About Glens

The following article first appeared in CANINE REVIEW, Canada’s premier dog magazine, as a featured breed article in the February/March 2010 issue.  The author has updated the article to describe significant new developments in Glen health.  The original article with pictures can be obtained by e-mailing CANINE REVIEW.  ads@caninereview.ca

Glen of Imaal Terrier

by Ara Lynn,  copyright 2010


The Glen of Imaal Terrier is an old Irish breed that until recently was barely known even in its native country.  Also called the Wicklow terrier, it is named after its region of origin in Ireland.   A poor man’s dog, Glens were kept to clear vermin from the farm, provide family companionship, and brighten working men’s lives with a bit of (now outlawed) sport, when they would pit their dogs against quarry such as badger, otter and even other terriers.  The Glen of Imaal Terrier had a formidable reputation as the gamest terrier in Ireland.  The original standard required it to be “dead game;” it would never give up.  And yet, when not working, this “un-terrier” is laid back and easy going.  It is not an excessive barker and is trustworthy with children.


The Glen of Imaal Terrier faced extinction more than once.  By the late 1920s  they were so rare that “Danny Boy,” a columnist for the Irish Field, called for owners to come forward and resurrect the breed.

In 1933 Glens participated in their first exhibition in Dublin, gaining recognition to the Irish Kennel Club in 1934.  Championship entailed more than a conformation competition.  No Glen could earn a championship without also earning two working certificates:  the Major Trial which entailed pulling a badger out of a hole in a specified time,  and the Minor Trial, again a timed trial that entailed catching a small animal through a body of water.  When hunting, Glens were “strong dogs” as opposed to “sounders,” the smaller terriers sent into a tunnel to locate prey by barking.  Once sounders located the prey, the men dug into the tunnel, removed the sounders and let the strong dogs in.  The strong dogs, or draw dogs, had to pull the prey out.  Glens had to be silent when working; indeed, making any noise during a test disqualified the Glen.

World War II brought desperately hard times to Ireland and the breed fell back into obscurity.  The 1970s saw serious efforts again to save the breed.   Irish Glen breeders always valued performance first, the beauty contest was secondary.  Glen population had fallen so low that other outstanding working specimens were injected to keep the breed alive.   Soft-Coated Wheaten and Staffordshire Terriers were most commonly used.  The Glen population got a boost with English Kennel Club recognition in 1975.  The 1980s saw efforts to establish Glens in other countries, particularly in Scandanavia, the Netherlands and the U.S.

In the US, a pair of Glens was imported in the 1960s to New York and a litter whelped.  But the result, some puppies short like Glens, some tall like Soft-Coated Wheatens, was so discouraging that the breeder abandoned the project.  In the early 1980s, a handful of people imported Glens from coast to coast in the US.  In spite of the great distance in that pre-internet era, they corresponded and formed a breed club.  Frank and Mary Murphy made an application for recognition to AKC in  1987.  It was rejected for lack of sufficient breed and fancier population, and the Club went inactive.

In the 1990s, however, the breed took tentative hold in the northeastern US.  Mary Brytowski, a Massachusetts breeder whose city regulations restricted how many dogs she could have, focused her energies on resurrecting the breed club, producing a regular newsletter and writing a book called The Glen of Imaal Terrier, now published by Kennel Club Books.  Ara Lynn of New Hampshire lived on a farm with no restrictions and began breeding a litter every year.  The American Rare Breed Association, a show organization dedicated to promoting breeds not recognized by AKC, played an essential role for the Glen by publicizing rare breeds.  Later, as the breed grew, Bruce Sussman of New York City, who had easy access to the AKC, became enamored of Glens.  Mr. Sussman’s tireless efforts helped Glens achieve full AKC recognition in 2004.  Glens are now established in the US.

A handful of Glens are scattered throughout Canada.  Glens are classified as a listed breed and are awaiting the next step into Miscellaneous.  CKC will take individual and litter registrations.  Kristina Dragaitis of Toronto had litters in 2001, 02 and 03.  Eugene Kenny of Toronto, had a litter in 2007.  Although no Glen has yet participated in any events, according to CKC, enthusiasts are still active with their dogs.  Farley  is a certified therapy dog and made hospital visits in Calgary for five years.

