That’s about what comes into your mind when you read any book or article about a dog breed. If it is interesting and competently written, you think, ‘Yes, that’s the dog I want’, or, on the contrary, ‘no, that’s not the one I’ve been looking for.’ I, in turn, shall try to be impartial – however hard it might be, as I’m totally, absolutely and incompetently in love with my Westies.!
It would be best to begin with telling how I got my first Westie. Since the very childhood I had had big and medium-sized dogs, but at some point I vividly realized that I wanted a small one. The question of breed was not topical then - any half-breed, no passport – it should only be small and that I needn’t brush its hair every day. I had seen Westies at dog shows before, but nothing suggested my future deepest affection for them.
In the autumn of 1999 there was a CACIB dog show at Riga Film Studio. I was about to enter the arena with a Flandrian Bouvier when I saw a friend of mine passing by, carrying a Westie puppy in her hands. I stooped down to him, and he licked me. That was it! I realized momentarily that he would be mine. ‘I’m taking this one with me’, I said to the friend, ‘see you after the show’, and ran to the arena. I found her later after
the show, already knowing the name of my new puppy – Kitz. Friends and colleagues were asking what I was going to do with such a little baby, to which I replied, wiping tears off my face, ‘I’m gonna love him.’ This is how my Westie story began.
And now let us leave sentiments behind. I’m addressing people who have not had pets before: you by no means should make your choice the way I did. Choosing a dog must be a conscious action, especially when you have no previous experience. If you have reasonably made a decision to getyourself a dog, try to buy one from experienced people, preferably from a dog nursery. There you will be able to get instructions and help, if necessary. Breeders are the first to turn to for help, as they have relevant skills and experience. So, you have decided that you want to own a West Highland White Terrier. What dog is it that you’re going to end up having?
A white one, obviously. It’s going to be small – the standard height for both males and females is 28cm (at the withers), but, of course, actual sizes vary a bit. The ratio between withers height and body length is quite compact. Normally a Westie weighs between 7 and 8 kilos, yet again, actual weight may vary.
It is important that the coloring be saturated and dark. Dark skin is most preferable; the darker the skin, the healthier and less sensitive it is. Ears and tails are never cropped; the tail is ‘carrot-like’: thin, short, upward-pointing and erect. Westies have straight and coarse coat, a wide, firm back; their paws are straight and strong, and they have ‘scissors’ bite. These breed features are required for participation in dog shows.
If you want the dog only as a pet (shows and contests are not an option), you may get a puppy with a more or less noticeable deviation that will not affect its health and well-being. For example, the tip of the nose may not be evenly colored, the eyes may be bright, the tail may be curved or with a bulge on it. When buying, simply specify ‘not for livestock breeding’ in the purchase act and don’t bother yourself with all the dog show related issues. I would also like to add that it is better to own several
Westies, at least a couple. Very often the first Westie is bought solely as a pet, and then, in a couple of years, the owner buys another one – as a companion for the first one, for dog shows and perhaps for livestock breeding. Moreover, I find it simply gorgeous to walk with a couple of well-groomed Westies (though my couple gradually turned into several couples, but that’s another story).
Anyway, whether you are buying a dog show winner or a simple pet, you will have to put up with the dog’s temper rather than with its exterior, as the cynologists say. Character, behavior and temper are features stipulated by breed standards: despite having a playful appearance, Westies are lively, active and brave dogs of great dignity
and pride. Watchful, jolly, audacious and self-confident – yet friendly. You will understand what it means as soon as you have a closer look at these dogs. Do bother to visit a few dog shows or go to a nursery. Usually breeders are eager to share their knowledge and experience – but only when the show is over, of course. Before the show we are busy and worried, making final preparations with our champions. Not everybody understands this preparatory bustle unless they are themselves involved. A Westie will easily learn practically anything you might want to teach him. My colleagues, trainers and cynologists, take a lot of pleasure in telling about their dealing with Westies.
I recommend that you begin training your Westie in games as soon as you buy one. Here’s an example: I go for a walk with several dogs at once, and in my pocket there is a toy. I unleash the dogs, and their eyes get wholly focused on my pocket. As I throw the toy, they run after it; nothing matters to them except me and the toy. It is very convenient: the dogs get the necessary physical workout in a short time, with their attention focused on me (the owner). Thus we develop contact and obedience, and I make a good use of this later, at the shows. It is important, from time to time, that you be firm and persistent with your Westie, and demonstrate your leadership. Historically, Westies used to be independent and rigorous hunting dogs, and these qualities need moderation in today’s urban surrounding.
