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The West Highland White Terrier








Man, being a hunting animal, kills the otter for his skin, and the
badger also; the fox he kills because the animal likes lamb and game
to eat. Man, being unable to deal in the course of a morning with the
rocks under and between which his quarry harbours, makes use of the
small dog which will go underground, to which the French name terrier
has been attached.

Towards the end of the reign of James the First of England and Sixth
of Scotland, we find him writing to Edinburgh to have half a dozen
earth dogges or terrieres sent carefully to France as a present, and
he directs that they be got from Argyll, and sent over in two or more
ships lest they should get harm by the way. That was roughly three
hundred years ago, and the King most probably would not have so highly
valued a newly-invented strain as he evidently did value the
terrieres from Argyll. We may take it then that in 1600 the
Argyllshire terriers were considered to be the best in Scotland, and
likely enough too, seeing the almost boundless opportunities the
county gives for the work of the earth dogges.

But men kept their dogs in the evil pre-show days for work and not for
points, and mighty indifferent were they whether an ear cocked up or
lay flat to the cheek, whether the tail was exactly of fancy length,
or how high to a hair's breadth it stood. These things are sine qua
non on the modern show bench, but were not thought of in the cruel,
hard fighting days of old.

In those days two things--and two things only--were imperatively
necessary: pluck and capacity to get at the quarry. This entailed that
the body in which the pluck was enshrined must be small and most
active, to get at the innermost recesses of the lair, and that the
body must be protected by the best possible teeth and jaws for
fighting, on a strong and rather long neck and directed by a most
capable brain. It is held that feet turned out a little are better for
scrambling up rocks than perfectly straight Fox-terrier like feet. In
addition, it was useful to have your dog of a colour easy to see when
in motion, though no great weight was laid upon that point, as in the
days before newspapers and trains men's eyes were good, as a rule.
Still, the quantity of white in the existing terriers all through the
west coast of Scotland shows that it must have been rather a favoured
colour.

White West Highland Terriers were kept at Poltalloch sixty years ago,
and so they were first shown as Poltalloch Terriers. Yet although they
were kept in their purest strain in Argyllshire, they are still to be
found all along the west coast of Scotland, good specimens belonging
to Ross-shire, to Skye, and at Ballachulish on Loch Leven, so that it
is a breed with a long pedigree and not an invented breed of the
present day. Emphatically, they are not simply white coloured Scottish
Terriers, and it is an error to judge them on Scottish Terrier lines.
They are smaller than the average Scottie, more foxy in general
conformation--straight limbed, rather long, rather low, and active in
body, with a broad forehead, light muzzle and underjaw, and a bright,
small intelligent eye. Colonel Malcolm, of Poltalloch, who is
recognised as the great authority on the breed, lays stress upon the
quality of the coat. The outer coat, he says, should be very soft
on the forehead and get gradually harder towards the haunches, but the
harsh coat beloved of the show bench is all nonsense, and is the
easiest thing in the world to 'fake,' as anyone can try who will dip
his own hair into the now fashionable 'anturic' baths. The outer coat
should be distinctly long, but not long in the 'fancy' or show
sense. Still, it should be long enough to hang as a thatch over the
soft, woolly real coat of the animal and keep it dry so that a good
shake or two will throw off most of the water; while the under coat
should be so thick and naturally oily that the dog can swim through a
fair-sized river and not get wet, or be able to sit out through a
drenching rain guarding something of his master's and be none the
worse. This under coat I, at least, have never seen a judge look for,
but for the working terrier it is most important. The size of the dog
is perhaps best indicated by weight. The dog should not weigh more
than 18 lb., nor the bitch more than 16 lb.

There is among judges, I find--with all respect I say it--an undue
regard for weight and what is called strength, also for grooming,
which means brushing or plucking out all the long hair to gratify the
judge. One might as well judge of Sandow's strength, not by his
performances, but by the kind of wax he puts on his moustache!

