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Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
History of the Breed

The origins of the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier are a bit misty, but the breed is thought to date back over 200 years. With the historical Irish emphasis on oral traditions over written ones, it is not too surprising that the history of terriers belonging to farmers and the poorer folk is not well documented. References place long-legged terriers with open coats and wheaten color in the areas around Cork and Wicklow (southern Ireland) as well as around Ballymena (northern Ireland). These were general purpose farmers' dogs -- a hard life requiring solid, intelligent dogs with enough size to enforce authority, but not so large that upkeep was expensive. He was the enemy of all vermin, would guard the family larder, could herd sheep and cattle and would patrol the boundaries of the small farms to warn off trespassers. He could also be used as a hunting dog and was capable of tracking otter and badgers, taking them both on land and water. Some old-timers referred to him as "... the best dog ever for poaching." In short, he was a strong, medium sized dog of great intelligence and versatility.

DogThe modern history of the breed is closely related to that of Ireland's other two breeds of long legged terriers, the Irish and Kerry Blue Terriers (IT and KBT respectively). Native wheaten terriers are thought to be important in the origin of both breeds. Indeed, an origin legend of the KBT has a blue dog swimming ashore after a shipwreck and breeding with existing wheaten colored terriers to begin the breed (the wrecked ship was either from the Spanish Armada, a Russian fisherman, or a Portuguese fishermen -- take your pick). Irish terriers were first shown as a distinct class at dog shows in Dublin in the 1870's. A reporter of an 1876 show stated about Irish Terriers that "Prizes had gone to long legs, short legs, hard coats, soft coats, thick skulls, long thin skulls, and some prize winners were mongrels." The first standard for Irish Terriers was not drawn up until 1880. At that time terriers of the same general size, but with open or soft coats were still often benched with the Irish Terriers. Included in these soft coated varieties were dogs with silver, gray, blue, and wheaten colors. The KBT was separated out as a distinct breed during the time period between 1914 and 1922 and actually the breed's early popularity centered in England where the modern style of trimming Kerries was developed and the breed was refined. Interestingly enough, the Kerry Blue is still shown untrimmed in Ireland where it is called the Irish Blue Terrier.

The Wheaten did not prick the interest of dog fanciers as early as did its two close cousins. As times changed during the early part of this century and travel improved, the number of pure specimens declined and the breed almost vanished. The turning point for the breed was a terrier field trial in 1932 where a Wheaten terrier performed exceptionally well. Patrick Blake, a noted fancier of Kerry Blues, was very impressed and he became convinced that the breed should be rescued from obscurity/extinction. He prevailed upon his friend Dr. G. J. Pierse to start a club for the breed and sponsor it for recognition by the Irish Kennel Club. Good specimens of the breed were still to be found and the breed began to prosper. Recognition by the Irish Kennel Club was achieved in 1937 and they Dogswere first officially presented at an Irish Kennel Club show in Dublin on St. Patrick's Day. At that time a certificate of gameness was required to achieve a conformation championship. One controversy at the time the breed was recognized was what name to give the breed. The first thought was to use Irish Wheaten Terrier. This suggestion was vehemently opposed by two already-recognized Irish breeds -- Irish Terrier and Glen of Imaal Terrier (GofIT is a short legged terrier named for the area where it was developed). Both of these breeds included wheaten as an acceptable color. At the time, the wheaten color was actually preferred for ITs. The IT standard no longer includes wheaten, but the color is still part of the GofIT standard (GofIT's are recognized by the IKC, the KC(GB), the FCI, but not by the AKC). Since both the IT and GofIT have hard coats, the rather mouth-filling name of Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier was reached as a compromise (the hyphen was officially dropped in the US in 1989).

The first record of Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers being imported into the US was by Lydia Vogel who imported a breeding pair in November of 1947. Although she successfully showed her dogs in AKC shows under the Miscellaneous Class, there were not enough dogs or interest to receive AKC recognition. Ten years later, the O'Connor family of Brooklyn imported a dog from Maureen Holmes, one of the most influential Irish breeders of SCWTs. The O'Connors had become interested in the breed after falling in love with the 'shaggy dog look' shown in a picture of one of the Vogel dogs. The O'Connors began showing their dog and became interested in achieving AKC recognition. They tracked down descendants of the Vogel pair and, with the help of Maureen Holmes, other Irish imports. On March 17 (1962), again a great day for any Irish dog, the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America was formed. At the time there were thought to be less than 30 Wheatens in the country. A stud book registry was started in 1965 and by 1968 there were 250 registered SCWTs. The first club matches were held in 1970 and 1971. The AKC admitted the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier to the Terrier Group on March 13, 1973. Popularity has continued to grow and by the early '90s the breed was the seventh most popular terrier and over 2,000 puppies were registered yearly with the AKC.

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