Grooming the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier is one of the most challenging breeds to groom correctly.

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Q. We have a 7-year-old year old Wheaten Terrier and we are attempting to find a local groomer. Can you recommend a groomer in the Centerville Cape Cod area of Massachusetts? Thanks in advance for the assistance.

A. The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier is one of the most challenging breeds to groom correctly. As the name implies, its coat is very soft and can be unforgiving when using either clippers or scissors. Traditionally, the standard called for either shaping it by hand-scissoring with straight or thinning shears, the way it’s prepared for the show ring. Square in outline, its soft, silky coat varies in color from warm wheaten to golden honey and should float along with this lively dog as it moves.

Although when it is expertly groomed, this lovable dog from Ireland resembles a gorgeous soft sculpture, its origins are far from fancy. It shares common ancestry with the Kerry Blue and the Irish Terrier, but unlike them it was not owned by the landed gentry. It was the poor man’s dog, an all-purpose working canine used to patrol the small farms, ridding them of vermin, herding sheep and hunting with its master.

Its punishing jaws made short work of otters and badgers and its rough-and-tumble personality made it eager to do the job. Under the Irish penal laws of the 1700s, tenant farmers were prohibited from owning a dog worth more than five pounds so these scrappy characters were bargain basement specials for owners who probably lacked a noble lineage themselves.

This hardscrabble history might also explain why these increasingly popular family pets don’t always take well to being groomed. Although they do not shed, their profuse cottony coats require plenty of brushing. When properly cared for, the dead hair is removed by the brush rather than falling on the floor but if not groomed regularly, their coats tend to mat up quickly, often needing to be shaved down by the groomer.

“The secret of doing the proper haircut on a Wheaten is to have them come in often,” quips Anne Francis, our Grooming Manager, a frequent award winner in national grooming competitions. “They don’t like to be groomed or brushed, so you really need to start them off young. Unfortunately, everyone likes their Wheaten puppies to be fluffy and full, but to maintain that look, they need to get used to the brushing process.”

She recommends using snap-on combs for haircuts on family pets, producing the same profile as the fuller breed standard but trimmed significantly shorter. “We use a #1 snap-on comb on the average active Wheaten but may use an “A,” or “C” comb, leaving them longer for an owner who is willing to keep up with coat care at home.”

She uses a shorter snap-on attachment on the back and a longer one on the legs to leave them a bit fuller than the body. The #1 comb leaves 5/8 of an inch while the #A comb leaves ¾, the B 13/16, the C 7/8 and the D a 15/16” cut. Like most groomers, Anne cuts the hair prior to the bath, makes sure our bathers condition the coat and fluffs the dog dry, stretching the hair as she does this. “Fluff-drying is huge,” she says. “It makes a world of difference.” Her final step is evening off any rough spots with scissors for the final shaping.

The Wheaten is a terrier with the trademark rectangular head and full beard but rather than distinct eyebrows, it traditionally has a long fall of hair over the “stop” area, the spot where the nose ends and the front of the skull begins. The line for the fall follows the outer corners of the eye sockets, trimmed with thinning shears to slightly expose the eyes.  However, the majority of our Wheaten-owning clients opt not to have this fall but either brows or a visor instead for a softer look that shows their pet’s beautiful eyes.

As to groomers in your area, Anne recommends groomer Debbie Davis of Deb’s Dog House in Buzzards Bay, Mass., a fellow grooming contest competitor who specializes in the Kerry Blue Terrier, another handsome Irish import. Good luck and keep brushing!


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