Kerry Blue Terrier

Kerry Blues with electric carKerry Blues with electric car

A game terrier with 'an open coat' has been in existence in County Kerry, the South Western region of Ireland since the earliest settlements. Their non-shedding coat was a of black-blue colour and inclined to curl. These dogs were undeniably game.Their boundless energy makes them always look alert and as such, make one of today's most successful show dogs.

History of Kerry Blue Terrier

Kerry Blue PuppiesKerry Blue Puppies

An an old Irish fable from the late 1700's, tells of a dark coloured dog that swam ashore from a shipwreck and killed all the male local terriers and mated all their bitches. This supposedly produced dogs with a dark blue coats. Dismissed as the good story Irish people love to tell, certainly in the old feudal days, peasants were not permitted to hunt with Irish Wolfounds. So, it is reasonable to assume that surreptitious matings occurred between the peasants' Terrier bitches and the rich land owners' Wolfhound dogs.

Kerry Blue TerrierKerry Blue Terrier

It is also likely that the blue, wheaten and red Irish Terriers all came from common stock. Certainly, game terriers whose coat was inclined to curl were known around Waterford in the south-east of Ireland dating back to the old Vikings' days around 900 AD. Sometimes they had darker blotches and patches with tan about the legs and muzzle. If that was the case, they used to be called 'Harlequin Terriers'.[1] 

Kerry Blues of differing shades of blue  Kerry Blues of differing shades of blue

Today, the Kerry Blue is born black but as it approaches 18 months of age, it gradually acquires its adult blue colour. The accompanying photo shows 6 Kerry Blues of different ages and various shades of blue. Note that once a Kerry matures, every shade of blue is equally correct.

The Kerry Blue becomes a Pure Breed

Kerry Blue c 1910Kerry Blue c 1910

At least one Blue terrier appeared at a Dublin Show in 1876, and at Limerick, in 1887 there was a class for Silver-haired Irish Terriers where specimens were of a slate-blue colour. At least 20 were also exhibited in Killarney in 1916. In 1920, without seeking license from the English Kennel Club, a Meeting was called in Dublin for anyone interested in the Irish Blue terrier. Around 30 people attended, including several who were to become leaders of a new Irish Kennel Club. Later that year, the All-Ireland Blue Terrier Club was formed and shortly afterwards the Irish Blue Terrier Club. Both Clubs required the Terrier to hold 'a Certificate of Gameness' before the dog could become a Champion under Irish Kennel Club rules.

Kerry Blue TerrierKerry Blue Terrier

At this time Ireland was struggling to establish political independence from England. It is amazing that people were able to put aside their political differences in admiration for this Irish Blue Terrier. They even held a dog show without the permission of the English Kennel Club. Judges were appointed from both sides of the political divide! Furthermore, it was this Club of united canine enthusiasts that went on to form the Irish Kennel Club.

Kerry with electric carKerry with electric car

Although the breed was known for a short time as the Irish Blue Terrier, the Irish enthusiasts decided to give him the  'Kerry' tag despite being also developed in other Irish counties. In the 'Irish Monthly', 1922, he was described: 'His disposition seems nigh faultless, if a slight tendency to diminish the cat population, be accepted'.[2] 

The Kerry Blue first appeared at Crufts in 1922 under English Kennel Club rules.Then the Kerry Blue Terrier Club of England was established and the breed standard was drawn up, with Annual Shows being held ever since.

History of the Kerry Blue in Australia

David Roche with Kerry BlueDavid Roche with Kerry Blue

The first Kerry Blue introduced into South Australia in 1930 by Dr Kyle Gault[5]. But it was David Roche also from South Australia who really put the Kerry Blue on the map in Australia with the importation of many great English and American Champions. Always immaculately presented, David and his Kerry Blues dominated the show scene across Australia for around three decades.

The Kerry Blue and Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Today

At a glance the Kerry Blue and Soft Coated Terrier may look the same breed with just a different coat and colour. But decades of selective breeding to a Breed Standard has now made each of these quite distinct. With their basic construction typical of the long legged terriers, their specific breed characteristics are summarized in the table below:

Kerry Blue Soft Coated Wheaten
Body Proportions Short coupled, indicating a shorter bodied dog than the Soft Coated Wheaten Measuring from withers to base of tail the same or slightly less than withers to ground
Kerry BlueKerry Blue Soft Coated WheatenSoft Coated Wheaten
Temperament Disciplined gameness that makes a showy, impressive dog but must be taught socializing skills especially with other dogs Good tempered and easy to adapt to social situations with both humans and other dogs
Size With an ideal height of 46-48 cms (18-19 ins) and weight of 15-17 kg (33-37 lbs), the Kerry is slightly smaller than the Soft Coated Wheaten With an ideal height of 46-49 cms (18-19.5 ins) and weight of 16-20.5 kg (35-45 lbs), the Soft Coated is slightly larger than the Kerry Blue
Kerry BlueKerry Blue Soft Coated WheatenSoft Coated Wheaten


Skull long and lean with slight stop Skull moderately long with medium width, muzzle not longer than skull and well defined stop and parallel head planes
Ears Forward carriage like button ears but set not too high Thin leathers folding level with skull with side placement so the front edge lies close to cheek
Eyes Small to medium and dark as possible Medium size and dark hazel set under strong brows
Mouth Normal scissors bite with gums and roof of mouth black Normal scissors bite and black tight lips
Kerry BlueKerry Blue Soft Coated WheatenSoft Coated Wheaten
Coat and Colour The Kerry is a blue coloured dog with a soft silky plentiful coat that stands off from the body lending itself to trimming and shaping The Soft Coat is a good clear wheaten coloured dog with a soft silky wavy coat that should not stand off from the body but should flow and fall naturally in waves and not be excessively trimmed
Pigmentation Black nose, gums, roof of mouth and nails Black lips, eye rims, nose and nails

References and Further Reading

[1] Maureen Holmes 'The Softcoated Wheaten Terrier' Self published 1990 Printed by Racmo, Meppel ISBN 90-9004200-8 Chapter One 'In Obscurity' Page 1

[2] Mr W J Cotten in Rawdon B. Lee's, "Modern Dogs" of Great Britain and Ireland (Third Edition) London:Horace Cox, "Field" Office, Windsor House, Bream's Buildings, E.C. 1903 Chapter IX, Pages 229 - 230

[3] 'The Native Dogs of Ireland' published by the Irish Kennel Club, Dublin ISBN 0-9509998-1-4 The Kerry Blue Terrier Page 71

[4] Violet E. Handy 'The Kerry Blue Terrier' Self Published in Great Britain c 1931 Page 32

[5] David J.K.Roche, 'The History of Purebred Dogs in Australia' The Kerry Blue Terrier published by OzDog Newspaper 1997 Page 204

[5a] Ibid.,Wyn Newson, 'The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier' Page 278

See also Jane Harvey, DVD "Terriers Then & Now" (Rangeaire Vision 2002, 2004) ISBN 978-0-9804296-4-0