The irony of the Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier

Back in the early 1970s, when I was still a pretty novice dog groomer, I was sent to interview with Jocelyn Slatin, who owned Jamboree Airedales & soft-coated Wheaten Terriers.

Jocelyn sort of  fell into breeding dogs.  I am not really sure  how, but I knew she met Mrs. Benson, who owned the old Benaire line of Airedales, &  lived close by, and one thing led to another (I believe early dog show wins with these dogs), and  Jocelyn became a dog breeder.  &, not sure how it happened, but she met  people who had Wheatens at a dog show, and decided she would add a few of them.

At the time, the breed was so new, there was not much of a market for the breed, and there certainly was no pet trim for them.  We sort of developed a pet trim (I would not call it a ‘puppy trim’…only Poodles had puppy trims), and having Afghans at the time, I encouraged her to show prospective buyers how to line brush the puppies, but back then, many breeders just  assumed that  anyone who’d pay so much for  a rare breed would learn how to take care of the dog….or pay someone to do so.

Jocelyn’s handler(who handled the dogs at dog shows) told me the breed was a ‘bad breed’.  “How so? ”  I asked?

“Look at the breed standard.  It says nothing about their feet or their bites.  Just coat. Really easy to hide faults under the coat.”

“Well, that’s not my biggest concern, but I doubt many people will buy a pet dog this large that needs grooming.”

How wrong I was.  For the middle class, Jimmy Carter’s  lack  of economic control over sky -rocketing inflation (mostly due to OPEC  & our  reliance upon imported fuel)  did not affect them at all. It was the working class who suffered back then.  In any case, word spread that there was a nonshed breed of dog that was larger than a Miniature Schnauzer but smaller than a standard poodle, & the breed took off.

Because the standard was so poorly written, and  breeders saw an opportunity—& seemrd to genuinely like the breed….every one of them bred just about every bitch they could. These hobby breeders were not dog trainers. They generally kept about a dozen dogs or so in their kennels, with either 1 or 2 house dogs, or rotated the bitches in.  They really didn’t think too deeply about what kind of person would want a dog like this, and just assumed that anyone who sought out a Wheaten would be a good home, because they were paying good money for a dog.

So—what happened?  What happened was how it went down in most popular breeds:  people with pet bitches wanted to make their ‘investment’ back, & the stud owners were either a neighbor’s Wheaten, or a stud owner whose attitude was, “If I don’t breed her, she will find a lesser quality stud & be bred anyways…”
& what happened was there was a glut of Wheatens.  Most did find homes—people who wanted a nonshed dogs…but this is America—where everyone thinks they are buying Lassie. They didn’t understand what a terrier was.

The breed remained popular through the mid 2000’s, and at one time, I had over 40 clients with  soft-coated Wheaten Terriers—in all manner of haircuts—from Show trims, to shaves, to ‘Doodle’ trims.  As those dogs died of old age, the owners did NOT replace them with another Wheaton.  Some went to Tibentan Terriers (nonshed, love the coat, but their time came & went, too—not really cuddly ), many went to the Doodles:  the LabraDoodles &  Golden Doodles, & even the miniature Golden Doodles—which I believe are actually cockapoos.

WE no longer have a local (Chicago) club for Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier Breeders.  I suspect many either stopped breeding dogs or went to another breed.  Truthfully, the breed gained mych more popularity than it even deserved. Why do I say that? These are terriers, and they need strong leaders.  Most of the people who are attracted to the conformation of the dog—-how it looks are not strong leaders.

I am not sure this is such a  bad thing, but the AKC  seems mystified.

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6 Responses to “The irony of the Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier”

  1. Joan Says:

    What you don’t say is how wonderful they are. Who cares about showing them. Our Wheaten is so sweet. hardly ever barks…sweet with children and loves other dogs. We do walk him once or twice every day…so it’s good for us too. Doesn’t shed and we have to groom him every couple months. He hates being brushed except after I give him a bath. I

  2. Susan Says:

    I agree with Joan 100%. My Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier is a complete joy. I, agree, he needs a strong alpha owner in the family and good training. I would definitely get a Wheaton again, though, I’d do a few things differently when a puppy. Wheaton’s don’t train easily as young pups and training for ours didn’t start to click until he was 10 months old. I’d get a kennel type crate with a raised bottom and not worry about house breaking until about 9-10 months. Then I’d start serious training. We tried to train ours too young and it led to a lot of frustration. They just don’t learn like a Lab or other breeds. They are their own specialness 🙂 Also, I read about the illness they are prone to and learned that much of that is related to their diet. So, we have always had our dog on a wheatfree/cornfree diet. He’s had no health problems. I wanted a dog that was not tiny, not huge, and would not be a lump on a blanket after it passed pupphood. My Wheaten is everything I could want in a dog: playful, loving, mostly quiet, adorable. .

    • disparateinterests Says:

      I am really happy for these owners, but they are in the minority. the average buyer of a pet Wheaten pictures a collie or lab temperament in his mind…& waiting until a dog is over 6 months old to even attempt housebreaking is a recipe for trouble.

      • Susan Says:

        If the average buyer of a pet Wheaten pictures a collie or lab temperament, then they have not done their homework. Any research on a Wheaten will tell you they are like puppies in temperment most of their life. OBJECTIVE research is what is needed, not someone’s predjudice towards a breed they really don’t know or understand. If people have not done their research – Shame on them! And as far your comment on housebreaking – you obviously don’t know or understand the breed. Some Wheaton’s may housebreak earlier, however, if I was to get another one, I would not listen to other dog owners and expect my dog to be housebroken in four months. That is the biggest mistake I made. Not all dogs mature or are ready to train at the same rate.

      • disparateinterests Says:

        I take no issue with what Susan says. the problem is that most breeders—particularly the backyard breeders—- do virtually no screening of buyers. I won’t even address how bad puppy mills/pet shops are. The fact is, most people think dogs are dogs, and think that because a
        Wheaten is fluffy, it is NOT a terrier…& who said anything about brushing, right?

  3. Richard Slatin, MC/MFCT Says:

    Jocelyn Slatin was my Mother. She passed away on December 1, 2013, after suffering a stroke. Following her interest in Airedales and Soft-Coated Wheatons, she was one of the first to introduce Legato Romanolas, an Italian breed into the USA in about 2008. I managed her care in her final years, during which she may gained her love of nature, dogs, and cats. Her last, remaining champion Wheaton, known as “Paige” came to live with me after my Mother died. Paige remains alive and well. Last year at this time, she was entered into her last dog show in Chino Valley, AZ.

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