Form & Function

In Glens, form (and temperament) follows function.  The primary function for  Irish breeders was earth work.  Glens had to be agile, strong, fearless, cool & intelligent in order to make stable decisions and get the job done in risky conditions.   Today, fanciers use artificial tunnels at Earthdog events to maintain and evaluate Glens’ working spirit.  Glens’ prowess in Agility also delights enthusiasts.

Glen of Imaals are medium-sized, with maximum substance for their size.  They are designed for engaging a badger in its den.   Badgers would attempt to break invading dogs’ legs.  The Glen’s short front legs are tucked safely behind a large head low to the ground with strong jaws and large teeth.  The Glen’s front legs are bowed and their front feet turn out instead of pointing straight forward.  This enables a digging Glen to throw dirt back to the sides rather than straight behind, so the Glen does not block itself in a tunnel.  Peg Carty has captured this digging action in her photo of a long-tailed Glen at work.

The original and unique Glen of Imaal topline rises to a strong loin.  It is an uncomfortable topline for judges to look at, but it functioned to provide leverage for the working Glen.  Irish badgers can weigh as much as a Glen.  In pulling fighting prey from its den, a Glen could lock its rear against the tunnel roof while its strong neck, short, bowed legs and muscular chest and shoulders provided pulling power.  The Kennel Club of England still calls for a rising topline.  When the Americans began discussing AKC recognition, the Irish breeders association decided to change the IKC standard to a level topline (2001).  The AKC standard went with the rising topline.  Both toplines occur in the breed, indeed, both may occur in a single litter.  Additionally, toplines for individual dogs may not settle until about two years of age.


You might suppose that being long, Glen of Imaal Terriers would be prone to back problems but they are not.  Similarly, although 30.7% of Glens do not pass OFA, symptoms of  hip dysplasia are negligible in this breed, even in advanced age.  Hip screening helps prevent breeders from doubling up on potential problems,  but these two concerns are really non-issues in Glens.  Glens are generally a sturdy, healthy breed.  There are, however, four things to monitor.

1. Glens have a late-onset form of Progressive Retinal Atrophy.  This was a real challenge for breeders.  When first diagnosed in America in 1996, the pedigree involved threatened breeders throughout Europe too.

Maura High in the US spearheaded an effort through the Glen of Imaal Terrier Club of America to get genetic help for Glens.  We are forever grateful that an internationally-acclaimed geneticist in canine eye disease, Dr. Greg Acland, decided to work on our breed.  Research began first at Cornell University in New York and University of Pennsylvania.

In Europe,  Dr. Jörg Epplen and team at University Bochum  in Germany was convinced to begin a second research venture into our tiny breed’s problem.

Finally, in the summer of 2010, both teams identified the same genetic mutation causing crd3 in Glen of Imaal Terriers, and now we have a simple blood test we can use to identify the genetype of our breeding stock, so that we will never again unwittingly create a blind Glen of Imaal Terrier.

2. Skin problems are another health issue.  Some Glens are allergic to flea bites, feathers, grasses, tree pollen, or even in one case, human dander.  In Glens, having parents free of allergies does not guarantee offspring free of allergies, and likewise, Glens with allergies can produce offspring free of them.   (It should also be noted that some allergic people can tolerate Glens, while others cannot.)

3. Growth plate problems can affect Glens.  Sometimes a young Glen will develop a limp involving premature closure of the distal ulna, which may require surgery.  Sometimes the problem will resolve with prompt and enforced crate rest.  Puppy owners should be warned to keep the puppy from jumping off heights (like beds, couches, vehicle seats) until about a year old.  The Glen’s solid weight and front leg conformation leads to higher risk of growth plate fractures in a Glen puppy.   Let a puppy decide for itself when it is comfortable going down long flights of stairs.

