richardson in the Irish Penny Journal, 13th May, 1841). The following passage is particularly significant as any experienced Blue terrier fancier will testify how thin is the skin of a Blue and how severely and frequently they suffer in a fight. Goldsmith in his “Animated Nature” (1770), “Their strength did not appear either in their figure or their inclinations; they seemed rather more timid than the ordinary race of dogs and their skin much thinner and consequently less fitted for combat. If carried to other countries they soon degenerated.” The last quotation is likewise of interest. It is from the first annual report of the Dublin Irish Blue Terrier Club. “A few remarks upon the probable origin and general utility of the Blue may be in of interest to those who are unacquainted with the faithfulness and sterling worth of this grand dog. From inquiries made recently through the country it would appear that this breed was taken as a matter of course—something your great grandfather looked upon as indispensable as a turf fire. He was to be found in most homesteads, and was equally useful for driving cattle or drawing a badger. On this account there appeared to be no particular reason why anyone should probe into his antecedents. “Sure, he is just the little dog Finn and them other fellows used to have after the badger, but I’m thinkin’ be the color ‘tis how he comes from th’ ould dog.’—The Irish wolfdog. This remark by an eighty year old Kerry man seems to voice the general opinion.

Up to a few years back the vast majority of Blues were similar also to the wofldog in having a sharp muzzle.

Thus it will be seen there are points of similarity in texture and color of coat, head, muzzle, eye and ear, skin and most significant of all, temperament. There are grounds, therefore, for suggesting that the two breeds had a common ancestry, and if a common ancestry there exists a road towards restoring the Irish wolfdog to what he once was by means of selective breeding and subsequent crossing with the twentieth century claimant. The principal difficult would be to prevent deterioration, for in Ireland there is no game of a sufficient size upon which the dogs could be exercised. For those of us who have to be satisfied with a dog of more convenient size the Blue terrier is ideal.

Already my space has been far exceeded, but perhaps the editor may later accept a short outline of how Blue terrier field trials are managed.

Reports from my readers of the doings of Irish Blue terriers abroad would be appreciated and very welcome.

Since writing the foregoing, our chairman of the Irish Kennel Club has become one of the judges of the High Court, and so is now “Mr. Justice Hanna.”

2 thoughts on “The Irish Blue Terrier”

  1. Very interesting reading you are very knowledgeable about all of the different breeds of working dogs really enjoyed reading

    1. Thank you but I did not write this article, this was written about the Kerry Blue Terrier in the 1920’s.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top