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Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier


The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, also known as the Irish Wheaten Terrier, the Wheaten Irish Terrier, the Wheaten Terrier and the "poor man's wolfhound," is a medium-sized, sturdy terrier that originated in Ireland several centuries ago as an all-around farm dog for poor tenant farmers. He is an alert and happy dog, with his silky, wheat-colored coat being a hallmark of the breed. The Wheaten is less "terrier-like" than most other terriers, with a much softer coat and a less aggressive or "forward" disposition. It still has a strong instinctive desire to chase smaller animals, especially cats, and it can be strong-headed. The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier was fully admitted to the American Kennel Club in 1973, as a member of its Terrier Group.

The mature male Wheaten Terrier should stand 18 to 19 inches at the withers and weigh 35 to 40 pounds. Adult bitches should be 17 to 18 inches in height and weigh 30 to 35 pounds. The coat of this breed is different than that of any other terrier. It is abundant and single, soft and silky (rather than being double, hard and rough) and covers the entire body, legs and head equally. In the show ring, the Wheaten Terrier is never to be clipped, stripped or plucked. Any shade of wheaten – the color of ripening wheat - is accepted by the breed standard. This breed does not shed and requires regular grooming to prevent matting.

History & Health


The Wheaten dates back at least to the 1700s, where records of the breed in County Kerry and County Cork are numerous. Wheatens were found throughout Ireland, but more so in the south and southwest, long before official reports were maintained. They apparently were common and ran fairly freely, having their litters in barns, brush and haystacks, with only the fittest specimens surviving. The Wheaten Terrier is thought to be the oldest Irish terrier breed. Back towards the beginning of British history, only landowners - the gentry and nobility – could own hunting dogs. The poor tenant farmers and fishermen could not own any dog over 19 inches at the withers, and even then could only own a dog valued at five pounds or less. Furthermore, only landed gentry could own any dogs with whole tails; otherwise, a tax would be levied on the animal, which commoners could not afford. To avoid these rules, tenant farmers had dogs not readily recognized as hunting dogs, worth below five British pounds, less than 19 inches tall and with docked tails. The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier was developed against this historical backdrop.

Irish folklore tells that in 1588, a dog swam to the Ireland shore from a sinking ship after defeat of the Spanish Armada. He supposedly mated with native terriers to produce today's Irish terrier breeds, maybe including the Wheaten. Most historians appreciate this Irish story-telling and agree that the Wheaten can be traced back several hundreds of years. However, common thought today is that the Wheaten Terrier probably predates and in fact contributed to the creation of the other Irish terriers, including the Kerry Blue and the Irish, despite the fact that those two terriers were recognized by the Irish Kennel Club long before the Wheaten was. It is also thought that there is a link between the Wheaten and the Irish Wolfhound, which can be seen when observing the two side by side.

The Wheaten was an all-purpose working farm dog for the struggling tenant farmers, acting as a guardian of property, people and possessions, a vermin exterminator and a competent herder for flocks of sheep and even herds of cattle. Their well-developed senses of sight and smell aided them in hunting small game with their masters, and their sharp bark warned of strangers' approach. Their even disposition, desire to please and dense coat made them adaptable to almost any task asked of them – including going to ground to bolt badger and fox. In addition to providing all of these critical skills, the Wheaten Terrier became a beloved companion to the farmers' families.

The Irish Kennel Club did not recognize the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier until 1937, and it competed for the first time at the Irish Kennel Club specialty show on Saint Patrick's Day that same year. The breed made its way to the United States in 1946. According to records, a litter of six Wheatens came from Belfast to Massachusetts that year. Lydia Vogles of Springfield acquired two of these puppies and exhibited them at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden the following year. Although these six dogs eventually produced seventeen known offspring, the breed did not gain much public attention or interest until 1957, when the Gramachree Kennel of New York (the O'Connor family) and the Sunset Hills Kennel of Connecticut (the Arnolds family) began campaigning their Wheaten Terriers seriously in the American Kennel Club's Miscellaneous Class.

