There’s a sound and well-structured dog under that coat… or at least there should be. Can you tell, visually, or do you feel you must put your hands on the dog to determine its true make and shape? Certainly, artful groomers can set lie to what is really under a jacket, and this is true with most, if not all, coated breeds. Those of us who come from coated breeds, and also know our way around with a pair of scissors, are usually quite adept at spying the telltale signs of a dog that is little more than a hair cut. Others, not so much. Hair can hide a lot. So, with this in mind, here are a few visual aids that, hopefully, will help with speeding up the judging process among those less familiar with “the tricks of the trade” used by handlers and other scissor-gifted exhibitors.
First, let’s take a look at this well-balanced Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier (Fig. 1a & 1b). He has been artfully trimmed. Is the topline absolutely level (we have a tendency toward prominent lumbar vertabrae), and is there sufficient bend of stifle? His proportions appear quite correct, although there are a couple of qualities that can’t be immediately assessed. Otherwise, everything we need to know, structurally, is there—if we know what we are looking at.
With the properly proportioned SCWT, length of head, neck, and back should be equal (blue lines). Body length, sternum to pin bone, should be equal to height, withers to ground (red lines). Length of backskull should equal foreface (pink lines). Depth of body, withers to brisket, should equal length of leg, elbow to ground (purple lines). Shoulder and forearm, set at a 90-degree angle, should be equal in length (green lines). Rear angles are equal (yellow lines).
In the best of worlds, the measurements here would be equal, as specified in the legend. When one considers the possible build-up of coat in certain areas, the dog used in the diagram comes pretty darn close. Of course, these measurements represent perfection. Perfection, although difficult to achieve, should always be that for which we strive. He may have a slightly longer second thigh (K–L); something that is hard to determine under the leg furnishings. Additionally, if body depth (C-G) equals elbow-to-ground (G-H), he appears to need a tad more leg. To my eye, this dog displays beautiful breed type with pleasing balance and angles.
Let’s proceed to examine other SCWT outlines in the same manner (Fig. 2a & 2b). Clever groomers have created several techniques designed to suggest a shorter back. One is to backcomb and tease hair from the lower portion of the neck, withers, and part-way down the back. When a dog appears to have a neck as thick as this one, it is a dead giveaway that the dog is not as short-backed as one might suppose. It is also hard to determine shoulder layback under all the hair. In the same manner, build-up of hair in front of the tail can easily hide a low-set tail and/or croup drop-off. Excess hair on the top-skull can create the impression of both a longer head and a longer neck. The latter also makes the ear, which should be level with or slightly above the topskull, appear low-set. Another ruse, designed to create a back shorter than it really is, is to bring the tuck-up farther forward than the loin area, and allow the side skirt behind the ersatz tuck-up to appear as leg furnishings. Based on the over-stretched rear, I would suspect a straight stifle.
Here’s another dog with slightly different proportions (Fig. 3a & 3b). Obviously, head, neck, and back are not equal. It is lacking sufficent neck to balance a pleasing length of head. It is also slightly longer than tall. The lack of neck would indicate an upright shoulder. Added to that, the dog is low on leg.
Below is one more example of the build-up of hair over withers (Fig. 4a & 4b). This is used to create the illusion of a shorter back, although in this case, not so successfully. The lack of balance is further destroyed by the fact that the dog is low on leg, certainly not helped by excessive coat left on the undercarriage.
Taking a brief look at the correct Wheaten head, many that we see in the ring today are thick with coarse backskulls that form a three-dimensional block (width, length, depth) instead of a neat, clean brick (narrow, long, and lean) (Fig. 5). Heads tend to be square rather than rectangular. Skull and muzzle should both be rectangular, equal in length and on equal planes. Ideally, the skull should be easily spanned by a woman’s hand. The two photos (Fig. 6a & 6b) taken from the front cannot take into account the foreshortening of muzzle; but hopefully, they project that the width of the head should be approximately half the length of the head and, also, that the muzzle should not “fall off” or lose width to any appreciable degree.
It is hoped that those reading this article will be inspired toward more thoughtful judging (and breeding) of the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, understanding as well that much of it can be applied to other coated breeds, notably the Kerry Blue Terrier.