Monday, 26 January 2015

Breed History - West Highland Terrier

Please note: This series of breed histories came about quite organically. I have a large archive of images I have taken through my work as a pet photographer - rather than have them sit on my hard drive, and together with my love of anything ‘history’ I decided to develop the Breed History Series here on the blog.  It is important for me to make clear that I am an advocate of rescue dogs – I do not promote breeders. At the end of each of these articles there is a link to appropriate breed specific rescues. If you are looking for a dog to join your family, please do consider adoption before searching for a breeder.

The West Highland Terrier

Fearless, stubborn, wilful and alert –  predecessors of the West Highland White Terrier needed to be tough cookies. Working in harsh terrain - they were the farmer’s friend.

Scottish terriers of course came in all sorts of colours including white, and over the centuries different clans developed their own dogs to help work their farms. Terriers (loosely translated as ‘earth dogs’) primarily hunted vermin - these dogs were made to prove themselves in courage and stamina, with of course, only the fittest and most able carrying on the line.

White terriers weren’t deemed viable back then as true working dogs. It was thought that the colour made them weak; and with less camouflage against the terrain, they were of no use to farmers who needed their dog to help keep pests from destroying crops - livelihoods depended on it. The white offspring were generally removed from litters.

But, during the 19th Century three separate men became interested in breeding their own White Scottish Terrier.

Roseneath Terrier

The 8th Duke of Argyll, George Campbell developed the Roseneath Terrier – we don’t know why Maybe he just liked the colour!

The Pittenweem Terrier

The Pittenweem Terrier was bred from a much loved Scottish terrier bitch owned by Dr Americ Edwin Flaxman, a well-known dog and horse lover. Flaxman noted that many of the puppies his dog gave birth to were white regardless the colour of the sire. At first he had no desire to breed-on white offspring, but as the phenomenon kept occurring he felt that it could be a nod back to an ancient breed and so began to develop it.

The Poltalloch Terrier

The story is that Edward Donald Malcolm, the 16th Laird of Poltalloch and breeder of terriers was out hunting one day with his beloved Cairn. During the chase, Malcolm mistook his dog for prey and shot it dead. It is said that he was so torn apart, he decided to breed lighter terriers to ensure that would never happened again. Along came the Poltalloch Terrier, a light sandy coloured dog which, apart from colour, was virtually identical to the Cairn.

We know that Campbell and Malcolm knew each other, and that Malcolm and Flaxman were good friends – but we do not know if they originally mixed their own dogs. We do know though, as the breeds became more popular, all three were mixed to produce what we now know as The West Highland White Terrier (Westie).

The Westie’s popularity grew, and in 1907 they were officially recognised by the UK Kennel Club. Over the next 25 years the breed shrugged off its status as working dog and became primarily a pet.
Today’s Westies still have many of the traits of their ancestors. They are often bold and assertive, but don’t tolerate fools gladly. With proper training they make a great family pets and are known for their cheerfulness and energy.

If you’re looking for a West Highland Terrier to join your family, please do visit either Westie Rehoming or Westie Rescue Scheme for more information and details of Westies looking for their forever homes.


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