The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America was founded on Saint Patrick's Day of 1962. Interest in the breed swelled, and within a decade more than 1,000 known Wheatens were identified and/or in competition in this country, with more than 500 breed devotees working to gain breed recognition. The Wheaten was admitted to the American Kennel Club Stud Book in 1973, the same year that the breed became eligible to compete in the AKC's Terrier Group with full registration. The breed had its first AKC conformation champion within several days. Canada recognized the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier in 1978.


The average life span of the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier is 12 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include Addison's disease, cutaneous asthenia (Ehrel-Danlos syndrome), food hypersensitivity, cataracts, persistence of the hyaloid apparatus, micropapilla, protein losing enteropathy (PLE), protein losing nephropathy (PLN) and renal dysplasia.

Temperament & Personality


Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers are puppies for life. They are joyful, energetic and affectionate and never lose their love of play time. They are more friendly and easy going than other terrier breeds and generally get along well with other dogs. Wheatens are very people-oriented and enjoy the company of well-behaved children. Wheatens expect to be invited along for all outdoor family activities, and want to participate 100%. If they aren't included in a game, expect them to do their best to snatch the ball and invite themselves into the mix. Wheatens can adapt to city life or country life, as long as they are properly exercised. They will buzz around the house, park or back yard with great exuberance for as long as you let them, but if they spot an available lap to curl up in, they are happy to take a load off and relax for a while. Wheatens will greet you at the door every day as if you'd been gone for years, and they will usually give you the trademark Wheaten twirl. For people who like the size and energy of terriers but are put off by their temperaments, the Soft Coated Wheaten is the breed for you.

Activity Requirements

Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers need moderate exercise to maintain health, happiness and their outgoing personality. Wheatens who are kept indoors can become anxious and high strung. Daily walks and a few games of ball will meet his daily requirements, so this breed is adaptable to apartment life. They are sturdy little dogs, however, and can also accompany people on long hikes in the woods.

Wheatens excel in agility, flyball, organized tracking and herding. If it is possible to enroll your Wheaten in one of these activities, he will appreciate the opportunity to exercise and use his mind.


Whereas Wheatens are not typical terriers, they do share one common trait with their terrier cousins: stubbornness. Training them can be a handful, so start young. Sessions should be kept short and the activities should be varied in order to hold your dog's interest. When a Wheaten gets bored with training, he has no qualms about walking away from you mid-command. Treats are an excellent motivator, and be ready to give gracious amounts of praise when your Wheaten does something correctly. Never treat this breed harshly, as this can cause them to become defensive and snap at you. If a Wheaten loses trust in you, it's difficult to gain it back.

Socialization should also begin early with Wheatens. They are generally easy going around new people and don't mind other dogs, but if you isolate your dog from the rest of the world, he won't have the opportunity to develop these traits.

When basic obedience and social skills have been mastered, you should enroll your Wheaten in advanced obedience, agility, flyball, tracking or herding activities. Wheatens also make excellent therapy dogs.

Behavioral Traits

Wheatens are good with older, well-behaved children who understand a dog's boundaries. Wheatens can be overwhelmed by toddlers who may poke or tug at their beard, or who sneak up on them while eating. They are not recommended for homes with small children.

Wheatens dig, and if left alone for too long in the backyard, they will tear up flower beds or dig under the fence in search of new adventure. Fences should be stuck deep into the ground and outdoor time should always be supervised.

Barking is also a problem with Wheatens. They make great watch dogs, alerting you that someone is approaching, but they are very quick to bark at every little sight and sound outside their window. Teaching your Wheaten to obey commands to stop barking can save the family's sanity.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier is a medium-sized, hardy, well balanced sporting terrier, square in outline. He is distinguished by his soft, silky, gently waving coat of warm wheaten color and his particularly steady disposition. The breed requires moderation both in structure and presentation, and any exaggerations are to be shunned. He should present the overall appearance of an alert and happy animal, graceful, strong and well coordinated.

