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Musings of a Breeder/Exhibitor Judge

West Highland White Terrier

This article was originally published in Showsight Magazine, June 2019 issue.


Musings of a Breeder/Exhibitor Judge

Westie, originated in the Western Islands and Highland of Scotland. They were called terrieres or earthe dogges, and, at that time, came in a variety of colors and sizes. The Malcolms of Poltalloch are credited with the development of the breed following a hunting accident where Laird Malcolm shot and killed one of his favorite reddish brown Terriers, mistaking it for the game he sought. After that tragic incident, he bred to only get the lighter or white tinged coats. Here I must stress that these dogs had a specific purpose, dispatching vermin such as fox and badger that were a constant threat to the livestock, as well as rats that invaded the farmyards and grain supplies.

When they accompanied their master on hunts, these small, game, strongly built Westies had to traverse the jagged, rocky terrain and challenging hillsides of the Scottish Highlands. Such a dog needed to be able to scramble over, under and between these rocks, squeezing through tight spaces, and, at the same time, be able to turn around to get out again. The ability to perform these specific tasks is made possible by the anatomical structure and tenacious temperament of these game little dogs we call West Highland White Terriers. “Breed type” is what allows you to recognize a particular dog as it is described in the Standard.

A Westie has a beautiful and distinct outline that should be balanced and display no extremes. Movement is another vital component which is determined by proper anatomical structure. When the front and rear angles match, a free, easy and powerful gait with reach and drive comes into focus, while the topline remains level. A male Westie should be “ideally 11 inches at the withers, well balanced with good substance and a body between the withers and root of tail that is slightly shorter than the height at the withers.” The standard calls for the “shoulders to be well laid back” with an “upper arm of moderate length and sufficient angle to allow for definite body overhang.”

Richard Beauchamp considered “fronts to be the least understood and most underestimated portion of a dog’s Anatomy” and I have to agree. Proper angles in the front give the Westie reach; if the upper arm is shortened, this restricts movement, causing the dog to take twice as many steps as necessary to get from point A to point B. (Fig. 1) This results in very inefficient, mincing and tiring movement. Referring to Terrier fronts, (Fig. 2) as if they all are identical, is another pet peeve of mine.

Figure 1: An example of how the shoulder with a proper 45-degree angle will operate
Figure 2: An example of the “Terrier front”, a short upper arm results in a more upright front, but the 45-degree angle is retained.

This is a fallacy and has resulted in my second area of concern which is front legs being moved forward to such an extent it eliminates the desired “body overhang”. In some Westies, the fronts are so straight that it looks like their legs are coming down from their ears. With proper angles and adequate length of upper arm, the front legs should be under the shoulder or withers. One last thing I must touch upon is Westie Temperament. It is important to remember that a Westie, “possessed of no small amount of self esteem”, worked in packs and, therefore, had to get along. I do like to spar my dogs in the ring but never more than 2 or 3 at a time. I ask them to go to opposite corners and walk back toward the center, just looking at each other. The purpose is to have them pull themselves together, come up on their toes (ears alert, neck arched, tail up and quivering) assessing the situation. Done correctly, it’s a beautiful sight; however, excessive aggressiveness is not a desirable trait.

I hope it is obvious that my passion is preserving the integrity of my breed, along with true Westie type. In closing, I’d just reiterate a couple of points I stress in my seminars. “A good West Highland White Terrier of true type and sound structure should be able to show himself, unassisted, displaying the qualities and spirit specific to the breed.” Lastly, I would remind you, “That a good dog can be made to look better is the art of grooming and handling. That an unsound dog can be made to look good is the art of deception.” This responsibility falls to the breeders who must educate themselves and strive to continually upgrade their breeding programs. Recognize your bitch’s weak points and go to a Stud dog that has the potential to improve your area of weakness. Always strive for better and best.