West Highland White Terrier

West Highland White TerriersWest Highland White Terriers

The West Highland White Terrier was originally developed to hunt underground creatures like foxes and otter that lived in the rocky Highlands of Scotland. So he had to be not only courageous, but also he had to have the physique to wriggle though passages between narrow rocky entrances, and retreat backwards!

History of the West Highland White Terrier

Westie by Landseer 1839Westie by Landseer 1839

With light coloured terriers being a favoured colour so they could be seen when in motion, for centuries 'earth dogges' or terriers emerged in Argyllshire on the west coast of Scotland. In the early 1600's when James the First of England and the sixth of Scotland sent half a dozen to France, he requested they travel in two or more ships in case any were harmed on the way[1]. Small white terriers like the one on the left, also featured in several paintings by Sir Edwin Landseer and others during the 1800's.

Colonel Malcolm of Poltalloch is considered the 'father of the breed'. He worked these small terriers in Argyllshire for over 60 years, from around 1830 - 1905. That is why they were first known as Poltalloch Terriers.

Westies CoupledWesties Coupled

The Colonel trained his dogs by coupling a young one to an older one as seen on the right, a proven  technique developed from a principle often used with Scent Hounds. The Colonel believed that the terrier must have the pluck and capacity to get at the quarry. Also, his body must be so small and active, that he could reach the innermost recesses of the lair. Unlike their English counterpart where the lair is in soft earth, a Scottish lair is usually between, over or under rocks so big that no man could get to them, let alone move them.

Colonel Malcolm with his WestiesColonel Malcolm with his Westies

The Colonel wrote:

" If your dogs ribs are a trifle too big, he may crush one or two through the narrow slit in the rocks and then stick. He will never be able to pull himself back - at least until starvation has so reduced him that be will probably be able, if set free to get back into the open" [1a].

The West Highland White Terrier becomes a Pure Breed

West Highland White TerrierWest Highland White Terrier

Based on the above, it was also believed that that terriers' feet should turn out a little from the pastern so the terrier could scramble up rocks better than those perfectly straight Fox-terrier-like feet. In addition, it was also considered that white terriers were easier to see when in motion. So, huntsmen bred for a straight limb, a rather low, active body, and a broad forehead with a short rough face. They also selected an outer coat long enough to thatch over the soft, woolly undercoat coat to keep the terrier dry so a good shake would throw off most of the water. It was also considered that the size of the terrier was best indicated by its weight, the dog being no more than 18 pounds and the bitch, 16 pounds[1a].

By 1887, as the dog world emerged and after various suggestions, the name 'West Highland White' was adopted[5].

History of West Highland White Terriers in Australia

'Picinnary' West Highland White Terrier Australia 1897'Picinnary' West Highland White Terrier Australia 1897

In 1869 the first two West Highland White Terriers were imported into Melbourne. These were named "Daisy" and 'Piccaninny" in Tyzack's Annual which also states these dogs were from original stock from the Isle of Skye[2]. They were kept pure in the Mackinnon family for 60 years prior to classification being given to them so, when they were first shown in Melbourne, they were called Scottish Terriers. But from 1908 to 1911, two more were imported by Mrs Chirnside and another seven were listed in Tyzacks Annual as West Highland White Terriers. But the credit of establishing the Westie in Australia must be given to Mrs Audrey Chirnside[3] who brought in a breeding pair in 1910 - Noasgamh of Ostaig and Soraidh of Ostaig which established the Ostaig lines here.

West Highland White TerrierWest Highland White Terrier

Until 1927, West Highland White Terriers were exhibited here in the 'Any other Variety' class. As their numbers increased, Westies were given their own classes. After the Second World War, several imports arrived here including a couple of English Champions. When famous English breeder Maureen Murphy moved to Australia with 3 of her dogs, we saw some gorgeous Westies right across Australia. When she later moved to New Zealand, we saw a great improvement in Westies across the Tasman as well over several decades[4]. So, the Westies of Australia and New Zealand have excellent blood on which to build.

Comparison between the Cairn and West Highland White Terriers

Because of their historical connection, it is interesting to compare the Cairn and West Highland White Terriers. Not only are there many distinct similarities, the differences between these two breeds demonstrate the purpose for which these two breeds were originally bred.

Cairn Terrier West Highland White Terrier
General Appearance Workmanlike Possesses self-esteem with head carried at right angle or less to axis of neck and not in an extended position
Cairn TerrierCairn Terrier West Highland WhiteWest Highland White
Head Small but in proportion to body with sufficient breadth of skull to support its strong muzzle Skull slightly domed and larger in proportion to the body than the Cairn's
Stop Definite indentation between eyes Distinct stop formed by heavy bony ridges above eyes
Muzzle Strong, but not long or heavy Strong, shorter than the skull with fairly large nose forming contour with rest of muzzle
Eyes Medium slightly sunk under shaggy eyebrows Medium and slightly sunk but looking out under heavy eyebrows imparting piercing look or varminty appearance
Ears Small not too closely set Small, neither too close nor too wide
Neck Not short Sufficiently long to allow proper carriage of head
Cairn TerrierCairn Terrier West Highland WhiteWest Highland White
Forequarters Medium length of leg but not too heavy in bone, feet may turn out a little from pasterns only Legs short, straight and muscular with shoulder blades and elbows lying close to chest wall elbows allowing legs to move parallel to axis of body
Body Medium length, with well sprung ribs and supple loin Compact with deep chest, with upper half of ribs well arched and forming a flattish appearance and back ribs considerably deep
Hindquarters Very strong muscular thighs with normal turn of stifle and hocks moving neither too close nor too wide Strong and muscular but not set too wide apart. The hocks are set under the body so they are fairly close together either standing or moving.
Tail Short and neither too high nor too low set 5 - 6 inches long, high set and carried jauntily
Coat Rough, double coated slight wave permissible but not broken coated Double coated about 2 inches long, broken coated but free from curl
Size 11 - 12 inches in proportion to weight ideally 14 - 16 pounds Approximately 11 inches (no weight specified)


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References and Further Reading

[1] Colonel E. D. Malcolm C. B. of Poltalloch, 'The West Highland White Terrier' Cassell's New Book of the Dog' by Robert Leighton assisted by eminent authorities on the various breeds Published by The Waverley Book Co Ltd Vol 111, Chapter XLI Page 391

[1a] Ibid., Page 393

[2] T.W.Tyzack and C.S. Turner "Tyzack's Annual" published by the Victorian Poultry and Kennel Club 1912, printed by Bellmaine Bros., Printers 66 - 70 Flinders Lane Melbourne Australia P. 78 (Stud Book) and P.99 (Importations)

[3] The 'Weekly Times' 'The Kennel' by 'Standard' Saturday August 22nd 1914 Page 51

[4] Renee Roche, 'The History of Purebred Dogs in Australia' The West Highland White Terrier published by OzDog Newspaper 1997 Page 304

[5] Edward C Ash, 'Dogs their Development and History' Published by the Houghton Mifflin Company, Volume 11, Chapter 11 'Terriers of the North and East' Page 436