Size, Proportion, Substance

A dog shall be 18 to 19 inches at the withers, the ideal being 18½. A bitch shall be 17 to 18 inches at the withers, the ideal being 17½. Major Faults--Dogs under 18 inches or over 19 inches; bitches under 17 inches or over 18 inches. Any deviation must be penalized according to the degree of its severity. Square in outline. Hardy, well balanced. Dogs should weigh 35-40 pounds; bitches 30-35 pounds.


Well balanced and in proportion to the body. Rectangular in appearance; moderately long. Powerful with no suggestion of coarseness. Eyes dark reddish brown or brown, medium in size, slightly almond shaped and set fairly wide apart. Eye rims black. Major Fault--Anything approaching a yellow eye. Ears small to medium in size, breaking level with the skull and dropping slightly forward, the inside edge of the ear lying next to the cheek and pointing to the ground rather than to the eye. A hound ear or a high-breaking ear is not typical and should be severely penalized. Skull flat and clean between ears. Cheekbones not prominent. Defined stop. Muzzle powerful and strong, well filled below the eyes. No suggestion of snipiness. Skull and foreface of equal length. Nose black and large for size of dog. Major Fault--Any nose color other than solid black. Lips tight and black. Teeth large, clean and white; scissors or level bite. Major Fault--Undershot or overshot.

Neck, Topline, Body

Neck medium in length, clean and strong, not throaty. Carried proudly, it gradually widens, blending smoothly into the body. Back strong and level. Body compact; relatively short coupled. Chest is deep. Ribs are well sprung but without roundness. Tail is set on high. Docked tail preferred. Whether docked or natural, the tail is to be carried upright 90* from the back, either straight or with a slight curve forward. Any deviation from this ideal is to be penalized accordingly.


Shoulders well laid back, clean and smooth; well knit. Forelegs straight and well boned. All dewclaws should be removed. Feet are round and compact with good depth of pad. Pads black. Nails dark.


Hind legs well developed with well bent stifles turning neither in nor out; hocks well let down and parallel to each other. All dewclaws should be removed. The presence of dewclaws on the hind legs should be penalized. Feet are round and compact with good depth of pad. Pads black. Nails dark.


A distinguishing characteristic of the breed which sets the dog apart from all other terriers. An abundant single coat covering the entire body, legs and head; coat on the latter falls forward to shade the eyes. Texture soft and silky with a gentle wave. In both puppies and adolescents, the mature wavy coat is generally not yet evident. Major Faults--Woolly or harsh, crisp or cottony, frizzy, kinky or standaway coat; in the adult, a straight coat is also objectionable.

Presentation--For show purposes, the Wheaten is presented to show a terrier outline, but coat must be of sufficient length to flow when the dog is in motion. The coat must never be clipped or plucked. Sharp contrasts or stylizations must be avoided. Head coat should be blended to present a rectangular outline. Eyes should be indicated but never fully exposed. Ears should be relieved of fringe, but not taken down to the leather. Sufficient coat must be left on skull, cheeks, neck and tail to balance the proper length of body coat. Dogs that are overly trimmed shall be severely penalized.


Any shade of wheaten. Upon close examination, occasional red, white or black guard hairs may be found. However, the overall coloring must be clearly wheaten with no evidence of any other color except on ears and muzzle where blue-gray shading is sometimes present. Major Fault--Any color save wheaten. Puppies and Adolescents--Puppies under a year may carry deeper coloring and occasional black tipping. The adolescent, under two years, is often quite light in color, but must never be white or carry gray other than on ears and muzzle. However, by two years of age, the proper wheaten color should be obvious.


Gait is free, graceful and lively with good reach in front and strong drive behind. Front and rear feet turn neither in nor out. Dogs who fail to keep their tails erect when moving should be severely penalized.


The Wheaten is a happy, steady dog and shows himself gaily with an air of self-confidence. He is alert and exhibits interest in his surroundings; exhibits less aggressiveness than is sometimes encouraged in other terriers. Major Fault--Timid or overly aggressive dogs.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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