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Are Wheaten Terriers Smart? Canine Intelligence Explained

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

wheaten terrier lying on sofa

The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier is a lively Irish farm dog that was bred as an all-purpose farm dog for herding, guarding livestock, and hunting rats and vermin. The breed is closely related to the Irish Terrier and Kerry Blue Terrier.

Wheaten Terriers are known for being intelligent and adaptable, but that can be offset by willfulness and independence. Here’s how the Wheaten Terrier ranks among other intelligent dog breeds.

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How Is Dog Intelligence Measured?

Between March 2016 and February 2022, researchers at the University of Helsinki put over 1,000 dogs from 13 distinct breeds through cognitive tests to study intelligence1. This took place in an indoor field with the test battery, smartDOG, which features 10 separate tests that measure traits like activity level, inhibitory control, exploratory behavior, problem-solving ability, logical reasoning, and short-term memory.

These varied tests evaluate a range of different intelligence points, including social cognition, logical reasoning, and more, to separate intelligence from obedience or trainability.

Medium to large breeds representing 13 breeds and 40 individuals were tested, including the English Cocker Spaniel, the Belgian Malinois, the Border Collie, the Golden Retriever, and the Labrador Retriever.

Interestingly, there were no differences between the breeds in terms of short-term memory and logical reasoning, but they did differ in social cognition, inhibitory control, and spatial problem-solving ability. Border Collies were at or near the top of all categories.

Though this test is one of the more comprehensive intelligence tests for dogs, it does have a limitation in the participant’s life experiences and training, which can influence behavior.

Other tests have measured different skill sets, including agility, problem-solving, detouring, perception, awareness, word recognition, and the ability to follow instructions.

dogs with owners at dog training class
Photo Credit: Elena11, Shutterstock

How Smart Are Wheaten Terriers?

Wheaten Terriers were not among the test breeds in the smartDOG test, but they’re generally regarded as being highly intelligent dogs. They’ve adapted to many purposes over their history, though they’re mostly kept as companion animals now.

As far as trainability, which is distinctly different from just intelligence, the Wheaten Terrier falls in the middle of the range of “self-willed” to “eager to please”. This is more due to the dog’s stubborn streak than their ability to learn and obey, however. These traits served them well while guarding or working livestock on their own, without a human to dictate detailed instructions, but that can translate to a desire to do their own thing as a pet.

Their unreliable compliance makes the Wheaten a poor competitive obedience participant. They’re also untrustworthy off-leash, and prone to roaming. And like other intelligent breeds, if you don’t give the Wheaten a lot of physical and mental stimulation, they’re prone to boredom and may develop destructive behaviors.

Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
Photo Credit: Audrius Vizbaras, Pixabay

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Conclusion

The Wheaten Terrier is a smart but willful dog. Though the breed’s specific intelligence has never been tested, they are widely regarded as an intelligent and trainable dog with a strong desire to follow their own lead. These dogs aren’t a good choice for obedience or rally sports, but they can make a great companion.


Featured Photo Credit: Joseph Hendrickson, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

Authored by

Nicole is a lover of animals of all sizes but is especially fascinated with the feline variety. She’s the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese, and works every day so he can relax in the sunshine or by the fire. She’s always had a cat in her home and has spent countless days with others, observing behaviors and softening up even the grouchiest of the lot. Nicole wants to share her kitty expertise with you so you and your cat ...Read more

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