A bit of history
The West Highland White Terrier is a Scot by origin. Initially it was meant for hunting small game in the West Highlands of Scotland, which is reflected in the breed name, along with the white color. About 100 years ago the Scots started to prefer bright-colored, mostly white dogs for hunting as such coloring is easier to spot among dark cliffs and bushes. Like most modern dog breeds, the Westie is a result of crossbreeding. Several persons were involved in the origination of the breed, and the breed used to draw its name from them at certain stages of its development. One of them was colonel Edward Donald Malcolm from Poltalloch. He and his family bred several generations of these dogs; hence the name ‘Poltalloch Terrier’ was once in use. Another prominent breeder was Duke of Argyll from Roseneath, and the breed was also referred to as ‘Roseneath Terrier.’
There are no authentic records which would tell how exactly the crossbreeding was done; yet it is evident that there are traces of Cairn and Scotch Terrier in the bloodline. Despite being small, these terriers are strong and hardy. In 1904 the breed got its modern name – West Highland White Terrier. The name was agreed upon as reflecting both the origin of the breed and one of its characteristic features. Eventually, the breed was officially recognized by the Kennel Club, and a standard was set up, stipulating the dog’s character and exterior. In England, Westies were first demonstrated as a breed at the 1907 Crufts show.
One of the key figures in the history of the breed is Mrs. May Pacey who, despite famine and other hardships, saved the nuclear stock of the Westie during the World War I. In those times many dogs were taken away from England and went to America along with their owners; many of the remaining ones had to be put down due to lack of provisions. Breeding was officially forbidden, and many dog nurseries seized to be.
After the war Westie breeding turned around, and Mrs. Pacey remained the key figure in the breed history until her death, having written a wonderful book about Westies. Then the breeding got hindered again by the Second World War; it was only after the war that the breed acquired its modern shape.
Yet even nowadays it is possible to find Westie puppies in which one might recognize some features of their ancestors: somewhat shorter paws, a sharper snout, bulkier chest or stretched back.
More than 200 Westies were registered for the first postwardog show in 1946, which marked the Westies growing popularity all over the world. In the 60’s and 70’s several nurseries were established in England; these nurseries have set the Westie breed standard up to the present day.
Many breeders have a dream to buy a dog from the land of its origin. Latvian Westies have a lot of English names in their bloodlines, some of which are well-known all over the world. Today, the Westie is one of the most popular dog breeds both in Europe and America.
The following example speaks in favor of the breed’s popularity: go to any bookstore, and there you will most likely find an abundance of notebooks, calendars and suchlike stuff with pictures of Westies on them. The same in a linen store, where you will find Westie towels, bed sheets and pillows. And the true paradise for Westie lovers is souvenir shops, for they always have plenty of Westie mugs, statuettes (even life-sized ones), clocks etc., so that you can always find a present for yourself or a Westie-owning friend of yours.
Once we were visiting the Eurasia dog show and, while in Moscow, decided to take a stroll down the Arbat. Guided by curiosity, we called at a fancy boutique, and there was a whole section full of Westie accessories: shiny brooches, hairpins, buckles, rings and bracelets, all with Westies on them. Shocked, we spent all our cash there at once.
The Westie’s charming appearance is also widely used in advertising, primarily in that of dog food and cosmetics. Westies appear in bleach advertisements on MTV; they can be seen in many fashion magazines.
Westies in Latvia
The first Westie appeared in Latvia in 1996. Her name is Timi Moravia Univerzal (01.02.1996), or simply Katya, and she is still with us. Her owner Danuta Mengelewitz founded Snow Danwest, the first Westie nursery in the Baltics. Katya gave birth to her first litter with the help of a Belgian male in 1998, but the second litter was most successful, with Netty’s Lord Leonhard as the stud – the puppies were multi champion brothers Snow Danwest Bimian (Martin, owner A. Yakhin) and Snow Danwest Bozamin (Kitz, owner V. Kenigsvalde). Both brothers are 7 years old now, but they still successfully perform at shows, surpassing their younger competitors. And as to Martin, he is Latvia’s special pride.
The Snow Danwest nursery constantly imports studs and brood females from abroad. A very notable one was Simmon White Oleander (30.08.1998), top-rated by the LCF in 2000. He tragically died very young, but left posterity that continues his bloodline. Another one was Qwendolline White Oleander, a female that gave us wonderful puppies. She came to Latvia already grown-up, and easily won all the possible awards here, including the multi champion title. Now she’s at rest, but the business is successfully carried on by her posterity.
Another Westie nursery, called Glace Cherry, is owned by Natalia Efimova and has been rather productive lately. Dogs from Glace Cherry showed good results at the 2006 Euro Dog Show in Helsinki, becoming class champions. The first dog of the nursery was INT Ch Dorothy Little IMP (14.06.1999). She died very young, but the traces of her wonderful appearance are still visible in her children.
