The Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier (Irish: An Brocaire Buí) is a pure bred dog originating from Ireland. These dogs have a single coat which sheds very little hair, so they can be more easily tolerated by people allergic to other breeds. Wheatens typically have one of two coat types: Irish or American. The Irish coat is considered to be the breed standard. It is generally more silky and wavy than the American coat, which is thicker and more "wooly".
The Wheaten was bred in Ireland for over two hundred years to be an all-purpose farm dog whose duties included herding, watching and guarding livestock, and vermin hunting and killing. They share a common ancestry with the Kerry Blue Terrier and the Irish Terrier but were not owned by gentry. Today, Wheaten terriers compete in obedience, agility, and tracking and are occasionally used in animal-assisted therapy as well. In Ireland, they were commonly referred to as the "Poor Man's Wolfhound." Their tails used to be docked to avoid taxes and were often kept to a specific size.
Despite its long history, the Wheaten was not recognised as a breed in Ireland by the Irish Kennel Club until 1937. In 1943, the British Kennel Club recognised the breed in the UK as well. The first Wheatens were exported to Lydia Vogel in the United States in the 1940s, but serious interest in the breed took another ten years to develop. Finally, in 1973, they were recognised by the American Kennel Club. In the 1970s, the first Wheatens were imported into Australia by Anubis Kennels. Since then, many more have been imported. Recent importation of Irish-style dogs have improved and broadened the gene pool.
Puppies have dark coats of either red, brown, mahogany or white. Their muzzles and ears may be black or dark brown. The reddish-brown puppy coat gradually grows out to nearly white before maturing into a wheaten-coloured coat as they get older. The adult coat may contain black, white, or darker brown "guard" hairs in addition to the lighter wheaten-coloured hair. If adults ever have skin injuries, the resulting hair growth will be the dark colour of their puppy coat before it eventually grows out to the wheat color. It may also come out to a molten chocolate colour, either white or milky coloured.
The Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier is a medium-sized dog, which ranges on average from 17 to 20 inches (43 to 51 cm) in height and about 30 to 45 pounds (14 to 20 kg) in weight. The breed has a square structure and is well built. Their soft, silky hair does not shed like most dogs; like human hair and Poodle hair, it keeps growing; they do need trimming and should be brushed and combed once a day to avoid mats. They are very smart dogs, and are easy to train. They love people, and they rarely have aggression issues.
The Irish coat tends to be thinner and silkier than the American variety. The Irish coat has a devoted following in Ireland and Europe. Breeders of the pure Irish type believe this is the original working terrier coat. The coat is not thin – breeders of the Irish type consider the American heavy coat to be "bouffant", not that of the original working terrier type. There are a few breeders of the Irish type in the US and Canada. In the AKC conformation show ring, the judges do not always accept the Irish type well. The Irish is well received in the UK and Europe. The "Heavy Irish" coat is usually a result of cross breeding between coat types – American/English coat with an Irish type. The Irish coat still requires daily brushing to stay free of matted hair.
The Wheatens seen in Ireland today are of the same size, shape and coat texture as those seen and documented well over 100 years ago. Evidence of this can be seen from the famous artwork "The Aran Fisherman's Drowned Child" by Frederic William Burton. The breed standards for the English, American and Irish Wheaten state a Wheaten must have a single, soft silky coat.
Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers are generally a long-lived breed. They are susceptible to various heritable diseases, although are most known for two protein wasting conditions: protein-losing nephropathy (PLN), where the dogs lose protein via the kidneys; and protein-losing enteropathy (PLE), where the dogs fail to fully absorb protein in their digestive tracts, causing it to pass in their stool. Both PLN and PLE are potentially fatal, but if caught early enough, can sometimes be managed with strict dietary changes and pharmaceuticals. Laboratory tests can aid in diagnosing PLN and PLE; Wheaten owners should check their country's advised testing protocols. These conditions have an unknown mode of inheritance, but research programs, mainly in the United States and the United Kingdom, are looking for answers.
Other Wheaten health issues are renal dysplasia, inflammatory bowel disease, Addison's disease, and cancer. Some Wheatens can suffer from food and environmental allergies. Potential owners of Wheaten Terriers should discuss health issues with the breeder before deciding to get a puppy. The Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers are prone to developing the skin disease atopic dermatitis.
The Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier is an energetic and playful dog. It requires patience and consistent positive training. Harsh methods will often result in fear and/or aggression. A positive, even-handed approach works best with this intelligent yet headstrong terrier. It is an enthusiastic greeter, and will often jump up to lick a person's face, commonly referred to as the "Wheaten greetin". Wheatens are considered less scrappy than other terriers, but they are true terriers and will be more active than many other breeds. For this reason these dogs do best when they are exercised regularly. They are cool weather dogs and can become easily overheated in hot weather. If socialised with cats and puppies, they may get along fine with them; if not, care should be taken in introducing them to cats, as the breed has a very strong "prey drive" because of its vermin-hunting origin. Wheatens can get along well with other dogs if properly socialised. They are extremely friendly and loving pets. Wheatens are very protective of their families and, although they may bark an alert at strangers, they rarely get aggressive. Many Wheaten owners thus say they make great watch dogs, but poor guard dogs. Wheatens are a great dog for kids and are generally friendly towards them.