West Highland White Terrier History: Born From Injustice

Gemma | June 29th, 2008
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Over the years, the West Highland White Terrier has won almost every honor that can be conveyed from the show scene. These honors came despite the fact that most breeders ended the lives of these little white creatures at the bottom of a water bucket at birth. The only crime the Westie committed in those early days of his origin, was having been born with a white coat.

The West Highland White Terrier and the Cairn Terrier are really brothers under the skin. Cairn Terrier breeders considered the whites as skeletons in the closet and pretended that they didn’t exist. Whenever a white pup showed up in a litter, it caused the breeder embarrassment; professional breeders therefore tried to obliterate all traces of the scrappy little terrier with the white coat.

Once in a while, though, a white puppy from a litter of Cairns managed to survive man’s injustice and breeder fad, and together with a white puppy from another source, the strain of whites was preserved. In fairness, it should be pointed out that those who did save the whites from being destroyed were equally guilty of destroying any puppy born with a coat other than white.

Advocates of whites and advocates of colored continued their practice of breeding for distinct color, and in time, each side had developed a distinct variety of terrier. Though they did not originate the breed, one family in Poltalloch, Scotland, is credited with keeping the white breed pure for many generations. They were the Malcolm family.

To the Malcolm family and those who lived nearby the white terriers became known as the Poltalloch Terrior. While Cairn Terrier breeders were busy eliminating the occasional white puppy from their litters, the Malcolm family was busy deliberately working the other way; that is, eliminating all other colors except for white.

By the turn of the century, the West Highland White Terrier had lived with the name Poltalloch Terrior, Roseneath Terrer, White Scottish Terrier, White Cairn Terrier, and finally, the West Highland White Terrier.

The West Highland White Terrier became more popular with the general public than did the Cairn, and therefore was introduced into England before his colored brother. By the time Cairn Terriers gained the necessary popularity to be introduced to English dog shows, they found their white upstart little brothers already firmly established on the show circuit.

The Westie gained official recognition from the Kennel Club of England in 1907 followed shortly thereafter by the Cairn. The breed held its own in popularity for 10 years before the Cairn finally gained ground and became more popular with dog fanciers.

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