The Sharmnatan’s nursery mainly deals with Yorkshire Terriers, yet they have several Westies as well, among which there are imported ones and their Latvian-born descendants. The Kichaus nursery started with Latvian-born puppies whose parents had been imported from well-known foreign nurseries. The characteristic features of the nursery are line breeding and professional approach.
All the nurseries have diverse and interesting breeding stock. New dogs are constantly imported, most of which are descendants of world-famous champions. Our breeders often go abroad to visit their famous foreign colleagues. Our puppies are sold to our Baltic neighbors – Lithuanians and Estonians – as well as to Poland, Finland and Denmark. Latvian-bred dogs have already won prizes at major European shows.
It is evident that Westies have found a home in Latvia, and that our breeders have all the opportunities for further successful work; four our Westies have won prizes at the 2006 Euro Dog Show! And, of course, there are also dogs that have been brought to Latvia by private persons and are not registered in clubs or demonstrated at shows, which makes it hard to account for them. However, it has become known to us that some of such unregistered dogs have interesting genealogies, and we are hoping to see them performin the nearest future.
You have to suffer for beauty
Grooming the coat of a Westie requires time and attention, as well as some costs. Normally you get a puppy aged 2.5 – 3 months or older. By this age professional breeders have already taught their puppies to take show poses and let their teeth be inspected. The first trimming has also been done, so the puppy no longer looks like a fluffy ball and is accustomed to scissors, brushes and nail trimming.
You only have to keep up these acquired habits so that the aforementioned procedures are a part of the dog’s life, and no problems should arise; yet the second trimming must be done by a professional groomer. Normally the breeders will recommend you one, or you can find a groomer yourself. Take into account that a good professional groomer is usually visited by prior appointment, and you will likely have to wait.
The question arising in this connection is how often you have to visit the groomer, wash and comb the dog. The working principle here is ‘the coarser the coat, the fewer the problems.’ Coarse, straight and dense coat is a great advantage of the breed – it doesn’t get wet, grows slow and is resistant to dirt. Trimmig is usualy done not more than once in 2-3 months. Soft and dense undercoat protects the dog from heat and cold. It is enough to comb a Westie once a week as the coarse coat does not tend to get matted. Roughly the same goes for washing - I wash my dogs only when there is an evident solling or before a show, and as I participate in dog shows quite often, my
dogs stay clean all the time. Moreover, the question of washing is not topical in a snowy winter or during summertime.
On the other hand, if you happen to own a dog with a soft and wavy coat with little undercoat, there is a chance that it may get coarser by frequent trimming. And if this doesn’t help, there is another, more radical method – machine trimming. It is done when the coat is too soft, or when there is a relevant medical indication, such as skin problems. I would like to point out that this method of coat recovery takes a great deal of time and effort.
I did not plan initially to get down to the particulars of grooming, but there always is a chance that you would like to learn to do it yourself, so I will share a bit of my own knowledge of the matter. I can do scissor trimming and fan drying myself, but my show dogs are treated only by a professional groomer.
It’s no secret that white-coloured dogs tend to have a more sensitive skin. The white colouring of Westies is a dominant feature, and that is why keeping the dog’s skin in good condition, to my mind, should be the most important subject of the owner’s concern. Banal flea bites may cause severe irritation and even lead to a disease, which no doctor might be eager to treat, unless having a special interest in such cases. Thereby we have the popular opinion that all Westies have ill skin. But if you turn to professional breeders for advice on this matter, you will be shown a simple and sure way of dealing with skin problems: pay special attention to your pet’s diet! In order to preserve your newly-bought puppy’s good skin condition, there should be no experimentation with various kinds of dog food, vitamins and delicatessen; the diet should be stable and balanced.
When choosing a puppy, keep in mind that healthy skin is also an ancestral feature, and healthy puppies can be got only from healthy parents. It must be admitted though that the Westie is a healthy breed on the whole: they live long, retaining a good physical condition throughout the lifetime. Especially this concerns sight and hearing; however, as nearly all small-sized and long-living dogs, Westies have problematic teeth that need special treatment, starting from the earliest age. The dog should be
used to regular teeth cleaning – including the use of special instruments – without any sedatives or anesthesia.
Male or female?
As to gender, you can fully rely on your personal preferences. Males, once in their puberty, will always be interested in females, and females, in turn, will be in heat every 6-8 months. So, given the small size, gender is of no great importance. On my part I promise that any Westie owner will enjoy a wonderful friendship for many long years. And may you all enjoy a carrot tail!
* Muromtseva, A. (2004) Terriers. Aquarium: Moscow
* Tattersall, D. (2000) The West Highland White Terrier. Aquarium: Moscow
* The ‘Drug’ magazine, 9th ed., 1997
* FCI — standard № 85