The West Highland White Terrier with its graceful appearance and expressive button eyes is not a lap dog, even if it is small in size. Centuries ago, the energetic breed was valued as a lightning-fast hunting dog and fearless guard dog with a strong protective instinct. Nowadays the Westie uses his intelligence in exactly the same way when he tries to use tricks and divine innocence mine to wrap his human around the finger – maybe that is the reason for its great popularity?
The Scottish Highlands and its offshore islands, the Hebrides, are home to the ramified terrier family. Even before the beginning of the Middle Ages, Scottish Terriers, Dandie Dinmont, Skye Terriers and Cairn Terriers kept the pantries and cattle sheds free of rats and other pests. The nimble dogs were also used to hunt hares and badgers. Common to all species was their compact build and great vigilance.
In the eyes of the farmers and noblemen, the red-brown fur color was an attribute of strength and suitability for hunting, while puppies born with white fur were denied all useful properties and unceremoniously drowned all offspring with the undesirable appearance. It was not until three hundred years later that a fateful incident caused a rethink when Colonel Edward Donald Macolm shot his own terrier while hunting because he thought it was a fox in the undergrowth. Deeply concerned about the loss of his favorite dog, Macolm decided to develop white-coated dogs from the brightest Cairn Terriers in order to rule out future mix-ups and to significantly improve visibility in the field and in the dark. In terms of temperament, skills and performance, Macolm’s new breed was in no way inferior to the brown terriers.
Malcom’s breed was initially known as Roseneath Terrier and Poltalloch Terrier, after his hometown of the same name. An earlier painting from 1839 shows forerunners of the later West Highland White Terriers, but it was not until 1904 that the Scottish Kennel Club in Edinburgh presented the new variety to visitors to its dog show. 1905 is the founding year of the first West Highland White Terrier Club and the breed standard is set. Colonel Macolm of Poltalloch, founder and namesake of the breed, is appointed as president. The first specimen officially registered as a West Highland White Terrier was Sky Lady, born in England in 1906. The following year it was recognized as an independent breed in the English Kennel Club and the final name was determined. The breed standard has remained almost unchanged to this day, but the appearance of terriers has changed tremendously and at the same time, around 1905, the first Westies came to America. The American Kennel Club recognized the Roseneath Terrier breed as a member of the Terrier group in 1908. In May 1909 the name was changed to West Highland White Terrier. By the end of the 20th century, the small, white dogs with the friendly look had become fashion dogs and in the USA they made it the most desirable breed of all.
The head shape is round, arched and has a pronounced stop. The ears are triangular, quite small and carried erect. From the widely spaced, not protruding eyes to the relatively large nose, the muzzle is narrow. The strong jaw is equipped with a scissor bite, the bite of which has the sharpness of a predator. A sufficiently long, muscular neck area enables the head to be raised at right angles to the axis of the neck, the transition to the back shoulders is seamless. The compact structure has a straight back and deep chest and is supported by strong limbs, with the forelegs larger than the hind paws. The tail can be 13-15 cm long and should be carried as straight as possible. West Highland White Terriers have a double coat of approx. 5 cm long, harsh outer hair and a thick, fur-like undercoat. The ears and tail are covered with short hair and should not be feathered. The coat color is pure white throughout. Dark discolorations on the mouth, under the eyes or on the paws are caused by dog food containing carotene. Specialist shops have special food for white breeds, or you have to check the ingredients of other varieties for carrots, tomatoes and beetroot.
With a shear for the summer, some Westie owners would like to make the warm season more bearable for their animal. Especially if your darling likes to go into the water, the practical benefits are obvious, because there is no need for tedious untangling and combing. You will likely meet the same dog owners again later in the veterinarian’s waiting room if the dog has eczema or other skin problems. Perhaps the owner has already bought food for allergy sufferers that did not improve the itching, because the real cause of the discomfort is often the clipping. The Westi does not lose dead undercoat and top coat; When shearing, the coat is shortened, but not thinned – as a result, the undercoat thickens more and more. The skin can no longer breathe through this felt, regrowing hair suffocates and later no longer forms. The warm, humid climate created in this way becomes the ideal breeding ground for fungi and germs of all kinds. The breed-typical structure of the fur is also destroyed, it can become plushy, soft and wavy.