4. In Glens, it is important for breeders to be very careful when line-breeding and to avoid inbreeding as much as possible.  This fast route to “type” is very risky to breed health.   Missing teeth, small litters and reduced size are some symptoms of excessive inbreeding.  Such symptoms do occur in Glens.  As diverse as they may appear, genetically Glens are “practically clones” according to one researcher with the Canine Genome Project, in which Glens participated.

To participate in the study, blood samples were needed from twenty Glens that in the first three generations, had zero duplicate ancestors.   Although this worldwide effort included Glens in the US, throughout Europe, and even Japan, the task was impossible.  The Canine Genome Project had to modify their requirements for Glens.


A Glen is a dog of great substance and strength.  Its body is longer than high and low to the ground.  It should give the impression it can do the job it was bred for.  It should have a large, strong head with a broad skull and a foreface of power.  It should have well-muscled jaws and large teeth.  It should have a scissors bite; undershot jaws are a common fault.  Brown eyes are set well apart.  Ears should be small, either rose or half-pricked when alert, thrown back when in repose.  Drop ears are a common fault, as are large ears and now some that are close to full prick.  Small heads, snipey faces are undesirable.  Bone is easy to lose in this breed and difficult to recover.

The coat is double, a soft undercoat and a harsh (not wiry or hard) outer coat.  Soft outer coats are a common fault.  Soft coats do not shed water well and they mat and collect burrs easily.  Coat length, color intensity (wheaten, blue brindle), and to some extent texture, varies according to the number of  months since stripping.  Glens do not shed.

The front is very important and can be confounding as it is not typical.  The shoulders should be well muscled and well laid back.  The short forelegs are bowed and well boned.  Straight front legs are wrong in this breed.  The front feet turn out from the pasterns,  between 11 and 1 on the clock face and 10 and 2.  Front feet that point straight ahead are wrong in this breed.

The long deep body has a wide, strong chest, well-sprung ribs and well-muscled loin.  The hindquarters and thighs should be strong and very well muscled.  The tail should be strong at the root, well set on and carried happily.  Common faults are cow hocks and straight stifles.  Tails are docked at half length, except that most countries in Europe now ban docking.  Natural tails come in a variety of sizes and shapes.

Movement is very important.  A Glen is active and agile.  A well-moving Glen is well put together.  A Glen must cover ground effortlessly with good drive behind.  You should see full pads of the hind feet as a Glen moves away.  A hackneyed gait is a fault.

A challenge when judging Glens is actually getting to see any.   Even in areas of the US with Glen concentrations, exhibitors must coordinate with each other when attending shows.  Otherwise, they will find no breed competition.    Exceptions:  Montgomery County Kennel Club in Pennsylvania has an average thirty Glens attending, and Michigan Terrier usually has about ten.   The Glen Gathering in Massachusetts reliably has over thirty Glens.  The latter is not a show venue, but show dogs attend as well as pets, and owners are very willing to let people go over their dogs.  It is a good place to get hands on experience.

Other Considerations

Some Glens swim, some sink and walk on the bottom.  Drownings are tragic.  Be careful around deep water and pools until you know what your Glen does, or use life jackets.

Some Glens can be dog aggressive.  And while most Glens are reluctant to start a fight, they are very capable of finishing one.  Socialize puppies well, expose them to many different situations, and make sure they mind.  Keep your Glen under control.

Make sure a Glen minds.  They are rugged, stoic, smart, charismatic, funny creatures with a knack for winning your heart.  They love to please their owners.  But if you let a Glen think it can do whatever it wants,  you risk creating a problem.  Such dogs can end up in rescue.  If you firmly and consistently teach it to follow your rules, you will have a devoted, unforgettable treasure.

Author’s Bio

Ara Lynn has been breeding Glens for over twenty years.  She has traveled to England, Ireland and continental Europe researching the breed.  She is a former member of  the board of directors of the American Glen club and is currently on the GITCA Health Committee.  She is writing a book on the breed.  She lives with her husband and multiple Glens New Ipswich, New Hampshire.

Comments are closed.