When you want an energetic pooch with a feisty edge, a terrier is the ideal fit for that canine profile. There's more than 30 terrier breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, ranging in sizes from toy to mid-sized. Falling in the small to medium categories are Norfolk and wheaten terriers. Not too big and not too tiny, these two terriers have as many differences as they do similarities.
They're both terriers, but each hales from a different part of Europe. The Norfolk terrier actually started as another breed in England around 1932 and was originally called the Norwich terrier. But by 1965 it was noted that some of the little dogs had ears that pricked, or stood up, while some had ears that drooped. Norfolk became the name for the drop-eared terriers. The wheaten terriers, officially called soft-coated wheaten terriers, go back further -- to the early 1800s -- and come from Ireland.
A wheaten terrier cannot be a true wheaten unless her coat is the color of ripe wheat, although the AKC does allow for different shades of wheat and intermittent white, black or red guard hairs. Wheaten's ears may sometimes display a shade of blue-gray on their ears and muzzle, but the color is not acceptable anywhere else. Norfolk terriers, however, can be any shade of not only wheaten but black, tan or red, or even a mixture of red and black known as grizzle. The AKC notes that white marks are not desirable but doesn't indicate that white in a Norfolk's coat would be grounds for disqualification during a show.
The quality of the two terriers' coats are another point of difference. While the Norfolk has a typical wiry terrier outer coat with a softer undercoat, wheatens' coats distinguish them from the rest of the terrier breeds. They don't have double coats and, as the official name of the breed makes clear, their bountiful single coat is soft, never kinky, wooly or wiry.
Both the Norfolk and wheaten terriers are on the small to mid-sized side of the terrier scale. Norfolks are the littler guys of the two, only growing to 9 or 10 inches high at the shoulder with an ideal weight of 11 to 12 pounds. Wheatens are almost twice as tall as the little Norfolks, hitting a height of 18 to 19 inches, but they're more than double the girth of Norfolk terriers when it comes to weighing in: wheatens tip the scales at 30 to 40 pounds.
Personality and Temperament
Wheaten and Norfolk terriers were both bred to be vermin hunters, but their prey instincts don't interfere with their ability to get along with other household pets. As sociable as they both are compared to other terrier breeds, wheaten terriers are even less aggressive than Norfolks, according to the AKC and "The New Terrier Handbook" by Kerry V. Kern and Matthew M. Vriends. Norfolk terriers may be the more spry and scrappy of the two, but they both do well with families and other pets and will happily adapt to city life in an apartment or country living with room to romp.
By Elle Di Jensen
American Kennel Club: Norfolk Terrier
American Kennel Club: Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
The Complete Burke's Backyard: The Ultimate Book of Fact Sheets: Don Burke
The New Terrier Handbook: Kerry V. Kern and Matthew M. Vriends
American Kennel Club: Terrier Group
About the Author
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.