It’s one of dogdom’s ironies that the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier didn’t get its official name until 1937, and wasn’t even recognized by the AKC until 1973, but the breed is believed to have given rise to two of Ireland’s native terrier breeds, the Irish Terrier and the Kerry Blue Terrier, breeds that gained full AKC acceptance 88 and 51 years before the Wheaten Terrier, respectively. Figuratively speaking, insult is added to injury when it’s noted that the Wheaten is probably the oldest of the four native Irish Terriers. As the Irish Kennel Club states of the breed, “Its existence for at least 200 years can be inferred from textual references to “soft-coated” dogs. David Blake Knox quotes another source in his book, The Curious History of Irish Dogs: “Like the hallowed Saint Patrick himself, it is believed the breed dates back as far as the hills and bogs of Ireland.” Proof of this is harder to come by, its earliest history buried in the sands of time, as it were, something that regrettably is true of many ancient breeds.
When perusing old sources on the Wheaten Terrier, we are reminded of the famous quip of comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, who lamented that he “got no respect.” One Canadian writer noted that Irish peasants needed a dog that “would not draw the attention of the English,” and that the Wheaten was perfect because he “appeared to be of very little value,” and “rarely got a second look.” Ouch.
Because Wheatens had to perform virtually every job on a farm that a dog could do, from controlling vermin, serving as a hunting dog, herding livestock, and guarding hearth and home, today’s Wheaten Terrier owner has a marvelously versatile dog that can dabble in in all manner of activity. They compete in agility, tracking, and herding competitions, and in 2016, one Wheaten Terrier came within an inch of being in the top 10 of the National Dock Diving Dog Championship. Lucky owners are treated to a “Wheaten Greetin'” when they come home, an unbridled display of joy. The breed is much beloved, and so, we suppose, it has had the last laugh given its lack of respect early on.
While the breed has a healthy position in the United States, it is dumbfounding to see it’s appearance on England’s Kennel Club list of vulnerable breeds with only 319 puppies registered in all of 2017. We conclude with a hashtag we’d like to see go viral if only to raise awareness: #SaveOurDogBreeds.