The West Highland Terrier of the old sort--I do not, of course, speak
of bench dogs--earned their living following fox, badger, or otter
wherever these went underground, between, over, or under rocks that no
man could get at to move, and some of such size that a hundred men
could not move them. (And oh! the beauty of their note when they came
across the right scent!) I want my readers to understand this, and not
to think of a Highland fox-cairn as if it were an English fox-earth
dug in sand; nor of badger work as if it were a question of locating
the badger and then digging him out. No; the badger makes his home
amongst rocks, the small ones perhaps two or three tons in weight, and
probably he has his 'hinner end' against one of three or four hundred
tons--no digging him out--and, moreover, the passages between the
rocks must be taken as they are; no scratching them a little wider. So
if your dog's ribs are a trifle too big he may crush one or two
through the narrow slit and then stick. He will never be able to pull
himself back--at least, until starvation has so reduced him that he
will probably be unable, if set free, to win (as we say in Scotland)
his way back to the open.

I remember a tale of one of my father's terriers who got so lost. The
keepers went daily to the cairn hoping against hope. At last one day a
pair of bright eyes were seen at the bottom of a hole. They did not
disappear when the dog's name was called. A brilliant idea seized one
of the keepers. The dog evidently could not get up, so a rabbit skin
was folded into a small parcel round a stone and let down by a string.
The dog at once seized the situation--and the skin--held on, was drawn
up, and fainted on reaching the mouth of the hole. He was carried home
tenderly and nursed; he recovered.

Referring to the characteristics of this terrier, Colonel Malcolm
continues:--Attention to breeding as to colour has undoubtedly
increased the whiteness, but, other points being good, a dog of the
West Highland White Terrier breed is not to be rejected if he shows
his descent by a slight degree of pale red or yellow on his back or
his ears. I know an old Argyllshire family who consider that to
improve their terriers they ought all to have browny yellow ears.
Neither again, except for the show bench, is there the slightest
objection to half drop ears--i.e., the points of one or both ears
just falling over.

Unfortunately, the show bench has a great tendency to spoil all
breeds from too much attention being given to what is evident--and
ears are grand things for judges to pin their faith to; also, they
greatly admire a fine long face and what is called--but wrongly
called--a strong jaw, meaning by that an ugly, heavy face. I have
often pointed out that the tiger, the cat, the otter, all animals
remarkable for their strength of jaw, have exceedingly short faces,
but their bite is cruelly hard. And what, again, could be daintier
than the face of a fox?

The terrier of the West Highlands of Scotland has come down to the
present day, built on what I may perhaps call the fox lines, and it is
a type evolved by work--hard and deadly dangerous work. It is only of
late years that dogs have been bred for show. The so-called 'Scottish'
Terrier, which at present rules the roost, dates from 1879 as a show
dog.

I therefore earnestly hope that no fancy will arise about these dogs
which will make them less hardy, less wise, less companionable, less
active, or less desperate fighters underground than they are at
present. A young dog that I gave to a keeper got its stomach torn open
in a fight. It came out of the cairn to its master to be helped. He
put the entrails back to the best of his ability, and then the dog
slipped out of his hands to finish the fight, and forced the fox out
into the open! That is the spirit of the breed; but, alas, that cannot
be exhibited on the show bench. They do say that a keeper of mine,
when chaffed by the 'fancy' about the baby faces of his 'lot,' was
driven to ask, 'Well, can any of you gentlemen oblige me with a cat,
and I'll show you?' I did not hear him say it, so it may only be a
tale.

Anyhow, I have in my kennel a dog who, at ten months old, met a vixen
fox as she was bolting out of her cairn, and he at once caught her by
the throat, stuck to her till the pack came up, and then on till she
was killed. In the course of one month his wounds were healed, and he
had two other classical fights, one with a cat and the other with a
dog fox. Not bad for a pup with a 'baby face?'

I trust my readers understand that the West Highland White Terriers
are not White Aberdeens, not a new invention, but have a most
respectable ancestry of their own. I add the formal list of points,
but this is the work of show bench experts--and it will be seen from
what I have written that I do not agree with them on certain
particulars. There should be feather to a fair degree on the tail, but
if experts will not allow it, put rosin on your hands and pull the
hair out--and the rosin will win your prize. The eye should not be
sunk, which gives the sulky look of the 'Scotch' Terrier, but should
be full and bright, and the expression friendly and confiding. The
skull should not be narrow anywhere. It is almost impossible to get
black nails in a dog of pure breed and the black soon wears off the
pad work, so folk must understand this. On two occasions recently I
have shown dogs, acknowledged, as dogs, to be quite first class, 'but,
you see, they are not the proper type.' The judges unfortunately have
as yet their eyes filled with the 'Scottish' terrier type and prefer
mongrels that show it to the real 'Simon Pure.'

