“Irish” and “North American” Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers

Breed standards are often subject to interpretation (is your idea of “medium boned” the same as someone else’s?), and “types” can exist in the same breed –  field versus bench, for example. Other breeds can be similar and share the same name, but depending upon who is being asked, differences in size, color, shape and personality may enough to be considered as variations in one breed, if not two different breeds: The American Akita and Japanese Akita (or Akita Inu) come to mind.

With regards to the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, some may hear the terms, “North American” (or just “American”), and “Irish,” and wonder if, like the Akita, they are different enough from each other to be almost different breeds altogether.

They’re not.

“Irish” and the “North American” refer to coat. Both are single coated, but the “Irish” type is less full (some might say “sparse”),  lays closer to the body, and is wavy, soft and silky. Because this coat grows slower, it can take a few years for it to look its best, and until that point of maturity comes, such puppies can look endearingly scruffy.  Some feel that Irish type coats also tend to be lighter colored.

The “North American” coat, while also soft, is full and lavish from an early age. Puppy coats can mat quickly, but the coat becomes easier to maintain in adulthood. These coats soak more easily in rain since they don’t contain the natural oil found in the other type of coat.

Experienced breeders will say they’ve encountered every variation of coat between the two mentioned above, and in the end, all Wheatens can claim ancestry in the Irish working man’s dog: A versatile, intelligent and tough all-purpose farm dog.

Image: Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier by Svetlana Novikova
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5 thoughts on ““Irish” and “North American” Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers”

  1. Here’s my favorite story about this….a few years back, as an extremely new judge of my own breed (Bassets), I had an assignment across the country. I asked the show chair if there were any “special attractions” I could also judge, thinking this would help me make the most of the trip. I was sort of hoping for the Hound BBX group, since I was preparing hounds. The show chair assigned me the Terrier BBX group. I demured. She cheerfully pointed out that I had nine months to prepare and would do fine. So I spent every weekend that a show was available in the Pacific NW at the Terrier rings, studying like crazy.
    The Terrier folks were very welcoming and generous with their knowledge… One exhibitor let me go over her Soft Coated Wheaten bitch on a Saturday, and told me to come back on Sunday. I did, and she had gone home and fetched her Irish-coated Soft Coated Wheaten male – who was not entered – to show me the coat and educate me about the two coat types. She said she didn’t want me to only think one coat type was acceptable. I will NEVER forget both the lesson and her kindness and generosity to bring her boy, unentered, just to educate a very novice judge….

  2. Unfortunately Standards are always up for “interpretation” – and judges need to learn how apply them – SCWT only have one coat type – correct. EVERY word in the US standard needs to be applied, including that under faults – the UK standard is clearer and the Country of Origin even more so. US standard – COAT 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.

    • Many thanks for the additional information, Margaret.

  3. My 7 year old wheaten has an Irish coat (bred from an Irish sire and Australian bitch). His coat has never been sparse or oily or wooly. He has never been a show dog but his parents and siblings were champions.
    We see both types of coat in our neighbourhood. When I visit Ireland, I’ve only seen Irish coats – given that is the origin of the breed, maybe we should leave the Irish coat as the breed standard and introduce a sub-class for the American coated dogs?

    • We leave weighty decisions like your suggestion up to the breed owners and the clubs, but it makes for an interesting discussion!

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