Most Irish terrier owners in the United States own their dogs as companions. Irish terriers make great watchdogs and good family pets, so long as they are properly trained. However, the Irish terrier was bred to be a small hunting dog, and is still one of the best breeds you can use for hunting small prey.
Irish terriers are very capable dogs from a physical perspective. Their compact size makes them well suited to hunting journeys that require several miles walk. You'll find that the dog can easily keep up with you, and because of retrieving and chasing will actually put in quite a few more miles than you'll travel.
The Irish terrier's small size makes them perfect for hunting small prey like vermin (what they were originally bred to hunt) and birds. Today, many people favor the Irish terrier over Retriever and Setter breeds for bird hunting. The Irish is small, fast and agile, along with being extremely brave and tireless.
The Irish terrier's coat makes them very well suited to hunting in and around water. Their coat is rough and water resistant and does not require much upkeep, even after a good hunt. The hair is coarse enough in texture to also provide some protection from thistles and bushes when hunting in the forest.
Irish terriers were originally bred to flush out and catch small vermin that lived in holes, and for many years, this is the only type of hunting they were used for. They were invaluable to farmers for keeping pastures and barns free of pests. Today, however, many hunters report using Irish terriers as retriever dogs, particularly for bird hunting. Once trained, you can count on your Irish terrier to retrieve a bird you've shot, even if it must travel through a thicket or water to do so.
If you plan to use an Irish terrier for a hunting dog, it will require some training. Irish terriers are hunters by instinct, but they are also very willful dogs. The most important training you can provide your Irish terrier before you attempt to hunt with him is simple obedience training. Before you begin hunting, you must be certain that your dog knows and obeys basic obedience commands consistently. Only then can you begin teaching him the additional commands required for hunting and make him your hunting companion.
Irish terriers are very intelligent and very trainable hunting dogs. They do, however, require firm and consistent training from a young age to ensure that they know who is boss and that they will follow your bidding rather than their own. Once this training is accomplished, however, you'll find no better partner for hunting small prey.