There are three long-legged terriers that originate in Ireland, and even novices wouldn’t confuse one for the other because they are different colors. If they were the same colors, however, there are still differences between them beyond coat.
The Soft coated Wheaten Terrier and Kerry Blue Terrier are both square to the Irish Terrier’s racier, off-square outline, but the Wheaten is more moderate while the Kerry is more refined, if not extreme (this, in large part, because of grooming presentation);
The tip of the Irish and Kerry’s ears point to the dog’s eye, while the Wheaten Terrier’s ear points towards to the ground;
The Kerry Blue is short coupled which indicates a shorter bodied dog than the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, but in the Irish Terrier, a short back is not only not characteristic of the breed, but is extremely objectionable!
Ever so slightly, the Kerry is taller than the Wheaten.
The Kerry’s eyes are small to medium whereas the Wheaten’s eyes are medium, and while we’re on the head, the Kerry’s skull is long and lean with a slight stop, whereas the Wheaten’s head is moderately long with a well defined stop, and the Irish Terrier’s head is long with a stop that’s hardly noticeable except in profile.
All of Ireland’s terriers filled a niche. Short-legged terriers served as “earthdogs,” built small, and “bendy” enough to follow quarry into their tunnels. Relentless barking from beneath the ground helped farmers and hunters above ground gauge their progress which, due to the feisty persistence of these dogs, was never abandoned.
It was Ireland’s long legged terriers that dug down to reach their prey. They used their straight legs and forward pointing toes to throw dirt behind them through their rear legs, and being larger, they would go after bigger critters.
Ireland ‘s terriers were of the people, folk so poor they rarely left Ireland. The distinctly different Irish terrier breeds of terriers developed quite independently from the terriers of England and Scotland during the 19th century, and each played an important role in the often hard lives of the people who owned them.