Kerry Blue and Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

Kerry Blue TerrierKerry Blue TerrierA game terrier with 'an open coat' has been in existence in the South and South Western parts of Ireland since the earliest settlements. Their colour ranged from wheaten in all shades to that of bright red[1]. However, 'in County Kerry the black-blue colour was most prevalent, their coats were inclined to curl and the dogs themselves were undeniably game'[2]. As these two modern breeds are of a similar size and also had a common origin and purpose, they are studied here together.

History of Kerry Blue and Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier 1841Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier 1841

This portion of the wonderful 1841 painting by Frederick William Burton of a fisherman's drowned child  is the earliest documented evidence of any terrier of Ireland. However, like the Irish Terrier, the predecessors of what we know today as the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier have been owned by Irish peasants for centuries as general farm dogs who protected small badly fenced plots of land[2]. There is speculation that in the late 1700's a dog that was dark coloured swam ashore from a shipwreck and mated local terriers to produce a dog with a dark blue coat[3]. However, it is more likely that some surreptitious matings occurred between the rich landowners' Irish Wolfhounds and the peasant owners' wheaten coloured terriers. Both these theories would point to the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier being the older of these two breeds.

Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier PuppiesSoft Coated Wheaten Terrier Puppies

But as the Kerry Blue was recognized as a pure breed in 1922[4] 15 years before the Soft Coated Wheaten in 1937, the Kerry Blue today is perhaps the better established as a pure breed. However their common origin is evident today as Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers puppies are born with black masks on their faces or totally black which usually clears as the coat matures. However it is acceptable for some black shading to be present on the ears and around the mouth even as an adult. The Kerry Blue is also born with a black mask as well as black points or totally black with its coat and colour also maturing as the dog ages.

Kerry Blue c 1922Kerry Blue c 1922

In Australia, the Kerry Blue was first introduced in 1930 by Dr Kyle Gault of South Australia[5]. But it was David Roche also from Adelaide who really put the Kerry on the map here with the importation of many great English and American Champions. Always immaculately presented, David and his Kerry Blues dominated the show scene across Australia for around three decades.

But it was late 1979 before the first Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier arrived in NSW[5a]. If any Kerry Blues and Soft Coated Wheatens arrived with our early settlers as documented in the history of the Irish Terrier, as neither was recognized as a pure breed here or in Britain at that time, there is no record of any such arrivals.

Comparison between the Kerry Blue and Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

At a glance the Kerry Blue and Soft Coated Terrier may look the same breed with just a different coat and colour. But decades of selective breeding to a Breed Standard has now made each breed quite distinct. With their basic construction being similar to that of any of the long legged terriers, their specific breed characteristics are summarized in the table below:

Kerry Blue Soft Coated Wheaten
Kerry Clue CoatKerry Clue Coat Soft Coated Wheaten CoatSoft Coated Wheaten Coat
Main Difference The Kerry is a blue coloured dog with a soft silky plentiful coat that stands off from the body lending itself to trimming and shaping The Soft Coat is a wheaten coloured dog with a soft silky wavy coat that should not stand off from the body but fall naturally in waves and not be excessively trimmed
Temperament Disciplined gameness that makes a showy, impressive dog but must be taught socializing skills especially with other dogs Good tempered and easy to adapt to social situations with both humans and other dogs
Size With an ideal height of 46-48 cms (18-19 ins) and weight of 15-17 kg (33-37 lbs), the Kerry is slightly smaller than the Soft Coated Wheaten With an ideal height of 46-49 cms (18-19.5 ins) and weight of 16-20.5 kg (35-45 lbs), the Soft Coated is slightly larger than the Kerry Blue
Kerry BlueKerry Blue Soft Coated WheatenSoft Coated Wheaten


Skull long and lean with slight stop Skull moderately long with medium width, muzzle not longer than skull and well defined stop and parallel head planes
Ears Forward carriage like button ears but set not too high Thin leathers folding level with skull with side placement so the front edge lies close to cheek
Eyes Small to medium and dark as possible Medium size and dark hazel set under strong brows
Mouth Normal scissors bite with gums and roof of mouth black Normal scissors bite and black tight lips
Kerry BlueKerry Blue Soft Coated WheatenSoft Coated Wheaten
Neck Reachy or long Moderately long
Body proportions Short coupled, indicating a shorter bodied dog than the Soft Coated Wheaten Compact stating the measurement from withers to base of tail is the same or slightly less than withers to ground
Pigmentation Black nose, gums, roof of mouth and nails Black lips, eyerims, nose and nails

References and Further Reading

[1] Maureen Holmes 'The Softcoated Wheaten Terrier' Self published 1990 Printed by Racmo, Meppel ISBN 90-9004200-8 Chapter One 'In Obscurity' Page 1

[2] Mr W J Cotten in Rawdon B. Lee's, "Modern Dogs" of Great Britain and Ireland (Third Edition) London:Horace Cox, "Field" Office, Windsor House, Bream's Buildings, E.C. 1903 Chapter IX, Pages 229 - 230

[3] 'The Native Dogs of Ireland' published by the Irish Kennel Club, Dublin ISBN 0-9509998-1-4 The Kerry Blue Terrier Page 71

[4] Violet E. Handy 'The Kerry Blue Terrier' Self Published in Great Britain c 1931 Page 32

[5] David J.K.Roche, 'The History of Purebred Dogs in Australia' The Kerry Blue Terrier published by OzDog Newspaper 1997 Page 204

[5a] Ibid.,Wyn Newson, 'The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier' Page 278

See also Jane Harvey, DVD "Terriers Then & Now" (Rangeaire Vision 2002, 2004) ISBN 978-0-9804296-4-0