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


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


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


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.'

* * * * *


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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