West Highland White Terriers are one of the hard-haired dog breeds with double fur. The undercoat warms, the hard outer hair protects against environmental influences. Since there is no change of coat, dead hair must either be plucked out by hand or removed with a special trimming knife. That doesn’t hurt and the technology is, so to speak, copied from nature. At the time when the Westie was used for hunting in Scotland, trimming was done naturally: When roaming the terrain, entire tufts of fur often got caught in the undergrowth or on thorn bushes. Today, about every three months, a visit to the dog salon is the order of the day, where the Westie is expertly trimmed. With regular grooming, the terrier does not shed, that is to say, thorough daily brushing is necessary. Bathing too often is not recommended, as the shampoo components attack the protective acid mantle of the thin skin and loosen the coat: Only the closed hair cover protects the dog from rain and cold. The lotus effect is also lost, because degreased hair becomes soiled much faster.
This little “big” personality has everything that defines the nature of a terrier: She is self-confident, courageous, curious, fearless and stubborn. West Highland Terriers are well suited for house keeping, but they need plenty of walks and interactive play time. They are very curious and love to be involved in all household activities. The Westie crawls in everywhere (a relic of the past, where it broke into rabbit and badger burrows) and after clearing out and inspecting the entire contents of the closet, he jumps to his window seat to watch what is going on in the neighborhood. Like all terriers, Westies are excellent watch dogs who report the slightest noise by barking and every visitor is greeted with a raised voice. The Westies’ hunting instinct can be described as passionate, which is particularly evident on walks and when something is moving nearby. Families who live in the country are guaranteed not to have mice in their garden. However, it may well happen that the dog brings the prey into the house and lays it at their feet as a gift. The Westie combines trapping with his second passion, digging in the ground. Garden owners should take this into account and design the home area as dog-friendly as possible. Ball games and fetching draw the Westie’s attention to more pleasant “toys”. Terriers usually get along well with other dogs and like to play with slightly older children. He is a versatile dog that is a real asset to individuals and families.
The West Highland White Terrier is basically in robust health, but only surgery can remedy two rare diseases: Hereditary Perthes-Calvé-Legg disease, which is noticeable as paralysis in the leg, can occur before the age of one. Cranio-mandibular osteopathy, a painful bone disease of the skull, is characterized by immobility of the lower jaw. Malformations of the jaw or misalignment of the teeth, liver problems and allergies are more common. Diseases typical of the breed include skin problems with rashes and itching, as well as dislocation of the kneecap.
An overview of the West Highland White Terrier
Origin: Great Britain FCI Standard No. 85, Group 3 Terrier Section 2: Low-legged Terriers Other names: Westie, White Highland Terrier, Roseneath Terrier, Poltalloch Terrier Withers height: approx. 28 cm Weight: male and female 7 kg – 10 kg Hair coat: approx. 5 cm long, smooth Top coat with thick undercoatFur color: one color, pure whiteEyes: dark brownEars: small, tapered, carried uprightBody structure: strong, compactUsage: companion dog, early hunting dogCharacter: active, self-confident, friendly, vigilantHealth risks: cranio-mandibular osteopathy, kneecap discomfort, liver dislocation, approx. 13-15 years
The Cairn Terrier looks a lot like the West Highland White Terrier. No wonder: the two dog breeds are close relatives. However, the Cairn Terrier is characterized by a colorful coat: in addition to beige and gray, it can also be black or reddish. In terms of size and character, it is similar to the West Highland White Terrier. The Cairn Terrier is considered to be one of the oldest dog breeds in Great Britain, it is even referred to as the terrier primeval type! Its original task was to support the hunter in the hunt for foxes. Today, however, the Cairn Terrier is mainly a companion and companion dog and is also getting more and more attention at exhibitions. Unfortunately, the Cairn Terrier often has joint problems, but can still get very old. The average life expectancy is around 15 years.
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