The AKC terrier group includes a variety of breeds of all shapes, sizes, colors and coat textures, from long to short and silky to rough. With the specific terminology used to describe the assorted types of fur, it can be confusing to try to determine their meaning.
Most terriers have wiry outer coats with a soft, dense undercoat and almost look like they all have a bad all-over-body-perm. Though it's not broken, the wiry coat also is called "broken coat." The wiry coat is easy to care for and requires little brushing. Hand-stripping, the pulling of fur from the undercoat, helps avoid a shaggy appearance. The Airedale, Lakeland, Welsh, Irish, Norfolk, Border, Cairn and Norwich terriers all sport broken coats. The Russell and Parson Russell terriers are special in that they can be shown in AKC conformation trials with either short and smooth fur or wiry coats, but all must have softer undercoats. The Scottish, Sealyham, Glen of Imaal, and Skye terriers all have rough outer coats and dense undercoats in mixed lengths. The miniature schnauzer, the only size of schnauzer in the terrier group, also has a wiry overcoat and thick undercoat.
The silky coat is long, shiny and soft, kind of like Barbie's hair. It's the texture of hair for which most women would pay a fortune to obtain at the salon. The soft-coated Wheaten terrier has a very distinct coat because, unlike the double-coat of most terriers, "Wheaties" have a single coat of wavy wheat-colored hair. The Bedlington terrier, which is always white and looks like a little lamb, also has a unique coat in that it is tightly curly, like an 80s perm, especially on the topknot and face. It's also considered wiry but instead of being harsh, like most wiry coats, it is very soft to the touch. The Kerry blue terrier coat is blue-grey, thick, soft and wavy, and enhances the Kerry's familiar form. The Cesky terrier, a charcoal-colored medium-sized dog, has a long, fine coat with a touch of waviness. Confused yet? Hang on.
Though it's hard to imagine, the mighty pit bull is in the same AKC group as the Dandie Dinmont! The American Staffordshire and Staffordshire terriers, bull and miniature bull terriers and the Manchester all have very short coats that lie flat. The smooth-haired fox terrier, unlike its wire-haired cousin, also has a smooth, flat coat. These coats are virtually maintenance-free and require little care beyond regular bathing and occasional brushing. The smooth-haired fox terrier's coat should be flat, but abundant, and softer to the touch than the other short terrier coats, which are glossier but not as soft to pet.
Coat types may get a little more confusing as some terriers have a mixture of short and long, wiry and soft coats. Mixed coats refer to short fur on parts of the body and longer fur on other parts.Some of the rules as to which goes where are very specific. For example, the Australian terrier, having a broken coat, is shown with "2½ inches all over the body except the tail, pasterns, rear legs from the hocks down, and the feet which are kept free of long hair," according to AKC conformation rules. The rules regarding the Dandie Dinmont terrier's coat also are quite specific and lengthy, requiring long and short hairs on prescribed areas of the body, harsh-looking but smooth to the touch. The West Highland white, or "Westie" has a shorter coat on the neck and shoulders blending with the longer, wiry coat on the stomach and legs. Keeping up with all the terrier-type coats can be a hobby in itself, but you're off to a good start. Now the next time you see a terrier in your neighborhood, you'll be able to identify the coat, start a conversation using correct terminology and impress both the dog and your neighbor.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.