THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT:
About five hundred years ago in Ireland,
around closing-time to be precise, Helmut and Pierre had a conversation that went something like this:
Helmut: ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a dog with all zee qualities of your faithful foot-hound, combined with zee cute characteristics of zeez plucky local terriers? A dog with zee heart of a lion, not too big and not too small, that will guard our livestock and control zee vermin, but also play nicely with zee kinder...'
To which Pierre gave a slow shrug and replied: ‘Mais oui, to be sure.’
And so the first Glen of Imaal terrier was conceived. Well, sort of. For the sake of historical authenticity, not to mention international diplomacy, it probably helps to imagine this exchange spoken in a French-German-Irish accent. We would hate to offend anyone.
During her reign, Elizabeth I deployed French and Hessian mercenaries to Ireland in her fight against the Rebellion. Some of these soldiers chose to remain in County Wicklow once the dust settled, perhaps lured by the promise of their own land. Even back then, men were prepared to abandon their homeland and all they knew, but not their beloved dogs.
Described as low-slung hounds, these faithful hunters were a distant relation of the modern-day Basset Hound and Basset Griffon Vendéen. The sheer physical presence and easy temperament of a Glen does hint at an ancestral hound of some sort. Most owners will attest to their Glen having "something of the hound about them". Just take a good look at that magnificent head, if you don't believe me. Glens really are all heart, too.
In terms of the brains of the operation, the Soft-Coated Wheaten, the Kerry and the Irish terrier must share credit for a sizeable chunk of the Glen's DNA. We do know that a low-slung, badger-hunting terrier-type has existed in the Wicklow area since the 17th century. There are earlier references by George Turberville in his book, The Noble Art of Venerie or Hunting, published in 1575.
Further mention is made specifically of an 'Imaal or Irish terrier' in A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland - The Terriers, published in 1894. Despite its ponderous title, a thoroughly engaging and insightful book by Rawdon Briggs Lee. He gives an intriguing account of '...a glen, Imaal, in the Wicklow mountains...that is justly celebrated for its terriers' and describes the dogs themselves as 'undeniably game'.
Recent DNA analysis suggests that the Glen is more closely related to Mastiff-type breeds of dog. Yet the Glen is undoubtedly a true terrier.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GLEN OF IMAAL TERRIER
HEAD OF A HOUND
Glens are all heart too
The breed was first acknowledged by the Irish Kennel Club in 1934, at the Dublin St Patrick’s Day Show. A Glen of Imaal terrier did not register with the UK Kennel Club until 1958. They were finally granted individual registration in 1973. It's hardly surprising that the breed name has been shortened to 'Glen' over the years, once you realise that owning one means continually having to spell Imaal to the curious and uninitiated! Until recently, Glens were required to obtain a Teastac Misneac - or Certificate of Dead Gameness - before they could gain their show title.
Glens do run with all the grace of a pygmy hippo in a tutu though
SPOT THE GLEN
(Top) Irish Working Dogs in the early 1900s
(Left) At the Dublin St Patrick's Day Show in 1934
We have the Glen’s working origins to thank for much of what makes them such wonderful company. Intelligence, tenacity, telepathy and an innate eagerness to please; these are all traits which uniquely define the breed. Still used as working dogs today, their traditional skills are perfectly showcased at Earthdog trials.
Because Glens were bred to work silently and not bark at their quarry, they are atypical in one very important way: They do not yap. A Glen will usually give a stentorian warning and feel no need to labour the point, unless agitated. They possess the self-confidence and bark of a much larger dog, which should help to deter unwelcome visitors from your door.
Glens are probably so gregarious because they’ve had several centuries to perfect the art. They want to be with their own humans more than anything, but they are still compelled to hedge their bets and befriend as many new ones as possible. This affability extends to other dogs and domestic animals. Be warned, if you intend to scoot to the postbox with your Glen in tow. They will want to greet everyone like a long lost love. Allow plenty of time.
Despite their fearless and protective nature, a Glen will only be defensively aggressive and usually in retaliation. Glens do not suffer from ‘small-dog-syndrome’ because they are bigger than you think. And no one has ever dared to tell them that they are a bit vertically challenged. No one. At the very least, you would hurt their feelings.
Whatever the true origins of this quirky and extraordinary breed, today's Glens are hardy, free-moving and deceptively agile. They do run with all the grace of a pygmy hippo in a tutu, though.
Whilst Glens are classed as an achondroplastic dwarf breed, they actually suffer from very few health issues. Their front-heavy stature does make them susceptible to growth-plate injuries in the front legs whilst they are young. This is why we would discourage jumping from any significant height until your Glen is fully grown. Although much of their development happens during the first year, a Glen can take up to four years to reach full maturity.
The Glen of Imaal terrier is now recognised as a rare native breed by the UK Kennel Club. Less than 50 were registered in 2017 and only a few will go on to reproduce. The obvious need to continue and strengthen the breed means treading a cautious path.
Responsible breeding requires transparency and the introduction of new and diverse bloodlines. Current guidance states that a male dog should sire no more than six litters in the UK.
To promote the overwhelmingly positive attributes of any breed risks making them an easy target for unscrupulous, greedy breeders. We hope the Glen's general scruffiness and lack of conventional, doe-eyed cuteness will save them from becoming a fashionable must-have. Sadly, their dwindling numbers mean they are ripe for exploitation.
In a world of designer dogs, where original features are often needlessly modified, we are frankly baffled as to why Glens are so scarce. To describe them as a dog with an old soul is not misty-eyed romanticism. Very few breeds can claim to be imprinted with roughly five centuries’ worth of socialisation; or to have survived near-extinction along the way!
The Original & The Best For 500 Years!
The Glen Sit
Image of Jake thanks to Susan Clancy Dougherty
THE GLEN SIT
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when or how The Glen Sit originated. Perhaps it was always the Glen's desire to emulate their human companions. Or, it could simply be the logical outcome of centuries spent wanting to please us. We do know that Glens have been doing The Sit for years; and it seems to be yet another unique quirk of the breed. One hard fact I have established is that Glens will only do The Sit if they like you. Quite right too.
A proper Glen Sit means adopting the sedentary position, unaided and bolt upright, on their not-inconsiderable backsides. Some really smart Glens will also give a high-five, as a final flourish of brilliance.
The Glen Sit is usually performed instinctively back in the puppy pen, but can be trained. Judging by Sky's first litter, many gruelling months must be spent lounging on the sofa in order to perfect the art. Joking aside and as with anything, this should never be forced. A Glen will be able to hold The Sit more comfortably as they grow and gain in strength.