* * * * *

STANDARD OF POINTS: The GENERAL APPEARANCE of the West Highland White
Terrier is that of a small, game, hardy-looking terrier, possessed
with no small amount of self-esteem, with a varminty appearance,
strongly built, deep in chest and back ribs, straight back and
powerful quarters, on muscular legs and exhibiting in a marked degree
a great combination of strength and activity. COLOUR--White. COAT--Very
important, and seldom seen to perfection; must be double-coated. The
outer coat consists of hard hair, about 2-1/2 inches long, and free
from any curl. The under coat, which resembles fur, is short, soft,
and close. Open coats are objectionable. SIZE--Dogs to weigh from 14
to 18 lb., and bitches from 12 to 16 lb., and measure from 8 to 12
inches at the shoulder. SKULL--Should not be too narrow, being in
proportion to his powerful jaw, proportionately long, slightly domed,
and gradually tapering to the eyes, between which there should be a
slight indentation or stop. Eyebrows heavy. The hair on the skull to
be from 3/4 to 1 inch long, and fairly hard. EYES--Widely set apart,
medium in size, dark hazel in colour, slightly sunk in the head, sharp
and intelligent, which, looking from under the heavy eyebrows, give a
piercing look. Full eyes, and also light-coloured eyes, are very
objectionable. MUZZLE--Should be powerful, proportionate in length,
and should gradually taper towards the nose, which should be fairly
wide, and should not project forward beyond the upper jaw. The jaws
level and powerful, and teeth square or evenly met, well set, and
large for the size of the dog. The nose and roof of mouth should be
distinctly black in colour. EARS--Small, carried erect or semi-erect,
but never drop, and should be carried tightly up. The semi-erect ear
should drop nicely over at the tips, the break being about
three-quarters up the ear, and both forms of ears should terminate in
a sharp point. The hair on them should be short, smooth (velvety), and
they should not be cut. The ears should be free from any fringe at the
top. Round, pointed, broad and large ears are very objectionable, also
ears too heavily covered with hair. NECK--Muscular, and nicely set on
sloping shoulders. CHEST--Very deep, with breadth in proportion to the
size of the dog. BODY--Compact, straight back, ribs deep and well
arched in the upper half of rib, presenting a flattish side appearance.
Loins broad and strong. Hind-quarters strong, muscular, and wide
across the top. LEGS AND FEET--Both fore and hind legs should be short
and muscular. The shoulder blades should be comparatively broad, and
well-sloped backwards. The points of the shoulder blades should be
closely knit into the backbone, so that very little movement of them
should be noticeable when the dog is walking. The elbow should be
close in to the body both when moving or standing, thus causing the
fore-leg to be well placed in under the shoulder. The fore-legs should
be straight and thickly covered with short hard hair. The hind-legs
should be short and sinewy. The thighs very muscular and not too wide
apart. The hocks bent and well set in under the body, so as to be
fairly close to each other either when standing, walking, or running
(trotting); and, when standing, the hind-legs, from the point of the
hock down to fetlock joint, should be straight or perpendicular and
not far apart. The fore-feet are larger than the hind ones, are round,
proportionate in size, strong, thickly padded, and covered with short
hard hair. The foot must point straight forward. The hind-feet are
smaller, not quite as round as fore-feet, and thickly padded. The
under surface of the pads of feet and all the nails should be
distinctly black in colour. Hocks too much bent (cow hocks) detract
from the general appearance. Straight hocks are weak. Both kinds are
undesirable, and should be guarded against. TAIL--Six or seven inches
long, covered with hard hairs, no feathers, as straight as possible;
carried gaily, but not curled over back. A long tail is objectionable.
MOVEMENT--Should be free, straight, and easy all round. In front, the
leg should be freely extended forward by the shoulder. The hind
movement should be free, strong, and close. The hocks should be freely
flexed and drawn close in under the body, so that, when moving off the
foot, the body is thrown or pushed forward with some force. Stiff,
stilty movement behind is very objectionable.

FAULTS: COAT--Any silkiness, wave, or tendency to curl is a serious
blemish, as is also an open coat. Black or grey hairs disqualify for
competition. SIZE--Any specimens under the minimum, or above the
maximum weight, are objectionable. EYES--Full or light coloured.
EARS--Round-pointed, drop, broad and large, or too heavily covered
with hair. MUZZLE--Either under or over shot, and defective teeth.

* * * * *





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Previous: The Scottish Terrier



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