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The Versatile Irish Terrier

The original role of the Irish Terrier was that of a farm dog who was known as a family companion, vermin catcher and watchdog. The Irish Terrier is bold, athletic, energetic and intelligent. Those are all attributes which help to make a dog that loves to work or play in just about any setting. The versatility of the breed is proven as they have been very successful in training and competing in a myriad of activities. Those activities include obedience, agility, tracking, rally, flyball, barn hunt, coursing ability, Fast CAT, nosework, dock diving, tricks and freestyle.


When training an Irish Terrier, it is important to consider the original purpose of the farm dog. Unlike breeds such as herding or retrieving dogs that rely heavily on commands of the owner to direct them, farm dogs worked independently. They didn’t wait for their owner to tell them when and where to catch the barn rats, they did that on their own. That independent nature can be evident in most activities enjoyed with your Irish Terrier. Being intelligent and independent means it is important to be creative with your teaching techniques to be successful in whatever you are asking of your Irish Terrier.

Whether you are desiring to train to compete or train for fun, it is helpful to seek out a trainer who has experience working with many different breeds. Observing an instructor teaching a class should help to determine if you agree with the style of teaching. The old-school method using collar pops or jerks has proven to not be as effective as other positive methods. Your dog will respond much better to positive reinforcement using praise, treats and toys as a reward when successful. Break tasks into small sections and reward often. One very popular and effective method of training just about any activity or task is clicker training. There are many helpful books, DVD’s and videos demonstrating the clicker training technique. 

AKC sponsored activities that Irish Terriers may compete in are Obedience, Agility, Rally, Tracking, Coursing Ability and Fast CAT. Or to start your Irish Terrier on the right foot, you may consider the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program. You will find more information about the activities and rules for each at


Since the 1930’s, Irish Terriers have been competing in Obedience Trials. The first Irish Terrier Companion Dog (CD) was Ancon Avenger of Ardara Farm in 1936. The first breed champion of record to earn an obedience title was Champion No Retreat. He was also the first Irish to achieve Companion Dog Excellent (CDX). He earned both titles in 1936. The first Utility Dog (UD) was Crashmore in 1949. In 1953, Champion Greenbriar Fiddler UDT began his impressive obedience career, earning his CD. The first Obedience Trial Champion was earned by Begorra Katie Scarlet O’Henry owned by Barbara Henry. The latest and very difficult to obtain obedience title developed by the AKC is Obedience Master (OM) and Pam Bartholomew’s Kinsale Life Goes On earned that title in 2009. This dog has achieved this title ten (10) times which translates to the OGM title – Obedience Grand Master. Desmond is the only Irish Terrier in the U.S. to hold performance championships in two different areas of competition (OTCH and MACH).
The AKC has developed two national competitions for obedience: the annual National Obedience Championship and the Obedience Classic.


 Just as in Obedience, the Irish Terrier is an excellent competitor in Agility. As Agility became the AKC’s fastest growing event in the 1990s, the numbers of Irish Terriers competing also grew rapidly. Their intelligence and natural speed and grace make them good candidates to master this sport. Once an Irish has learned basic obedience and can be trusted to work off lead, they can begin Agility lessons. The first Irish Terrier to earn an agility title was Snowtaire’s Irish Lace owned by Ellen Kreider in 1996. In 2006, Braemoor’s Kylie Thunder owned by Debbie & Mike Constant became the first Irish Terrier to earn the highest title- Master Agility Champion (MACH). The AKC sponsors two large agility competitions every year: the Agility Invitational where the top five agility dogs of every breed are invited to compete and the AKC National Agility Championship.


Rally was developed to provide a beginning activity to help those wanting to eventually train in obedience. Teams (handler and dog) work their way through a course of several stations, performing exercises similar to those required in obedience. Different titles may be earned as a dog graduates through the different levels of Novice, Advanced and Excellent. There is also a Rally National Championship.


Using their natural skills at following a scented trail, the Irish Terrier is very good at Tracking. Handlers do not give commands; the dogs work independently through this instinctive activity. A track is laid one day and the next day the teams must follow this track and eventually find and indicate the scented article. The Tracking Test is pass/fail and there are 4 levels of titles.

Coursing Events: Coursing Ability and Fast CAT

These are two very new AKC activities. They both are a great way to spend time with your dogs in a low key environment. Both involve the dogs chasing an artificial lure- a plastic bag attached to a line on a pulley. Training is not usually required.

Coursing Ability is fashioned after Lure Coursing which is an event that emphasizes the hunting by sight ability. Dogs chase the artificial lure over a course which is 300-600 yards and there a certain number of turns. This is a non-competitive pass/fail event. The requirements are that the dog must enthusiastically and without interruption complete the course within a given time.

In Fast CAT the dog chases the lure in a straight 100-yard course. It is a timed event and points are earned based on those times. Titles are earned and dogs are ranked according to their breed.

Barn Hunt

Barn Hunt is growing in popularity and is enjoyed by many different breeds. This is another activity where dogs use that natural instincts, this time to hunt vermin. Rats are placed in PVC tubes and hidden within stacked bales of hay or straw. In a timed event, dogs search for and then indicate where the tubes are that contain the rats. Barn Hunts may be held indoors or outdoors in a barn-like setting. Barn Hunt trials are sponsored by the Barn Hunt Association. The AKC recognizes titles earned in this venue but does not sponsor trials.

Other Activities

There are so many different activities which are organized by various associations. Flyball, which is a relay race for dogs, is a fast paced event that will provide enough activity for even the most active Irish Terrier. However, it does take a patient owner to teach the dog all of aspects of Flyball Competition.

Other competitive activities where you will surely see Irish Terriers are nose work and dock diving.

Therapy Dogs

Throughout the world Irish Terriers are helping to make people feel better by participating in therapy dog programs. Whether it is visiting the elderly, paying extra attention to children in need, or comforting terminally ill patients, Irish seem to know instinctively how to act in a gentle and affectionate way. They are a perfect size so that they are neither too large and intimidating nor too small and fragile.


If interested in watching any of the AKC activities go to where you can search by activity and your state to find a trial or competition in your area.

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