The Kerry Blue Terrier of today is not much different from his predecessor, but just who that predecessor was is anybody's guess. The breed has been known in Ireland for at least 150 years, but its origins are as mysterious as the ancestry of breeds developed centuries earlier.
As typical in Ireland, legends abound; high on the list is the tale that the peasants developed the breed because noblemen restricted ownership of the Irish Wolfhound to the upper classes. The gentry hunted with the giant hounds, and the countrymen poached with their Kerries.
Yet another version has it that a Russian ship wrecked in Ireland's Tralee Bay and a blue dog swam ashore. Breeding of this dog with local terriers produced the Kerry Blue. Another account identifies the ship as belonging to the Spanish Armada. It is further said that the Kerry Blue Terrier may have been bred from the Irish Terrier and the Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier or from an earlier terrier and the Irish Wolfhound.
In any case, the Kerry Blue was found mostly in the mountains of County Kerry around Lake Killarney. He was first and foremost a working dog, used for hunting small game and birds, retrieving from land and water, and for herding sheep and cattle. He has even been trained as a police dog in England. Today, he is a formidable watchdog and gentle companion.
It was first shown as the Irish Blue Terrier in Ireland in 1916; in England it became the Kerry Blue Terrier and was shown at Cruft's for the first time in 1922. The dog came to the US about the same time; four Kerries were shown at the Westminster Kennel Club show in the miscellaneous class that year. Trimming the dog for the show ring in England gave the breed popular appeal.
The Kerry Blue Terrier is elegant, intelligent, and adaptable to most situations whether hunting, herding, working, or companionship. He has an outgoing, people-oriented temperament, and like other terriers, can be scrappy with other dogs. Puppies should be whelped and raised in the breeder's home and given much individual attention and care for socialization with people and littermates. Puppies are generally kept by the breeder until 10-12 weeks of age to allow for this socialization.
The well-bred Kerry Blue Terrier loves children and adults and is an excellent playmate and guardian for older children. However, as with most terriers, children must be taught to respect the dog, to treat it gently. The Kerry wants to be with his people and will make sure that everyone gets some of his love and attention. He wants to know where you're at and what you're doing every minutewhich can take some getting used to. He is fun-loving and full-of-life, and he is mischievous with a great sense of humor. There is truly a bit of blarney and the leprechaun in the Kerry Blue!
The Kerry Blue is of a size to be comfortable living in a house or apartment and does not need an excessive amount of exercise. The compact and sturdy mature Kerry Blue measures 17.5-19.5 inches at the shoulders and weighs from 33-40 pounds. Males are a bit larger than females.
The breed is clean and is easily housetrained. He has a beautiful, soft, dense, and wavy non-shedding coat with no doggy odor. He is thus ideal for families suffering from allergies aggravated by errant dog hairs. For the show ring, the Kerry coat is usually washed and allowed to air dry. It is then brushed, combed, and scissored. Many pet owners use electric clippers to shorten grooming time.
Kerry Blues are born black. They should start to change color anywhere from six to 18 months of age. The ultimate shade may be anywhere from a light silver blue to dark slate blue. Show dogs must show a definite color change by 18 months.
This is a hardy dog with few genetic problems. Buyers should ask about eye certifications and hip x-rays and be aware that some Kerries are subject to tumors of various types. With love and care, Kerries have been known to live longer than many other breeds; 15 years is not uncommon.
The Kerry Blue is ranked 95th of the 137 breeds registered by the American Kennel Club. Owners registered 514 dogs in 1993, almost even with the 519 registrations in 1992; breeders produced 121 litters, down from 97 in 1992. (These numbers contrast with the 124,899 Labrador Retriever registered; Labs were top dogs for the last three years.) The safeguard of today's Kerry Blue lies in the fact that they are loved, nurtured, and closely watched by the breeders who raise them.
A Kerry Blue Terrier is not for everyone, but those of us who are fortunate enough to be owned by one (or more) will say "Once a Kerry lover, always a Kerry lover." Or, as the Irish might say, "May the wind be always at your back and a Kerry at the end of your lead."
(Robert Beuter and his wife Barbara breed Kerry Blue Terriers under the name B & B Magic Kerries in Hamilton, Ohio.)
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